Animals and the Law

Vaughan Black


Pet or property? Free range or small cage? Cure for disease or cruelty by degrees? When it comes to the treatment of animals and the law, the answers to questions like these are often uncomfortable -- and complicated.

In this session, we look comparatively at how the law regards the treatment of animals in agriculture, scientific experimentation, as wildlife, and as companions, exploring the protection (or lack of it) of their lives, welfare, and interests.

While federal and provincial regulations do address issues such as the protection of endangered species, intensive farming practices, the transportation and slaughter of animals, animal experimentation, and animals used for entertainment (zoos, rodeos, and circuses) -- and do assign criminal penalties for animal cruelty -- the laws in Canada are less robust than we might think.

"We have an image of ourselves as the Boy Scouts of the world," says Vaughan Black, professor with the Schulich School of Law. "But when it comes to animal welfare and regard for the suffering of animals under the law, Canada is not comparable with other leading countries. We are, in fact, out of step with legislation in many industrialized democracies, including Sweden, the United Kingdom, and most of the European Union."

Where other movements demanding social justice have, in the space of a generation, made some remarkable progress -- among them gender, race, sexual orientation, and the environment -- the same can't be said for animal welfare. As Professor Black points out: "Animal welfare simply hasn't achieved the successes of other movements. In fact, the situation is worse now than it was 70 years ago."

"We currently don't recognize animal welfare institutionally with a 'Minister for Animals', for example. In the absence of such, we should at least be asking questions about what justice requires of us when it comes to the treatment and protection of animals and how we are to regard their welfare and suffering," says Black.



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