Recap: Learnings from the Third Annual Canadian Animal Law Conference

Guest post from journalist Jessica Scott-Reid

The third annual Canadian Animal Law Conference, presented by Animal Justice, was once again held online this year, and was attended by hundreds of legal professionals, animal advocates, students, educators, journalists and more, from around the world. And even with Zoom fatigue hitting so many of us (as we inch toward the two-year mark of the COVID-19 pandemic) the information, perspectives and connections shared at #CALC2021 kept participants engaged and engrossed in what was perhaps the most content-rich conference yet. The keynote kick-off panel in particular, set the tone for all that was to come in the following days of panels, discussions, debates, and even a few laughs.   

The first day of the Conference featured the Scholars Track of presentations—a chance for expert speakers to go in-depth on a particular topic.

And in a unique take on the typical keynote speech, the main event kicked off with not one speaker but six, in a panel discussion that evolved into a lively—or as Animal Justice’s Camille Labchuk described, “spicy”—debate. The topic was on the legal status of animals, as property, persons, neither, or a little of both. It included perspectives from a brilliant collection of minds: professors Maneesha Deckha, Jessica Eisen, Angela Fernandez, and Gary Francione; and Steven Wise—president of the Nonhuman Rights Project. The important task of moderating this passionate and diverse group was handled with care and great preparation, by Yale Law School professor Doug Kysar.  

Each keynote speaker approached the complex topic of the legal status of animals from a different angle, making strong cases from legal, moral, philosophical, practical, cultural, and economic perspectives. The conversation pitted long-standing ideas against new-age thought,  philosophy versus pragmatism, and examined broader systems with important questions about liberalism, feminism, and colonialism. In the end, a little respectful disagreement helped push this crucial legal concept to new levels and spaces. 

As keynotes should, the conversation perfectly ushered attendees into all that was to come over the next two days of panels, in the general areas of law, culture, politics, and science. And though the Canadian Animal Law Conference plays host to many Canadian speakers, attendees, and issues, the event also provides space for issues impacting animals all around the world. Learning about advocacy-led legal reform and cultural shifts in the EU and New Zealand, for example, provided much guidance and hope for animal advocates in Canada, and beyond.   

Another prominent topic currently impacting animals and advocates in Canada, from which attendees were able to learn from experts both within and beyond our borders, is ag gag legislation. Experts from Canada offered updates on the growing number of provinces enacting ag gag laws in Canada, while American legal experts discussed current litigation of similar laws in the US. 

Additional key legal discussions took place on the topics of companion animals in family law, representing animal activists in court, environmental rights, food labelling, legal protection of veganism as a belief system, and more.  

But legal issues do not dominate at this law conference. Cultural and political topics were also at the forefront, including discussion of Canada’s prison farms; the colonialist roots of animal agriculture; civil disobedience as activism; documentary filmmaking; animals within Indigenous governance; animals in education curriculum; reforming wildlife enforcement; and (what I had the honour of speaking on) the “pandemic puppy” phenomenon. There was a notable balance of topics concerning farmed animals, companion animals, wildlife, and animals in research.       

And just as was done throughout last year’s conference, attendees were also able to spend time between sessions, networking, chatting, and connecting with others in casual rooms hosted by Animal Justice’s ever-welcoming Kimberly Carroll. 

As the conference then came to a close, Camille Labchuk said she hoped the conference would leave attendees “reenergized” to continue in our collective fight for increased legal protections for animals. And then as we all raised our glasses in our individual Zoom boxes, we virtually cheered to another successful conference, and to the hope of seeing everyone in real life, next year.  

Did you miss the conference? Don’t worry! You can still enjoy access to all of the recorded sessions by registering for a reduced-rate ticket today.