By V. Victoria Shroff
Animal law in Canada definitely hit some high notes in 2019, with Canada's ban on whales and dolphins in captivity, closing off the bestiality loophole in the Criminal Code, and banning the importation and exportation of shark fins. (Although some notes weren't so high.)
But we can't get complacent, as there is still much work to be done for the betterment of animals. I've been practising animal law for more than 20 years in downtown Vancouver. I am also adjunct professor of animal law at UBC's law school, the Peter Allard School of Law, and as I head into the new decade of 2020, one thing is clear: animals are still "property" under the law.
The good news is that it's not likely going to be a permanent designation. Animals will emerge from being mere things, or "property", under the law, perhaps even in the coming decade. It's no longer an accepted societal value that animals are objects, like stereos, and we will, hopefully, see the tide turn with awareness and education about the intrinsic worth of animals, the Earth, and the food we eat. Choices are being questioned; the status quo is being recalibrated. It's clear that the next 20 years will not be the same as the past 20.
Animals don't exist in an isolated legal atmosphere. They are embedded in law and the social-justice landscape. I learn from my animal-law students and see how they are helping to reshape the law for animals with their compassion, their questions, their theories, and their creativity. Some students have started animal-law practices within the wider scope of their litigation files. Others incorporate the concerns of animals as part of their environmental-law practices or pro bono work.
When I first started practising animal law, I was an extreme rarity and it was not uncommon for my colleagues to smile and call me "Ace Ventura", to bark, to make wolf-howling sounds. It was all in good fun, but those types of jokes stopped as people started to have a much greater understanding of the key role animals play in society, both in the wild and as companions. For example, Canadians do not tolerate animal abusers. Stories involving cruelty light up social-media screens because people care.
Animal-cruelty laws, fortunately, saw some reform in 2019, and although it did not go as far as some would have liked, there was some improvement, nevertheless. We have Crown counsel prosecuting animal abusers to the fullest extent possible under our countrywide criminal laws. Clients come to me for their dog-bite cases; veterinary legal issues; bear, horse, and cat cases; and much more. Before meeting me, they say that they didn't know that animal law even existed, but it does, and its importance is growing along with the number of lawyers practising animal law.
We have a great example of a 2019 case that highlights how the area of animal law is growing along with the importance of animals in society. A high-profile Canadian animal-law case involving a dog could be heard at the Supreme Court of Canada in Ottawa, Canada's highest court. This case is without precedent and would not likely have happened 20 years ago. My team—comprised of legal beagles Amber Prince of Atira, Erin Reimer of Miller Titerle, Moira Dillon, and I—is fighting for the life of Punky Santics, the cattle dog that has been on death row for dogs for more than two years, as he was deemed a "dangerous dog".
Just having Punky's animal-law case up for consideration before our top court shows that animals matter deeply and demonstrates how animal law intersects heavily with social-justice and access-to-justice issues. Punky is Canada's "everydog", and we hope to make groundbreaking arguments before the nation's top court in 2020 to save Punky's life.
In the past decade, we have also seen some losses in animal law. Lucy, the lone elephant in a zoo in frosty Alberta, did not get her day in court, despite trying to be heard at the Supreme Court of Canada. As well, Canada continues to allow animals to be used in cosmetic testing. Our laws still allow polar-bear trophy hunting and more. In the coming decade, it will be hard to imagine that these things will be justifiable.
If the past is any indication, we're going to see momentum continue in animal law in 2020 and beyond, thereby making the lives of animals better as their status progresses away from mere property under the law to fully sentient beings.