Ongoing fight for animal rights comes to campus

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Food, fashion and entertainment: the human and animal relationship is a controversial affair both on and off campus.  On November 6, the department of Political Science brought Camille Labchuk to Brock to discuss “The Rise of Animal Rights Law in Canada”.

“800 million lives are taken from land animals,” said Labchuk. Labchuk estimates that this is the number of land animals killed annually, and does not include sea animals in this measure given the fact that they are measured in weight as opposed to individual life.

“Animals are considered property in Canada and everywhere else around the world.”

Legal status for animals in Canada is meager and most rights given to animals are criticized for only advancing human interest. The Criminal Code is one example. The Criminal Code states that one must not cause an animal “unnecessary pain”. There are many contentions around this clause due to the ambiguity of “unnecessary”, and the fact that an indictable offence (the most serious offences under the Criminal Code) only subjects a person liable to five years imprisonment. Another example are the livestock transport laws in Canada under the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA): animals are not to be transported for the purpose of livestock if they are not in good shape. Instead, they should be euthanized on the farm. This has brought activists such as Labchuk to question the treatment animals receive during transportation, ultimately deeming the conditions of transportation unethical and unsafe for a healthy or unhealthy animal. Thus, CFIA has put animals between a rock and a hard place, allowing for either the death on the farm, the risk of death during transport or the death upon arrival to the slaughterhouse.

Despite the perceived injustice of these laws, it would not be possible for animals to achieve the little recognition they currently have in Canadian law without people like Labchuk.

Labchuk is now one of Canada’s leading animal rights lawyers and the Executive Director of Animal Justice Canada. Growing up in the Maritimes she witnessed the violence of commercial seal killing; this life experience directly impacts Labchuk’s focus, as protecting Canadian sea animals is her passion.

Prior to the presentation, and during an interview with Women’s Post, Labchuk attributes a lot of her inspiration to her mother, a Green Party politician in Prince Edward Island.

“My mom was a single mother and an environmental activist. She single-handedly took on the pesticide industry in [Prince Edward Island.] She was very active when I was growing up and I had a role model from a very young age that taught me a woman can do whatever she wants and can accomplish a lot.” said Labchuk.

While her passion and activism were sparked at an early age, Labchuk explained that there is still much to be done. The presentation examined the various legal Acts in progress that could advance animal rights in Canada.

To name a few, Bill S-238: Ban on Shark Fin Importation and Exportation Act, would amend the amend the Fisheries Act and the Wild Animal and Plant Protection and Regulation of International and Interprovincial Trade Act, which would stop the importation of shark fins.

Bill S-214: Cruelty-Free Cosmetics Act would amend Food and Drugs Act, which would prohibit cosmetic animal testing and the sale of such cosmetics.

Bill S-203: Ending the Captivity of Whales and Dolphins Act, would amend the Criminal Code and other Acts, which would end the captivity of whales and dolphins. This act is particularly relevant to the St. Catharines community given the relative distance to Marineland in Niagara Falls.

Labchuk’s purpose in explaining the Acts to the crowd was to ask for their help in advocating on the animals’ behalf.

“Public opinion motivates actors in the legal system to do the right thing,” said Labchuk. “If they know that enough people want it [the Act] to pass, that is something they will do.”

According to Labchuk’s presentation, we can begin our advocacy at the local level. Municipalities are here to listen to us, and working with our local politicians could foster into something positive for animals.

“Municipalities are an untapped area for animal advocates,” said Labchuk.

Tapping into municipal politics is one way to advocate on behalf of animals. Another way is already happening right here at Brock.

Animal advocacy happens in the classroom. Brock has many faculty members who focus on the human and animal relationship. These professors work within the departments of Sociology, Child and Youth Studies, Political Science and Labour Studies, to name a few.

Students are also advocating. Brock Students for Animal Liberation (BSAL) is a campus advocacy group that aims at ending animal exploitation through public education and direct action initiatives. The group hosts various events throughout the year, a few of which include critical discussions and making visits to local animal sanctuaries and hospitals. BSAL extends themselves into the community as they sometimes partner with Niagara Farm Animal Save for some events. The group uses their Facebook page to advertise most of their events – this page is accessible through the url www.facebook.com/BrockAnimalLiberation.

If you are not keen on working with municipalities like Labchuk suggests, BSAL provides an opportunity that is less time-consuming but still driven by passion. Labchuk’s presentation focused on using political pressure to advance animal rights. BSAL takes a different approach by encouraging community engagement.

Labchuk left the Brock community to ponder upon their relationship with animals. There is no denying that Canadian law does not protect animals as well as it could. One question remains: what can we do about this?

“We must motivate enforcement,” said Labchuk.

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