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Does the Law Consider Animal Suffering?

Animal law conference organized by the International Research Group in Animal Law (GRIDA) on Parliament Hill in Ottawa (Ontario)

May 20, 2011

Conference proceedings are available only in French at the Revue québécoise de droit international (RQDI) at the following address :

Following the success of the first Animal Law Conference held in Montreal in May 2009, the International Research Group in Animal Law (GRIDA) organized the second edition of this international event Does the Law Consider Animal Suffering? Under the honorary presidency of the Honourable Marlene Jennings et de Ms. Alexandra Mendès, this bilingual event dealed with a range of issues related to animal suffering.

The main goals of the conference was to evaluate the state of our knowledge about animal suffering and to address the strategies implemented by different legal systems – international, European and Canadian – for the legal protection of animals against unnecessary suffering. The conference provided a platform for interdisciplinary exchanges between Canadian and international researchers and practitioners who had the opportunity to propose new and innovative outlooks on the legal treatment of animals. The overall goal was to continue the discussion that began in Montreal in 2009 relating to behaviors that human beings exhibit towards the animal species.

Conference Program

Suffering, the Hidden Face of the XIXth Century Protection Laws
Éric Baratay - Professor, Faculty of Arts and Civilizations, Jean Moulin University (Lyon 3)

A review of the literature in regards to what we now know about animal behaviour and suffering, shows that such suffering was clearly grasped by people of the 19th century, which then led to the first protection laws. Since animal suffering had not yet been established or measured, and was only vaguely alluded to in human discourse, it was frequently devalued and even hidden, both by the actors, who had a tendency to evoke more "rational" arguments that were generally more acceptable to society, especially historians, philosophers, and law makers, who preferred economic, social, political, and cultural explanations rather than focus on the flesh, emotion, and blood bonds existing between men and animals.

Indices scientifiques de la douleur animale : à quoi reconnaissons-nous qu'ils souffrent ?
Éric Troncy - Professor, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, University of Montreal

Scientific, Ethical and Legal Awareness of Animal Sensitivity in France
Thierry Auffret Van der Kemp - Director, Fondation Droit Animal, éthique et sciences

The degree of knowledge, moral interest and regulatory protection of animal sensitivity varies significantly from country to country. Based on the following concrete examples, we shall briefly set out in proper order why and how such variations exist in France:
  • The ability of many animals to feel pain or to experience emotions is still debated or denied, by certain scientists, even though the ability of animals to perceive harm and to react reflexively is well recognized by neurobiologists;
  • Sensitivity to or the awareness of animal sensitivity is still socially suspect and not highly valued, even though violations against animal sensitivity, especially against household pets, is morally reprehensible;
  • Numerous painful practices or those that generate negative emotions in animals are still allowed by regulations for economic, cultural, scientific or religious motives, even though household pets or wild animals kept in captivity are protected under the rural code, the penal code and various regulations with respect to their sensitivity.
Wild animals living freely in their natural habitat are not legally protected with respect to their sensitivity, unless they are classified as an endangered species.

Why Should Law Be Concerned about Animal Suffering?

The Narrative of Animal Suffering: A Crucial Link Between Animal Liberation and Other Social Justice Movements
Elizabeth DeCoux - Professor, Florida Coastal School of Law

There is No Such Thing as Animal Rights
Lesli Bisgould - Adjunct professor, Faculty of Law, University of Toronto

In the context of the current structure of the Canadian legal system, animals neither have, nor can have, any rights. Canadian laws, both federally and provincially, esteem property rights - and animals are property while humans are property owners. Therefore, to the limited extent that the law ever does recognize any conflict between the interests of an animal and a human, the resolution of that conflict has been pre-determined by how the parties are characterized in the first place. The most important part of property ownership, after all, is the right to use that property as its owner sees fit. Property itself can have no rights.
The goal of animal rights law, then, is to generate animal rights by eroding their property status. The factual premise on which that status rests (that animals are just things: they don't reason, they don't communicate, they don't feel, etc.) has lost all credibility in the many decades since Darwin first said "evolution" and there is no logically defensible basis for it in modern times. Eroding the property status of animals should not be confused with efforts to improve their welfare within the existing ideological regime. The latter can cause more harm than good, by perpetuating the assumption that is the source of the problem, and by giving false comfort to the general public that the animals' welfare is being addressed and needs no further attention.

