Animal Welfare & Rights
Many of the laws which continue to govern the lives of animals are simply not based in science
In 2014, the World Animal Protection organization evaluated 50 countries on their commitments to protect animals and improve animal welfare policy and legislation. Canada received a “D” ranking, far behind the U.K., Switzerland, Austria and New Zealand who all received an “A” ranking. Another organization devoted to animal welfare, Voiceless: The Animal Protection Institute, ranked Canada 45thout of 50 countries on its Voiceless Animal Cruelty Index. A part of the explanation for our dismal performance in such rankings comes from the fact that Canada still has animal welfare laws that date back to the late 1800s.
In contrast to the erroneous thinking of the 19th century, today we know that animals are sentient beings with rich emotional lives. Therefore, naturally, Canada’s animal welfare and rights framework must be updated so as to reflect this knowledge, including that of the evolving sensibilities Canadians have towards animals. Many of the laws which continue to govern the lives of animals are simply not based in science but are rather outdated views where animals are reduced to having instrumental value only in human-centric enterprises. The rationale behind these views is that animals lack some basic quality that humans have be it a soul or a level of consciousness.
Canada is still hard at work at reconciling the laws and government initiatives that used similar tactics against Indigenous peoples. In her Second Reading Speech at the Senate on Bill C-84, Senator Boyer commented on the long list of reasons the law has used to distinguish humans and animals. Similar rationales were used to subject “Indigenous people to harsh treatment through someone else’s laws,” she explained, and this because Indigenous people “were viewed as non-human, too close to nature and thus lacking civilized qualities.” What is needed moving forward in our relations with animals, Senator Boyer detailed in her speech, is an Indigenous view, one which incorporates and acknowledges “interdependency and interconnectedness” rather than our separateness and difference.
To make concrete advancements in Animal Welfare and Rights, provincial policies and laws and the Criminal Code must better reflect the reality of animal sentience. As Dr. Alice Crook, Veterinarian and a member of the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association, explained in her testimony to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, how there is “more and more information available about recognizing the sentience of animals, including scientific documentation of animals having the neuroprocesses to be sentient.” Federal and provincial legislators must find a way to account for the emotional nature of animals and ensure that these advancements are harmonized across jurisdictions. Though animals are voiceless, there are ways to hear them and scientific evidence increasingly demonstrates this reality.
A small step toward improving standards in Canada was taken in the summer of 2019. Senator Boyer sponsored Bill C-84 which amended Canada’s Criminal Code and so strengthened protections against bestiality and animal fighting. It also gave more power to law enforcement agencies to intervene in instances where animals are being abused, for example, in locations where, against their natural instincts, they are being groomed to fight. The passing of Bill C-84 marks the first change to the Criminal Code on animal welfare since 1892 and demonstrates a long-awaited response by the government in how Canadians think about animal protection.
While Senator Boyer’s efforts are part of a growing movement to push for an updated animal advocacy program inside Parliament, clearly there is much work to be done.