Victoria Shroff: Put animals on the agenda in the upcoming B.C. election

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      B.C. prides itself on being "super, natural", thanks in large part to our animals. Animals matter more than tourism slogans; they also matter in the upcoming election.

      Though they can't vote, animals should have a voice in the upcoming B.C. provincial election. As an animal-law lawyer and adjunct professor of animal law, I believe that wild- and domestic-animal issues should be on the political agenda because making the lives of companion animals better and ensuring dedicated laws for wildlife and habitat is essential for everyone.

      During the last federal election, I wrote in the Georgia Straight: "If you were a Canadian animal, who would you vote for in the federal election?" B.C.'s official bird is the blue-and-black Steller's jay (Cyanacitta stelleri). If the cheeky Stellar's jays could vote in the upcoming election, I am quite certain that they'd flock toward a pro-animal party.

      Steller's jay.
      Wikimedia Commons/Ruby Feng

      My questions on behalf of the Stellar's jay and other B.C. animals are as follows: NDP, Green, and Liberal candidates, will you please let citizens know how animals matter to your party during this election? Will they be accounted for in provincial laws to make their lives better? How will those laws be enforced?

      It would be useful to see where the parties vying for election stand in relation to animal issues. Climate change and housing are keystone issues, but what about keystone animals and wildlife protection?

      When I refer to animals, I don't mean only cats and dogs but also B.C.'s "super, natural" wildlife. It's antiquated, but, legally speaking, animals are classified as property. Under the Constitution, laws relating to personal property, including animals, are the jurisdiction of provincial legislatures.

      How we treat animals is a yardstick for how we're doing as a province, and a country. Covid-19 has proven that the sociopolitical health of humans is intertwined with animals. My career as an animal lawyer spanning more than 20 years has made it clear to me that vulnerable animals need a voice, even if they can't vote.

      Political parties could outline what their policies are when it comes to our animals so voters will be able to cast their ballots knowing where parties stand in relation to conservation, dangerous-dog legislation, euthanasia, use of force against or the killing of animals, hunting, and access to justice involving animals.

      These and many more issues are within the provincial purview and important to the electorate, not just to animal lovers.

      Animal issues should be nonpartisan. I have seen every party do something helpful. In the early days of Covid-19, I wrote to Mike Farnworth, minister of public safety and solicitor general of B.C., on behalf of animals. I requested that his ministry please consider the needs of animals when determining essential services, and I was heartened to see the decision to keep pet stores, veterinary clinics, and shelters open, thereby showing understanding and willingness to protect animals and backing it with political will.
      A provincial prohibition on barbaric leghold and body-gripping traps is sorely needed. At a recent animal-law presentation for a B.C. rescue group where we discussed banning leghold traps (which cause lingering deaths for raccoons and other animals), Green Party MP Elizabeth May attended with a provincial representative, demonstrating the Greens' commitment to animal issues. And not long ago, the Liberal's highlighted the need to rethink provincial plans for a hunt/cull of moose calves and their mothers as part of a scheme involving wolves and endangered caribou.
      It would be good to see parties at all levels of government cooperating on a range of animal issues, from species at risk to pets in housing (the list is long).  An example of much-needed change would be a provincial ban on retail sales of animals at pet stores and online. If the province could do that, it would help shut down cruel puppy and kitten mills, the unethical suppliers that churn out animals for pet stores as if they were mere commodities.
      We should also have emergency-preparedness legislation that specifically includes animal protection in our provincial laws. Many animal-law issues—including transportation of animals, animal destruction, animals used in research, farmed animals, breeding, hunting, and cruelty—interface with federal and municipal laws, so there is scope for multilevel nonpartisan collaboration.
      It's also imperative to have UNDRIP (United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples) principles—which would include prior and informed consent of Indigenous people on whose territories large projects are planned—and pan-Indigenous views of animals and the environment honoured.
      There are numerous ways to make a pawsitive impact if politicians decide to make animal welfare and protection an election issue. On election night, B.C. can celebrate—but not with fireworks, please, because they're bad for animals.
      Whichever party tops the polls, I want it to be a win for animals too.
      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.