Canada’s Animal Law and Policy Must Change

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Canada’s Animal Law and Policy Must Change

[Ed. Note: For images of the "annual" seal hunt in Canada, visit Seals. Justifications for slaughtering thousands of baby seals used to be blamed on the decline in the numbers of "fish" for human consumption. The truth is that the decline in the numbers of fish is caused by people continuing to eat fish...so many fish that some species are disappearing. Lately the justification for slaughtering thousands of baby seals is to profit from their fur. Veganism is about human beings honoring life...not eating, wearing, using OTHER creatures.]

By Dave Shishkoff, Friends of Animals, Victoria BC
June 2011

Canada's laws state that “an activity or purpose is only charitable when it provides benefits to humans”; and “to be charitable, the benefit to humans must always take precedence over any benefit to animals.”

Millions of dollars are spent each year to facilitate the seal kills. The grotesque affair involves chartering Coast Guard boats and promoting the industry internationally. And still more millions more will be spent challenging the European ban on seal products.

Canada frequently trails others in its attitudes and policies regarding animals. Whether it’s a lack of a meaningful Endangered Species Act or protection of the trees and lands, or support of international treaties, protection for fur-bearing animals or ordinary anti-cruelty measures, Canada’s record is abysmal.

Many people think of Canada and think of the annual seal slaughter. While this year saw the fewest seals killed in decades, it’s still a puzzling affair to any rational person why the government continues to push for and defend this annual slaughter.

The Green Party of Canada, headed by Saanich & Gulf Islands MP Elizabeth May, remains the only national political party to speak against this. The Greens support ideas promoted for years by Friends of Animals: buy back the licensing for killing crews, and promote the growth of better jobs. While a few other Ministers of Parliament voice a personal opposition when pressed, two of the parties (the Conservatives and Liberals) fully support the killing, and the National Democratic Party remains ‘neutral’ — which has the effect of condoning.

Millions of dollars are spent each year to facilitate the kills. The grotesque affair involves chartering Coast Guard boats and promoting the industry internationally. And still more millions more will be spent challenging the European ban on seal products. It adds up to much more than the business of killing seals brings in, or - now that the markets have dwindled so significantly - will ever hope to bring in again.

One reason for the weakness of the animal-protection sphere in Canada is legal. Registered animal charities are effectively silenced, intimidated by the prospect of losing their charitable status. Some groups, such Fur Bearer Defenders, have changed their status from being a charity to a non-profit for this reason. And it’s because of this that “agencies like the David Suzuki Foundation don’t go anywhere near issues like Canada’s seal hunt,” according to Toby Gorman’s recent column in the Nanaimo News Bulletin.

The law states that “an activity or purpose is only charitable when it provides benefits to humans”; and “to be charitable, the benefit to humans must always take precedence over any benefit to animals.”

This essentially means that these groups can’t speak out against animal cruelty and exploitation when there are human interests in conflict. But it’s only in times of conflict with human interests that defending animals matters at all. Yet these groups seem unable to challenge the very laws that limit them. Thus, an animal-advocacy charity registered in Canada is doomed to failure from the start.


A mother harp seal mourns over bloodied and skinned remains of her baby.
Image from The Animals Voice

While 38,061 baby seals have been shot and battered to death off the coast of Newfoundland this spring, polar bears and grizzly bears are being hunted and killed for trophies, and countless other animals are being killed and exploited, the organizations that do speak out are kept from registering — forced to operate at a significant financial and public-relations disadvantage.

Canada, it’s time to step into the 21st century, and start treating other animals with respect, including the humans who wish to speak up for them. Our activists in Victoria, BC will keep speaking out (it helps us that the Friends of Animals headquarters are located in the US). But it’s time for our politicians, animal law professors and students, and environmental law experts to address these issues and level the field. Let us hear more from you about how to begin to change our antiquated legal system, so that Canada’s precious ecology and the animals who rely on it can have a fighting chance.