New Senate Bill Would Protect Great Apes, Elephants, & Give Some Animals Standing in Court

Senator Murray Sinclair has introduced a groundbreaking Senate bill to protect great apes and elephants and even give animals legal standing and representation in some court proceedings. The bill, known as the Jane Goodall Act, is one of the most progressive animal protection bills ever introduced in Canada.

Backed by renowned primatologist Jane Goodall, the proposed law would ban keeping great apes and elephants in captivity across the country, as well as breeding them and forcing them to perform for entertainment. It would also outlaw imports of ivory and elephant trophies into Canada, pushing back against the trade in elephant body parts that is decimating elephant populations in some parts of Africa and Asia, and taking a chunk out of the cruel trophy hunting business.

The proposed legislation comes on the heels of the Ending the Captivity of Whales and Dolphins Act, also sponsored by Senator Sinclair, which became law in June, 2019 and was the first piece of serious new animal protection legislation passed in Canada in over 100 years. Now, the Jane Goodall Act builds on this progress for whales and dolphins by recognizing that great apes and elephants deserve protections, too. The bill also empowers governments to order that additional species of wild animals cannot be kept or bred in captivity. This power provides flexibility, allowing the government to expand protections to more classes of animals over time as science and public attitudes evolve. In announcing the bill, Senator Sinclair specifically mentioned that he hopes the government will use this mechanism to protect big cats from captivity.

Support for keeping animals captive in zoos and aquariums is at an all-time low, with over half of Canadians opposed. There are 33 great apes in captivity, including six orangutans, nine chimpanzees, and 18 gorillas. Meanwhile, there are over 20 elephants in captivity, including at African Lion Safari in Ontario where they are forced to perform for spectators, resulting in an attack in 2019. At the Edmonton Zoo, an elephant named Lucy has been kept in solitary confinement for over a decade.

Animals have not yet been found to have standing themselves to participate in court proceedings in Canada, but the bill also helps ensure animals’ interests are represented in the courtroom. The bill states that if a person is convicted of illegally confining a great ape, elephant, or whale in captivity or breeding them, the court can appoint an animal advocate to participate in a sentencing hearing. The court can then make an order to improve the conditions under which the animal is kept, relocate them to a sanctuary, or order the surrender of the animal to an animal welfare authority. The court must consider the animal’s welfare in making such an order, and can consider expert evidence presented by the animal advocate.

Senator Sinclair has proven himself a true champion of animals, and has written that the need for stronger animal protection laws is also a matter of Indigenous reconciliation, emphasizing the Indigenous worldview and its close relationship with environmental protection and animal welfare. In the preamble of the bill, it is noted that “the phrase ‘All My Relations’ expresses an Indigenous understanding that all life forms of Creation are interconnected and interdependent”.

Animal Justice applauds Senator Sinclair for this bold and exciting bill!

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