V. Victoria Shroff: Animal law roars Into the 2020s

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      As I review 2020 highlights in Canadian animal law, I believe we’ve had some pawsitive developments.

      In January 2020, my legal team and I heard from Canada's highest court in Ottawa that Punky Santics, Canada's Everydog, wouldn’t be granted his day in the Supreme Court Of Canada.

      We were disappointed but remained hopeful because Punky's groundbreaking dog case created a wave of awareness about animal law and also influenced new laws.

      Eleven months later, there was positive animal-law news from Ottawa: Former judge Sen. Murray Sinclair had joined forces with powerhouse primatologist Jane Goodall to protect captive great apes, elephants, and other wildlife in captivity. Introduced on November 17, 2020, Bill S-218 is a revolutionary attempt to protect captive animals in Canada through new federal legislation called the Jane Goodall Act.

      The bill would also plug loopholes in legislation banning the import of elephant ivory and elephant hunting trophies into Canada. (Bill S-218 is an extension of the wonderful 2019 Canadian "Free Willy" law banning whales and dolphins in captivity.)

      Captive animals would also no longer be used as forlorn entertainers. There's an enormous global trade in endangered and wild animals that this proposed law would help curtail. Big cats, many of which are, sadly, kept in private residences, may also be protected under the bill’s "Noah Clause".

      Sen. Sinclair has carefully woven Indigenous wisdom and principles into S-218.  In a November 17, 2020, news release announcing the bill, Senator Sinclair stated: “Named in Dr. Goodall’s honour, this bill will create laws to better protect many animals, reflecting Indigenous values of respect and stewardship.”

      “We live in a time, and a world, where respecting and caring for one another and our shared planet is the only way forward,” Goodall said in the release. “As humans around the world accept that animals are sentient beings, there is a growing call for improved living conditions and treatment of captive animals."

      Covid-19 has highlighted the importance of stewardship between animals, people, and the planet.

      The Jane Goodall Act is truly invigorating from a legal, ethical, and humane point of view and one that I would certainly not have encountered two decades ago, when I first started practising animal law in Vancouver. Goodall declared in a CBC interview: "Twenty years ago, they wouldn't have had a hope in hell of passing anything like this bill."

      Bill S-218 fits with my opinion that animals need access to justice. If passed, the bill will have wide-ranging applicability for animal welfare throughout Canada as it proposes the strongest animal-protection laws ever seen in this country.

      Speaking of access to justice, it would not be surprising if I, along with some of my former university animal-law students—now clinicians at our newly launched Animal Law Pro Bono Clinic run by the Law Students Legal Advice Program—ended up seeing novel types of animal-law cases if this bill becomes law.

      Further promising animal-law news is the recent introduction of a multisector animal-welfare advisory panel in Ontario tasked with developing new animal regulations under the Provincial Animal Welfare Services Act (PAWS), which came into force in January 2020.  PAWS ushered in a modern era of animal enforcement in Ontario, one that is provincially funded and run, thereby providing greater accountability.

      In a speech on November 19, 2020, in the Senate, Sen. Sinclair identified the primary reason why Canada needs the Jane Goodall animal-protection bill: "We owe it to the animals." I agree.

      The importance of Bill S-218 cannot be overstated. We at the B.C. Animal Law Study Group, a diverse group of legal beagles dedicated to animal-law matters, will be undertaking further review and study.   

      Sure, there were some negative Canadian animal-law issues in 2020, but at year end I choose to focus on hugely pawsitive developments like the Jane Goodall Act and the newly established animal law pro-bono clinic. Developments like these bode well for animals into the roaring 2020's. Stay tuned.

      V. Victoria Shroff is credited as one of the first and longest serving animal-law lawyers in Canada. She has been practising animal law for more than 20 years in downtown Vancouver at Shroff and Associates. She's also an adjunct professor of animal law at UBC's Allard School of Law (erstwhile) and teaches animal law at Capilano University.