As we wrap up 2021, how did animals fare?
For starters, there was not one single day in 2021 where animals were not in the news somewhere.
Coyotes in Stanley Park were frequently in the news for getting nippy with people. As I told CBC, it was largely a human-created problem because folks were feeding coyotes like pets.
My constant refrain in my 21st year of practising animal law became, "It's not Disney.”
The 2021 Whistler bear case in R v. Stevikova splashed across headlines. Zuzana Stevikova netted a $60,000 fine, one of the highest ever in B.C., for deliberately feeding bears contrary to wildlife laws.
Both human and bear safety was at stake and featured in the sentencing. High fines should be applauded, as they send a message to deter and denounce bad human behaviour, as in this case—which resulted in three bears, sadly, being put down.
Unfortunately, family violence involving animals and humans in 2021 increased. The Department of Justice Canada noted a direct link between violence toward animals and humans, with the federal Divorce Act being amended to include animals in the definition of "family violence".
The Alberta Court of Appeal made momentous pro-animal comments in the 2021 case of R v. Chen, involving an abused puppy named Cinnamon. The court stated that animals can be victims; they are sentient and not just chattels under the law.
Animal-sentience laws took centre stage in the U.K. and Europe this year. The need for laws to account for animals as sentient, animate beings with intrinsic worth is growing. Canada should also enact laws formalizing animal sentience for animals to benefit from greater legal protections.
Politicians are taking animals seriously, so much so that animals were on the agenda of every major party in Canada’s 2021 elections. As chair of the Canadian Animal Law Study Group, I was invited to speak at the federal animal caucus to share views on animal-law reforms. Judging by the recent mandate letters from the prime minister, some animal-friendly reforms appear to be in the works involving wildlife, fighting ivory, et cetera. I believe the law will soon be amended to ban shipment of live horses to places like Japan for slaughter.
Animals are still classified as property under the law in 2021. Pet adoptions soared at the beginning of the pandemic, and now some shelters are overflowing with unwanted animals, some due to seizures, and others due to "returns".
Strata pet bylaws regarding size or number of pets and service animals is an area where folks frequently sought legal advice this year. Grudges between neighbours because of negative canine-human interactions in strata dwellings are highly emotional and second only to "pet custody" issues, which continued to be a fascinating area in which to practise and also to teach to my UBC law students in 2021.
Conflicts have been escalating. Several U.S. states and Spain have specific legislation to take into account the "best interests" of animals in deciding who gets to keep the pet after a breakup, instead of treating animals like respirating property or silverware. In Canada, we mostly still see custody decisions resting on animals as property, though there are outlier cases—some of which go back 40 years, in addition to some recent decisions in Ontario. (The majority of my strata and pet-custody cases are settled outside court.)
Covid continued its rampage in 2021. We learned the word zoonosis—where viruses ping-pong between humans and animals—thanks, in large part, to fur farming, where intensively confined furbearing animals are raised only to be killed for their fur, for frivolous fashion.
Calls came from B.C. First Nations chiefs, animal groups, and infectious-disease experts to shutter the industry. In November 2021, the B.C. government did a commendable thing for both animal and human welfare by banning breeding of mink, with a complete closure of the mink-farming industry by 2025 due to Covid-19 outbreaks on several B.C. mink farms.
However, every kind of fur farming should banned. An outstanding court case concerning a B.C. chinchilla farm remains.
Extreme heat, wildfires, and floods have underscored how vulnerable millions of farmed animals are, and not just in natural emergencies. Farmed animals have not fared well overall. In 2021, two B.C. companies were fined $300,000 for abusing chickens. We need to take a closer look at how millions of animals are commodified in food production.
Action should also be taken on outdated science research that still utilizes millions of animals in laboratories when humane scientific methods exist.
In December 2021, a criminal charge was laid against Ontario’s Marineland for allegedly displaying a captive cetacean for performance for entertainment purposes without authorization. (Marineland denied the allegations, none of which have been proven in court.)
We have few laws in Canada that protect animals, so it is crucial to see the laws we do have be fully enforced.
It has been almost two years since B.C.'s highest court clarified the law on "dangerous" dogs in the landmark Santics case. Though we were denied leave to appeal Punky Santics's case to the Supreme Court of Canada in January 2020, many conflicts between dogs and the public, fortunately, continue to be settled outside court.
A few cases that have gone to a hearing have also seen dogs being released back to owners or guardians, providing the dog does not pose an "unacceptable risk to the public" in accordance with the ruling. This is Punky’s legacy.
Readers interested in learning more about animal law can check out two recent publications considering animals and the law. Animals as Legal Beings, by Maneesha Deckha, and Canadian Animal Law, a book I wrote to ultimately increase access to justice for animals.
Should you wish to do a good deed for animals in need, drop off a new cat or dog toy at Starbucks at 1895 Cornwall Avenue, Vancouver. We’ll be donating the toys to B.C. pets in need in early 2022.