September 2, 2022 | Alumni

U of T alumni take the lead at the Canadian Animal Law conference

By Nina Haikara

Camille Labchuk  hugs a cow that is lying crouched in a field.

U of T alum Camille Labchuk is executive director of the non-profit Animal Justice. Photo courtesy of Animal Justice

University of Toronto alumna Camille Labchuk (JD 2012) cares deeply for animals. The news images of the commercial seal killings left an indelible impression on her as a child, while growing up on Canada’s eastern coast.

“Years later, I was working in Ottawa, in politics, and had an opportunity to go with a non-profit to go to the ice floes to monitor and film the seal hunt, and use those images,” says Labchuk, a graduate of U of T’s Faculty of Law.

“This led the European Union to ban commercial seal products from entering its borders, which helped reduce the East Coast seal hunt and saved hundreds of thousands of baby seals from being brutally killed.”

Inspired by her political colleagues and other animal advocates, she chose to pursue a law degree at U of T to advance her interest in animal advocacy.

Animals can't bring cases and claims on their own

She now serves as executive director of Animal Justice, a non-profit fighting for animals in court, pushing for stronger animal protection laws, and ensuring current laws are enforced. Earlier this year, Animal Justice intervened in the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) case, British Columbia v. Council of Canadians with Disabilities, testing public interest standing – whether a public interest group could litigate on behalf of an individual.

“We wanted to make the point that animals can't bring cases and claims on their own as individuals because they don't have legal standing. Their only way to access to the justice system is to rely on groups like Animal Justice and others, to bring those claims forward. The Court reinforced that broadly construing public interest standing is important for many marginalized groups.”

The Canadian Animal Law Conference 2022 is open to lawyers, students and advocates

This September 16-18, the 4th annual Canadian Animal Law Conference (CALC), presented by Animal Justice, will take place at U of T Law.

“We have partnered with U of T for the last few years. The conference was supposed to be in-person in 2020, so we’re thrilled to finally be getting a chance to all gather,” says Labchuk, who adds a U.S. conference has been around for decades, so her organization thought it was important to bring the exchange of ideas to Canada.

We have partnered with U of T for the last few years. The conference is open to anyone

“The conference is open to anyone – lawyers who practice in the field – including those who may have a small pro bono side practice – folks who want to get into the field, new law graduates, and law students who run clubs devoted to animal law, as well as those involved in advocacy.”

Sessions include “Dangerous Dog Litigation: Navigating Tribunals in British Columbia and Ontario”, “Animals and Family Law: Slow Progress but Tangible Opportunities”, and “Ag Gag: Legal, Political and Social Implications of Exposing Factory Farms”.

“Ag Gag refers to a set of laws that first popped up in the U.S., designed to cover up animal cruelty on farms,” explains Labchuk. “A common theme of these laws is shutting down the ability to share information, such as banning photos and videos from inside farms or slaughterhouses or making it illegal to do undercover work on farms. In Canada, we escaped Ag Gag for a long time, but the farm industry finally started pushing for these laws in 2019.”


Indigenous law perspectives advance the conversation

Composite: John Borrows leaning on a table outdoors, Angela Fernandez leaning on a wall outdoors.
Left to right: John Borrows is The Loveland Chair in Indigenous Law, Angela Fernandez is U of T Law's leading animal law researcher.

September 16 will kick-off with a set of scholars track presentations funded by the U.S.-based Brooks Institute for Animal Rights Law and Policy.

The Loveland Chair in Indigenous Law at U of T Law, Professor John Borrows, will give the first presentation, “Animals in Law in Relation to Indigenous Law”.

”When people think about Indigenous rights versus animal rights, they think about people who want to protect animals and how that conflicts with hunting or fishing rights,” explains his U of T Law colleague Angela Fernandez, the faculty’s leading animal law researcher, who has previously received the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) Teaching Award from the Students’ Law Society (SLS) and the Indigenous Law Students’ Association (ILSA), by including Indigenous perspectives, topics, and law as part of her course content.

For instance, looking at legislation where animals viewed in the way that Indigenous Peoples view them: as beings, worthy of respect

“What we're really trying to do, is advance the conversation and get people to think about what points of similarity and synchronicity might be. For instance, looking at legislation where animals are being viewed in the way that Indigenous Peoples view them: as beings, worthy of respect. How could that work with Western settler, colonial ideas and approaches, which currently give little or no protections for animals?”

Fernandez, who applies a historical framework to her study of the law and is cross-appointed to the department of history in U of T’s Faculty of Arts & Science, has seen a surge of interest in her animal law course, with nearly 50 students registered both last year and this fall.

Many of the leading voices in the field are U of T graduates

Some of the most prominent names in the field are U of T law alumni, including Maneesha Deckha (JD 1998)Director of the Animals and Society Research Initiative at the University of Victoria; University of Alberta Faculty of Law Professor Peter Sankoff (JD 1996) and his colleague, Jessica Eisen (JD 2009), an assistant professor; Katie Sykes (JD 2002), an associate professor at Thompson Rivers University's Faculty of Law.

Current alumni working in the field also include Scott Tinney (JD 2018), who works alongside Labchuk at Animal Justice, and Labcuk's classmate, Marty McKendry (JD 2012), who works on animal protection laws that have originated in recent years as a senior advisor on parliamentary strategy for the Offices of Senators Pierre Dalphond and Marty Klyne.

Many of the conference’s presenters and participants have also completed a JD or graduate work at U of T, including Man Ha (M.H.) Tse (LLM 2015), now a doctoral candidate in the animal law program at Harvard Law School

In her scholar track presentation, “Animals as Property, Quasi-Property or Quasi-Person”, Fernandez focuses on terminology that challenges the traditional distinction between property and persons for nonhuman animals, arguing that this needs to be thought about as a continuum rather than an either/or binary.

She says even though animals are legally property, we can find ways in which we treat them as being different from property.

You can make a trust for your pet after you die. Legally, aren't we saying that animals are more than property?

“For instance, you can make a trust for your pet after you die to make sure that there's money there so they can be taken care of. There's no other equivalent property where you would be able to do that.

“I gather all these instances to say, well then, legally, aren't we saying that animals are more than property, or they’re special property?

A highlight of this year’s conference will be a virtual keynote by world-renowned philosopher, Martha C. Nussbaum (Hon LLD 1998), the Ernst Freund distinguished service professor of law and ethics. Her book, Creating Capabilities: The Human Development Approach, lays out a philosophical approach for humans to live their best lives, which she’ll discuss in application to animals.

“Her presence at this conference is really significant for the field,” says Fernandez.


Originally published by the Faculty of Law

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