Developments in Animal Rights laws – Legal Standing for Captive Animals?

Animal rights have long been pushed to the back of the political agenda, but now it seems that they might be coming to the forefront. Notably, in the recent federal election, for the first time in Canadian history issues of animal protection have been on the agenda. The Liberal party promised, among others, to introduce legislation to protect animals in captivity.

Erskine-Smith, active Liberal animal rights activist, in a pre-election animal protection debate promised to attempt to revive Bill S-218, the Jane Goodall Act. This Bill introduced in the Senate on November 17, 2020 aims to ban elephant ivory trade and to a great extent prohibit the captivity of whales, dolphins, porpoises, great apes and elephants in Canada. The bill is close to revolutionary, as it proposes to grant legal standing to certain captive animals and consider their “best interests”, in light of “individual animal’s welfare and conservation of the species”, when deciding questions of their captivity or imposed sentences on those who violated animal trade or captivity bans. So far the bill has not progressed further than the First Reading in the Senate.

Meanwhile on the provincial level there has been a recent rise in so-called “agricultural gag” or “ag-gag” laws, which have been widely criticized for shielding animal abusers and punishing those who want to expose such abuse.  Ontario adopted its own ag-gag law in the form of Security from Trespass and Protecting Food Safety Act (“Act”) on June 18, 2020. This legislation prohibits anyone to enter the agricultural property without prior consent of the farm owner or under “false pretenses”, as well as forbids to “interfere or interact” with animals in transit. It also increases fines for trespassing on farms and gives the farm owners extended powers to arrest people on their property based on their subjective belief that there are reasonable grounds for such arrest.

Animal rights group, Animal Justice, has filed the first constitutional challenge of the Act, stating that this law targets main strategies animal rights activists and whistleblowers use – going undercover to reveal animal abuse on farm premises and observing transport to slaughterhouses. Animal Justice claims that the Act violates Charter protected rights of freedom of expression and freedom of press by preventing activists and journalists from gathering and disseminating information about animals’ treatment. The Act also interferes with the freedom of peaceful assembly by outlawing protesting on public property close to the farms or during animal transit. The claim is currently progressing through the Ontario Superior Court of Justice.

We at Watson Labour Law strongly believe in humane treatment of people and animals alike and the importance of justice for those who violate this principle. We will continue to inform you of the developments in the human rights law and please do not hesitate to reach out to us if you require specific assistance with your issue.

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