Are animals acquiring more rights?
Times are changing. More and more people own pets. With the increase in pet ownership and popularity, we are seeing an increase in animal related legal issues. But are animals acquiring rights? As most lawyers would say, it depends how you look at the issue.
Firstly, animals are considered private property. So, from an inherent rights perspective, they enjoy as many rights as your car, sofa, or stamp collection. But, governments from all levels have enacted laws to protect animals. So, animals do receive protection under various laws and regulations, unlike your car, sofa, and stamp collection.
Growth in Pet ownership
Pets’ popularity seems to be driving this new awareness. If you own pets, you can easily understand why the idea of animal rights is gaining popularity. We had a golden retriever whom we loved dearly (he was 15 years old when we put him down). These animals become members of our family. In fact, it’s difficult to think of them as property.
According to Mordor Intelligence, a market intelligence and advisory firm, more Canadians are acquiring pets. On their website, they state:
“The citizens of Canada prefer the ownership of pets, compared to other countries in similar geographic locations. As per Canadian Animal Health Institute (CAHI) in 2018 there is an estimated 8.8 million cats and 7.6 million dogs and in over a decade, cat and dog ownership have increased by about 10%. Approximately, 41% of Canadian households now include at least one dog, and similarly, around 37 % include at least one cat according to the same source.”
In Manitoba, as in most provinces, the three levels of government create a framework on the issue of animal protection. Manitoba enacted the Animal Care Act. Federally, the Criminal Code of Canada creates penalties for animal cruelty, and cities and municipalities enact by-laws to regulate animal ownership. For example, the City of Winnipeg enacted the Responsible pet-ownership bylaw.
Under the Manitoba Animal Care Act, government created a framework to protect animals. This protection extends to all animals, whether pets, production animals (farm), or wildlife. Para. 3(1) of the act reads as follows: “No person shall inflict upon an animal acute suffering, serious injury or harm, or extreme anxiety or distress that significantly impairs its health or well-being.” The act goes on to create exceptions to permit activities such as animal slaughter, fishing and hunting, and sporting events as long as these are performed in accordance with a code of conduct or acceptable practices and procedures.
The act also defines the term: Animals in Distress. Para. 6 of the act reads as follows:
6(1) Subject to subsection (2), for the purposes of this Act, an animal is in distress if it is
(a) subjected to conditions that, unless immediately alleviated, will cause the animal death or serious harm;
(b) subjected to conditions that cause the animal to suffer acute pain;
(c) not provided food and water sufficient to maintain the animal in a state of good health;
(d) not provided appropriate medical attention when the animal is wounded or ill;
(e) unduly exposed to cold or heat; or
(f) subjected to conditions that will, over time, significantly impair the animal’s health or well-being, including
(i) confinement in an area of insufficient space,
(ii) confinement in unsanitary conditions,
(iii) confinement without adequate ventilation or lighting,
(iv) not being allowed an opportunity for adequate exercise, and
(v) conditions that cause the animal extreme anxiety or distress.
Interestingly, the act creates at sub-para (f)(v) mental health component. From my understanding of the literature, this is rather unique. In fact, the Animal Legal Defence Fund constantly, until 2018, ranked Manitoba as the province offering animals the most protection (we fell into 2nd place in 2018, loosing first spot to PEI). The organization relies, in part, on the law’s recognition of psychological harm as one of the existing strengths. The full report can be found here.
At the federal level, s. 444 to 447 of the Criminal Code protects animals from injury, death, and cruelty. Prior to 2008, the Criminal Code limited convictions in this area to summary conviction. The federal government added teeth to the Code in 2008 by making these offences indictable with the possibility of a prison sentence up to 5 years in length (although the Crown may still proceed on a summary conviction basis which can incur a $10,000 fine and up to 18 months in prison).
Winnipeg’s Responsible Animal Ownership By-law deals with a host of other topics ranging from animal licensing, prohibited dog breeds (pit-bulls),prohibited animals, the ability to impound, and dangerous dog designation to name a few.
As we can see from a quick overview of the legislation, animal protection or, if you prefer, the rights animals enjoy under our legal framework are expanding. Some lawyers across the country are also devoting part of their practice to animal rights. Take for example Victoria Shroff from Vancouver. She has been practicing in this area for over 20 years and has dealt with a variety of cases involving animals.
In a recent article she discusses two relatively recent cases. First she cites the court’s decision to acquit Dr. Anita Krajnc from charges of criminal mischief when she provided water to pigs destined to the slaughter house. She also discussed the plight of Lucy, the elephant in the Edmonton Zoo. That case was eventually heard in the Alberta court of appeal. The court, at the end, sided with the Zoo City of Edmonton, but one of the three judges provided a strongly worded dissent whereby she criticized the:
“inadequate consideration of animals’ interests in law-making”.
In addition to legislation and court cases, many law schools offer animal law courses. The profession, itself, is interested in taking a closer look at this emerging area of the law. I understand that either the Manitoba Law Society or the Manitoba Bar Association is looking to establish a section about animal rights. I would expect that following its establishment, the professional organization will offer continuing education in this area.
The law often lags behind, but it usually reflects a changing society. Not that long ago, women were not considered “persons” under the law (when governments drafted legislation, they included the term ‘person’, yet courts consistently, up until 1928 interpreted persons to mean men only). The area of animal rights has become more and more relevant. Perhaps someday, governments will adopt animal right charters giving animals specific rights. It’s difficult to imagine this coming soon, but I’m sure lawyers in the 1800’s had difficulty foreseeing a time when women would have the right to vote.
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Philippe Richer is President of TLR Law Group. TLR has been located in the St. Boniface neighbourhood, in Winnipeg, since 1996. The office serves the middle class and small business within the province. With a focus on estates, wills, real estate, and corporate law, he leads his team in providing accessible legal services. Philippe also authored the business law course for the Knowledge Bureau and instructed the français juridique class at the faculty of Law at the University of Manitoba.