A Regulated Regard: Comparing the Regulation of Animal and Human Experimentation
Vaughan Black - Professor, Schulich School of Law, Dalhousie University

Canada has been criticized as being perhaps the only western country without a national statute focused on regulation of the use of animals in medical and industrial research. While the Criminal Code undoubtedly applies to such activities, no prosecutions have ever been brought under it in respect of abuse of animals in scientific exploration, and there is no other federal statute that applies to research on non-human beings. Defenders of the current Canadian regime respond that the standards and procedures promulgated by the Canadian Council for Animal Care, reinforced by the need to comply with those standards in order to be eligible for research funding from any of the key national granting agencies, provides adequate oversight of this area, and indeed that Canada is a regulatory model for the protection of animals in scientific inquiry. Some have gone further and have asserted that in Canada the protection granted to animals used in scientific exploration is superior to that offered to humans.

This presentation responds to those defences, particularly the last. It illustrates that the claim that animals have better protection than humans in the existing administration and supervision of research in Canada is false, and further argues that the current Canadian model fails to provide sufficient protection against unnecessary use of animals in scientific, medical and industrial study.

Models of Animal Protection Legislations Outside of Canada
Olivier Le Bot - Professor, Faculty of Law, Nice Sophia Antipolis University

Major Developments of Animal Inclusion in the European Legal System: Dereification and Constitutional Inclusion

In Europe, the legal situation of animals has gone through two significant changes, over the course of the past few years. The first change involves the adoption of stricter regulations through the inclusion of animal protection standards in the Constitution. The second change is related to the status of animals, with a shift towards a new legal definition of animals, which seeks to remove animals from the category of goods and to include them in a new category.

European Policies on Animal Welfare: the Way Towards the Second European Union Strategy for Animal Welfare
Denis Simonin - Member of the Animal Welfare Unit, Directorate General for Health and Consumers, European Commission

Within the European Union (EU), animal welfare legislation stems from a longstanding tradition, dating back in many Member States, to the 19th century.

The broad public debate that emerged in the early 1970s revealed the need to harmonise farm production conditions in the Member States and to respond to a growing societal demand for improving animal welfare. The same debate occurred for the use of animals for scientific purposes.

Today animals are defined as "sentient beings" by the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, which has reinforced the role of animal welfare policies in the context of several related European policy areas. Future policy development based on existing legislation will continue to be at the centre of ethical concerns modulated by cultural and traditional values. The second European Animal Welfare Strategy, scheduled for adoption by the EU Commission in 2011, will seek to integrate all these elements and to reinforce the recognition of these values beyond EU borders.

Different objectives may require new approaches that go beyond legislation such as: the facilitated enforcement of existing rules; their updating in line with technical and scientific progress, or the adoption of new legislation concerning issues not yet covered by specific community legislation.

New Zealand's System of Animal Welfare: Strengths, Weaknesses and the Power of Dialogue
Peter Sankoff - Professor, Faculty of Law, University of Western Ontario

In 1999, New Zealand reformed its animal welfare legislation and created an intricate new regime that covers a range of human/animal interactions. This presentation will explore some of the strengths and weaknesses of this new framework, and examine what it offers for countries looking to amend their own laws relating to animal protection. In particular, the presentation will consider how a law of this sort can assist in promoting positive dialogue about the treatment of animals and create mechanisms to ensure that further reforms are forthcoming.

Political Reactions
Marlene Jennings - Honorary President, Outgoing Liberal Deputy (Notre-Dame-de-Grâce - Lachine)
Alexandra Mendès - Honorary President, Outgoing Liberal Deputy (Brossard - La Prairie)

GRIDA’s goal is to define a modern, legal approach to issues of animal security and welfare that combines its purpose and the appropriate juridical instruments

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