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COVID-19 and animal laws: Moving beyond ‘property’ status | Daniel Dylan

Friday, May 22, 2020 @ 1:55 PM | By Daniel Dylan


Daniel Dylan %>
Daniel Dylan
In part one of this series, I wrote that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), the federal body responsible for regulating the safety of non-human animals and their byproducts for human animal consumption in Canada, generally directs its regulatory efforts to ensuring that both foreign and domestic non-human animals (and their byproducts) are fit for human animal consumption.

I also mentioned that CFIA does little to protect the daily lives and welfare of non-human animals themselves but acknowledged that it is not explicitly within CFIA’s mandate to do so. Even a cursory reading of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency Act and its regulations, the Health of Animals Act and the Meat Inspection Act will reveal as much.

In that article, I aimed to briefly show how simply adopting a vegan diet could for health and environmental reasons prevent the transmission of further zoonotic diseases such as COVID-19. That said, the COVID-19 pandemic — and its origins lying in the consumption of non-human animals which transmit zoonotic diseases — also provides a helpful opportunity to review laws governing non-human animal cruelty in Canada, not just those involving the importation and consumption of non-human animal meats.

For example, anti-cruelty legislation found in s. 445.1 (1) of the Criminal Code makes it an offence for a person to wilfully permit to be caused unnecessary pain, suffering or injury to an animal. This provision implies, as a corollary, that some pain, suffering or injury caused to non-human animals is necessary. Non-human animals slaughtered for human animal consumption invariably suffer some pain or injury, but because such pain is experienced by them for the purposes of human animal food production, it is often, tragically, considered “necessary.”

In Ontario, for example, s. 15 of the Provincial Animal Welfare Services Act, 2019 (PAWS), makes it an offence for a person to cause an animal to be in distress, to permit an animal to be in distress and to knowingly or recklessly cause an animal to be exposed to an undue risk of distress; however, it exempts any such distress based on extant regulations or “the reasonable and generally accepted practices of agricultural animal care, management or husbandry.”

Section 13 similarly provides that every person who owns or has custody or care of a non-human animal shall adhere to extant regulations. However, s. 13 exempts activities “regarding agricultural animal care, management or husbandry carried on in accordance with the reasonable and generally accepted practices of agricultural animal care, management or husbandry … .”

Under these exemptions and similar ones found in other provinces’ legislation, many non-human animals indeed suffer much pain and injury in Canada under the guise of “reasonable and generally accepted practices” simply to produce meat or food.

Historically, non-human animals were viewed as inferior on a hierarchy of species and relegated to the dominion and utilitarian needs, wants and desires of human animals. This justified eating them and other actions that today are mostly condemned. Cartesian and most modern philosophy, with the exception of Jeremy Bentham, viewed non-human animals as lacking sentience.

Modern science and human experience have shown the opposite to be the case. Many species, too numerous to list here, demonstrate not only sentience but cognition, language, social organization and other traits within their species. The legal hypocrisy about protecting certain non-human animals but not others is most evident and exposed when fallacious arguments are made justifying the consumption of cows, pigs, chickens, etc., by human animals, but not of cats, dogs or hamsters, etc.

For those who do not view non-human animals as food and advocate for a legal status “beyond property” (which is the current legal status) to that of even being legal persons, current law creates an unacceptable state of affairs. Anti-cruelty advocacy for non-human animals, however, extends beyond humane or safe slaughter practices and, in some cases, well beyond mere utilitarian considerations for their welfare.

Stated differently, non-human animal welfare advocates push for humane treatment of non-human animals but still view them as “property” to be put to utilitarian functions such as food production, entertainment and human animal assistance, so long as doing so minimizes pain, suffering, or injury — even cruelty.

Animal rights advocates, in contrast, advocate for non-human animals as “subjects of a life” who are entitled to the status of legal persons and all the rights that inhere in such a designation. Despite its virtues, at first blush, such an argument is seemingly a difficult one to make for both legal and practical reasons — but this is not entirely the case. Again, adopting a vegan diet is one of the simplest measures one can take to end the suffering of non-human animals in Canada and to stem the tide of COVID-19 transmissions around the globe.

Canada, like many democracies, still struggles to ensure human rights for all; however, the fact that it has not achieved such a reality does not mean it should or will give up this pursuit, and that better protecting non-human animals will thwart that pursuit. Mahatma Gandhi is reputed to have said, “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”

Non-human animals do feel pain and distress, and we are of a collectively weakened moral fibre if we ethically and legally permit such suffering under the guise of “reasonable and generally accepted practices” to continue.

Whatever it looks like, we should hope that the post COVID-19 world provides us the opportunity to become a nation guided by a stronger moral and ethical compass because we chose to stop the suffering of non-human animals in all contexts.

This is part two of a two-part series. Part one: COVID-19 and animal laws.

Daniel Dylan is an assistant professor at the Bora Laskin Faculty of Law, Lakehead University, in Thunder Bay, Ont. He teaches animal law, contract law, evidence law, intellectual property law and Indigenous knowledge governance.

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