Guest blog post by journalist Jessica Scott-Reid, co-host of the Paw & Order podcast
Not surprisingly, the second annual Canadian Animal Law Conference, held this past weekend, looked quite different from the conference held at the Schulich School of Law at Dalhousie last year. Due to pandemic restrictions, this year’s event, presented by Animal Justice and the University of Toronto Faculty of Law, was of course held entirely online. Though disappointing for participants who weren’t able to gather and network and enjoy panels and speakers in person at the University of Toronto as planned, the online platform provided its own unique benefits.
Via Pheedloop, this year’s conference offered almost twice as many panels as the year prior, and hosted nearly 500 participants from all over the world. There were online social events, and participants had the ability to hop between concurrently running panels. There was also an even wider range of topics, from “Tiger Kings and Trafficking Rings: Combating Wildlife Crime and Exploitation” to “Veganism, Dairy, and Decolonization;” and “Animals & the Carceral State” to “The Costs and Benefits of Being Forgotten: Fish and Aquatic Invertebrate Science and Policy.”
Some recurrent, albeit updated topics were also included, such as “Animals Used In Science: Legal Oversight & Technological Advances,” “Beyond Enforcement: A New Role for Humane Societies in the 21st Century,” and “Persons or Things? Habeas Corpus Litigation on Behalf of Animals.”
And an incredible “Scholar’s Track,” sponsored by The Brooks Institute, allowed for deep dives into important topics including, “What It Means to Be Property: Property Law Theory and Animal Rights Debates,” “Beyond the Law? Interrogating the Scope of Common Farming Exemptions,” and “From Slow Food to Slow Meat: Why Slowing Slaughter Line Speeds is Good for Workers, Animals and Consumers.”
Though topics varied much in range, the second annual Canadian Animal Law Conference did have a handful of recurring themes.
Ag-gag legislation was an especially prominent and timely topic this year. During “No Glass Walls: Ag Gag Laws in Canada,” former undercover investigator Geoff Regier, presented many of the shocking reasons why undercover work is so necessary in animal agriculture; work that ag-gag laws in Canada have now made illegal. Professors Jodi Lazare and Justin Marceau on the same panel, as well as professor Katie Sykes and Samantha Skinner on “Fake Laws: How Ag Gag Undermines the Rule of Law,” and lawyer Arden Beddoes on “Free Speech in the Age of Art & Animal Advocacy,” all spoke on issues of free expression, lacking industry transparency, lacking legal protections for farmed animals, and the unconstitutional nature of ag-gag legislation. Any participants joining the conference with concerns about the future of ag-gag legislation in Canada, certainly left feeling assured that there is much, much work being done to fight it.
Of course the pandemic was another important theme this year, with a number of panelists offering insights on how lawyers and advocates could harness the impact of these trying times to help animals going forward. During “Preventing the Next Pandemic: Animal Law & COVID-19” participants were taught the effectiveness of working in collaboration with NGOs to develop strategies to highlight animal agriculture as a risk to humans, the environment and non-human animals alike. Focusing on crammed and unhygienic housing conditions of farmed animals in Canada, for which there is no legal oversight, was another shared strategy. And a powerful quote from naturalist Chris Packman, shared by Advocates for Animals co-founder David Thomas, offered sobering perspective: “What the whole, horribly harsh, tragic lesson of the virus has taught us is that we are part of nature; we’re not there to hold dominion over it, we’re not above it.”
The intersection of animal rights and human rights was also discussed throughout a number of panels, including by Professor Lesli Bisgould, during “Animals in the Anthropocene: Commodification & Discrimination.” Bisgould drew attention to the growing anti-discrimination movement, and the need for it to include non-human animals. “Even if human rights advocates don’t embrace us, we must embrace them,” she asserted, going on to discuss the need for, and effectiveness of using human rights language and concepts within animal rights activism and law.
In a similar vein, the topic of colonial limitations within animal rights and welfare advocacy was also widely discussed. In “Greedy Bat-Eaters vs Cruel Pig-Killers: The Lose-Lose Battle of Divisive Discourse,” professor Angela Lee discussed how animal law and advocacy are both “steeped in white supremacy.” Using as an example the emergence of racist rhetoric among some animal advocates, as a result of the current pandemic, she explained the importance of critically re-evaluating oppressive systems that can create pathways for such viruses, and the need for positive social reform.
During “All My Relations: UNDRIP, Animal Rights, and Indigenous Worldviews,” Alison Cuffley, of the BCSPA and of indigenous descent, echoed similar sentiments, stating that all she knew of animal rights was taught through a “settler’s lens.” Senator Murray Sinclair, added that “colonial governments that came to Canada brought with them their understanding of the animal world … conceived from the bible, which states man has dominion over all of creation, that man is superior, that animals are less and are there for human use.” He explained that this is not the teaching of indigenous people, “people who have been here for thousands of years living in balance with creation,” and spoke of the benefits to the environment and animals, of learning from indigenous perspectives.
Though presented in a much different format, this year’s conference was certainly a success, offering a balance of animal rights and animal welfare topics, discussed through a blend of legal, cultural and scientific lenses. Integrated perspectives, hard topics, and even a few laughs, offered the many law professionals, students, advocates, academics, and general animal-lovers alike, an undoubtedly enriching experience, and a profound boost in the fight for animals.
If you missed the conference, recorded sessions are still available for a full 60 days after the event! Post-conference tickets on sale here.
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