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Animals: Family at home, property at court | Victoria Shroff

Friday, July 05, 2019 @ 9:41 AM | By Victoria Shroff

Victoria Shroff %>
Victoria Shroff
In the first week of June I had the privilege to be part of the biggest Canadian academic conference of the year taking place in Vancouver on the University of British Columbia (UBC) campus, my alma mater. The huge event for academics is called Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences.

In its 88th year, the prestigious Congress incorporates over 70 scholarly associations and is known as being one of the must-attend annual gatherings for scholars across the full breadth of the humanities, including law.

The Canadian Law and Society Association, to which I belong, was well represented at Congress this June. The stated goal of Congress is to bring people together “... to share findings, refine ideas and build partnerships that will help shape the Canada of tomorrow” (Congress 2019 website).

The theme of this year’s Congress was “Circles of Conversation.” Particular focus was aimed at generating productive scholarly relationships through dialogue, debate and critical engagement.  
Pleased to say that animal law was part of the Circle of Conversation this year as well. I was honoured with an invitation to be part of an animal law panel being assembled by professor Maneesha Deckha, Lansdowne chair at the University of Victoria and leading scholar in critical animal studies, food, postcolonial theory, feminist theory and more.

Other members of our panel included prominent animal law scholars Charlotte Blattner of Harvard, Jodi Lazare of the Schulich School of Law at Dalhousie University and Jessica Eisen of the University of Alberta.

Global academic events incorporating animal law show that it is a field of study that has rightfully claimed a place at the table thereby giving further credence to animal law as an area of serious scholarship and practice. Our panel presented on “Shifting the Anthropocentric Violence of Canadian Liberal Legalism through Relationality, Redress and Reconciliation: Moving toward Harmonious Inter-species Relations.”

I know.

Sounds complex and theoretical.

And it was, but it’s also simple at its core, that is how to question and then try to improve the legal status of animals. It’s what I aim to do every day for the last 19-plus years with my animal law clients and also when I teach animal law at university and elsewhere.

Figuring out how humans engage with animals in a legal context is what I do so my presentation attempted to marry what I’ve learned as a practitioner and how things roll out on a practical level with what I teach as a part time professor. In a word, praxis.

I have no doubt that I will incorporate what I learned at Congress when I co-teach animal law at UBC this fall. My particular Congress presentation focused on lack of harmonious interspecies relations through the example of pet custody and the law. I explored the tension of how companion animals or pets are beloved family members in our homes, but they are still mere property in court.

Besides participating as a presenter, I got to sit in on some very insightful lectures about accountability and governance, delegating democracy and more. Most of the people speaking at Congress were seasoned, leading academics sharing parts of their novel and groundbreaking theories.

It was fun being a student again and listening in on not just animal law, but I also heard some amazing lectures about environmental law, administrative and constitutional law. I’m still mentally unpacking some of the intriguing theories and seeing how these topics intersect with animal law.

One of the best side benefits about this entire week was getting to be 100 per cent nerdy and fitting right in with the others who were doing the same. Never a dull moment; there were breakout discussion rooms, workshops on technology and so much more.

There was a spirit of camaraderie and cross pollination of ideas, all with a view to the bigger picture: how to democratize society through exchange of knowledge.

Unlike a single CLE course, I had the opportunity to meet with legal and humanities scholars from every discipline with attenuating crossover concepts and ideas from all sorts of fields. Animal law while distinct in its own way, also overlaps with sociology, environmental law, property law, contract law etc. I chatted with a professor of administrative law about the intersection of animal and admin law and how many administrative decisions are at the core of big animal law cases.
Of course, as it would do, the Reece case about Lucy the lone elephant in the Edmonton Zoo came up.  (Please see my earlier articles: Animal law: An elephantine case to consider and Reframing the status of animals in Canadian law.

This is part one of a two-part series.

V. Victoria Shroff is one of the first and longest serving animal law practitioners in Canada. She has been practising animal law civil litigation for nearly 20 years in Vancouver at Shroff and Associates (604-891-0209). She is also adjunct professor of law at UBC’s Allard Hall and has lectured internationally from India to Galiano Island and is frequently interviewed by media. Follow her at @shroffanimallaw or on

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