V. Victoria Shroff: Animals are on the agenda in the 2021 federal election

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      If you were a Canadian animal, who would you vote for in the upcoming September 20 federal election to represent your needs?

      Less than two years ago, I asked the same question.

      Since the 2019 election, I’ve had time to reflect on the state of animals in Canada and their lack of protections through the process of writing a book entitled Canadian Animal Law. One of my conclusions is that animals matter and must have their needs factored into the sociopolitical and legal landscape.

      So in 2021, I find myself asking the important question again: do animals factor in during this election? The good news is, fortunately, yes. Animals are officially being considered by major parties. This is momentous for animals and humans.

      Recall that sentient animals are still considered as property under the law. A clear delineation of this is how animals are categorized under the property section of the Criminal Code: they don’t even have their own section in this important federal statute.

      Animals deserve and need better legal protections and to have these protections funded and enforced. Which party promises to actually do that? Following the 2019 election, we’ve been ravaged by COVID-19 and seen how important animals are and how the Earth and the lives of two- and four-legged beings are interconnected.

      Examples of how animals and human lives are intertwined include housing, experiments on animals, and the human-animal violence link. (There is a proven link between violence committed upon animals and violence done to people.)

      Although I do not think that any one party has comprehensively prioritized all animals—whether wild, farmed, or companion (pets)—on their agenda, the key is that they have put animals on their platforms.

      I was pleasantly surprised to note that the Conservatives have outlined several important areas ripe for animal reform: banning puppy mills, banning cosmetic testing on animals, initiating violence-link initiatives, and instituting humane animal education for children. Kudos to Erin O’Toole for referring to his doggo Wexford as family.

      Liberals announced that they would protect animals via ending cosmetic testing, phasing out toxicity testing on animals, working toward curbing the trade in wildlife and bringing an end to ivory commerce, banning live export of horses for slaughter, and protecting animals in captivity with new legislation.

      There is also a somewhat vaguely written pledge to ”work with our partners to help women and children fleeing violence stay united with their companion animals".

      The Liberal party has MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith, someone I and others working in animal protection consider to be an animal champion for his work in addressing animal issues through legislation. Humane Canada lauded Erskine-Smith's work for animals in 2019, stating, “Canada celebrates a historical landmark with three animal welfare bills passing through Parliament and becoming law in the past week. This would not have been possible without the work of Liberal MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith.”

      The Parliamentary Animal Caucus chaired by Erskine-Smith is dedicated to animal protections in the aea of the commercial wildlife trade, halting testing on animals, horse export, and more. I was invited to attend and briefly spoke at the June 9, 2021, animal caucus with two other Canadian Animal Law Study Group members and was impressed to see a spirit of political cooperation in the interest of animals. 

      The NDP have stated that they support Indigenous-led nature conservation and are "committed to pursuing a Nature agenda, anchored by our commitment to safeguarding ecosystems and biodiversity...and ensure the Species at Risk Act is enforced." They plan to spearhead a decade-long nature plan to reverse species loss and to curb the trade in wildlife.

      In addition to agreeing to work toward banning the wildlife trade, the Green party stated to World Animal Protection, "The Green Party of Canada is committed to working to end animal cruelty in all forms, including via entertainment, as demonstrated by the GPC's successful efforts to introduce legislation such as the one mentioned above to ban the breeding, display, and trade of cetaceans for entertainment."

      At the Canadian Animal Law Study Group, we recently invited leaders from the Animal Protection Party of Canada, Liz White and Jordan Reichert, to share their views on animals in election 44. As a minor registered party of many years standing, the Animal Protection Party of Canada's goal is in its name. It focuses on the rights of animals and the environment, and although they are highly unlikely to get elected, they are diligently bringing animal issues to the foreground of the political landscape.

      Both White and Reichert stressed the importance of the environment, climate chaos as a cornerstone issue to be considered in any discussion on animals as part of the One Health initiative and interconnectedness.

      The major parties have touched on some important goals for modernizing animal welfare, but will they be reached? I’m very pleased that animal-related issues are on platforms, but I’m skeptical, given history.

      Like most campaign promises, they sound good as tweets, but the question is how will the promises be implemented, funded, and enforced to benefit animals? Are these mere election promises woven out of gossamer with no hope of follow-through or are they using animals as warm and fuzzy political talking points?

      In an ideal world, animal protection would be a nonpartisan issue, but we don’t live in such a state.

      Canadian politicians might consider taking a page from British animal-sentience laws that, in turn, could translate into framing much-needed and stronger federal laws for animals.

      Ask your candidates how they intend to execute platform promises to help animals.

      You have one vote. Make it count for both humans and animals.

      Victoria Shroff is credited as one of the first and longest serving animal-law lawyers in Canada. She has been practising animal law for over 20 years in Vancouver at Shroff and Associates. She's also an adjunct professor of animal law at UBC's Allard School of Law, teaches animal law at Capilano University, and is author of a new textbook, Canadian Animal Law (2021 Lexis-Nexis). On Twitter @shroffanimallaw

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