New Award Recognizes Legal Achievements for Animals in Honour of Retiring Judge

A new animal law award has been created in the name of a retired judge who wrote Canada’s most famous animal law decision. Justice Catherine Fraser recently stepped down as Chief Justice of the Alberta Court of Appeal, after 30 years heading up as the province’s top judge.

The Catherine A. Fraser Award for Excellence in the Advancement of Animal Law was announced at a recent retirement dinner honouring the judge, hosted by the Alberta Branch of the Canadian Bar Association, and the Women’s Legal Forum of the Alberta Civil Trial Lawyers Association.

Photo: Catherine Fraser 2015 | Connor Mah | CC BY-SA 4.0

The award will be presented by the Women’s Legal Forum to individuals showing “outstanding legal achievements in advancing the welfare of animals”. Professor Peter Sankoff, an animal law expert who attended the dinner, tweeted that retired Chief Justice Fraser told him the award was created at her deliberate request, as an effort to help advance the status of animals in Canada. 

Retired Chief Justice Fraser is best known for writing a powerful dissent in a case involving Lucy, an Asian elephant held captive for over a decade at the Edmonton Valley Zoo, without any elephant companionship. Animal advocates brought a legal challenge to the poor conditions under which Lucy was being kept, asking an Alberta court to find that her confinement breached provincial animal welfare laws. 

Tragically, two judges of the Alberta Court of Appeal dismissed Lucy’s case as an abuse of process, refusing to hear about the suffering Lucy endured. But then-Chief Justice Fraser wrote forcefully in her dissent that, “Some may consider this appeal and the claims on behalf of Lucy inconsequential, perhaps even frivolous. They would be wrong. Lucy’s case raises serious issues not only about how society treats sentient animals – those capable of feeling pain and thereby suffering at human hands – but also about the right of the people in a democracy to ensure that the government itself is not above the law.”

Unfortunately, Lucy remains at the Edmonton Zoo. At the retirement dinner, retired Chief Justice Fraser reportedly remarked, “I wish sometimes I had been able to do more. Sorry, Lucy. I really tried.” 

Retired Chief Justice Fraser also spoke at Animal Justice’s inaugural Canadian Animal Law Conference at Dalhousie University in 2019.