Thursday, 9 July 2015

Why are Canadian animal protection laws still so weak?

What are our next steps?

by Vicki Van Linden, Director

In February of 2015, a woman was accused of hoarding 201 dogs on an Alberta property. Some dogs had broken bones and parasite infested wounds. Many were emaciated and in a state of severe malnutrition. Five dogs were discovered already deceased, believed to have died of starvation. This person already had a previous conviction for animal neglect issued in another province. Yet, she was able to acquire more than 200 dogs and keep them in her possession – even after being investigated again on concerns about dogs while living in another community.

In June of 2014, undercover video taken by an advocacy group, Mercy for Animals, revealed extreme acts of cruelty against cows on a British Columbia dairy farm. The video showed cows being punched, kicked and beaten with chains, tools, feet and fists. Some of these beatings were inflicted on downed or trapped cows who had no means of escape. An officer with the BC SPCA was reported saying that the video evidence indicated an urgent need for better standards to protect farm animals.

In July of 2015, a senior was taken into police custody in Calgary for allegedly killing three cats. When officers entered his yard, 15 rabbits were found to be living in distressing conditions. The man was keeping the rabbits to be used as food. 

Why do otherwise progressive people accept and even support industries that hurt and kill animals?

Why are Canadian laws that protect animals still so weak?

The concept of ‘Speciesism’ might help to explain.  ‘Speciesism’ is a prejudice that devalues non-human animals, in the same way that Racism and Sexism devalue differing groups of humans.

Simply put, the assumption of all prejudice is:

‘Because you are different from me, you are less than me,’ and:
‘Because you are less than me, your suffering matters less than mine,’ therefore:
‘Because your suffering matters less than mine, I am free to use you as I please.’

When it comes to animals ‘using them as we please’ is the norm for legally protected industries like farming, research, hunting and entertainment.

We know from history that once a group is devalued then abuses of the devalued group are easily justified. We offer protection only to those that we value.

Since the exploitation and use of animals can be very profitable, there is great opposition to raising the status of animals in even modern societies like ours.

People are often distressed that the horrors of puppy mills continue. How can something that is so obviously wrong be so difficult to stop? Why won’t governments just pass the laws needed to end the abuse of dogs, the most widely loved species of animals? Could it be that animal-using industries and their political supporters understand that there is not much difference between the suffering of a pig in a gestation crate and that of a dog in a puppy mill cage?  Is that why puppy mill breeding dogs continue to be poorly protected, just as pigs, cows and chickens are poorly protected?

Animals as Property:

Author and Lawyer, Lesli Bisgould, writes about the legal protections that we give to animals in her book: ‘Animals and the Law’ (published by Irwin Law inc. 2011.)

Bisgould writes: “…people do not treat animals badly because animals are property, animals are property so that people can treat them badly.”

How do we gain protections for animals as more than just someone’s property?

What are the next steps we need to work through to get better animal protection laws passed by our governments?

How do we help as many animals as we can, as quickly as we can?

Animals are suffering terribly right now, and cannot wait for a global awakening on the rights of non-human animals. If we keep in mind that the rights of women are still not enshrined in every nation on earth, how long will it be before animals of all species are no longer regarded as property to be exploited? Animals need help now.

Sentient beings:

New Zealand has passed legislation that grants the status of ‘sentient beings’ to animals. This designation recognizes that animals are more than mere objects but are living beings that experience both positive and negative emotions like pain, fear, and distress as well as joy and even love. Will such a change in legal status result in animals finally being given legal protection as more than just property?

Uncharted territory:

Nowhere on earth can we look to a nation that has already truly protected animals from exploitation and abuse. But we can see nations that are farther ahead than Canada is on this journey.

Still, there is no proven template to adopt, no sure road-map to follow.

We still have more questions than answers.

So, let’s keep talking. Let’s keep working. And, let’s not give up.

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