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The Inaugural Canadian Animal Law Conference by Michelle Strauss

The first ever Canadian Animal Law Conference was hosted by the Schulich School of Law and Animal Justice in Halifax on October 4-6. Three A-law members attended and presented at the conference: Edie Bowles, Danielle Duffield, and me.

To open the event, the highly esteemed philosopher – and according to some, the father of the modern animal rights movement – Professor Peter Singer gave the keynote speech. From a utilitarian perspective, Singer stated that the most pressing issue facing the animal rights movement is the plight of farmed animals. He said that whilst there have been some attempts to improve the welfare of some of these animals, many still suffer significantly. His address was a sobering reminder of the huge task animal advocates face, yet it also gave encouraging insight into the improvements that have been made and the technologies that can be used to reduce reliance on animals for food.

The remainder of the conference programme included a diverse range of topics relating to animals, laws, and ethics. Of note was the plenary session on the intersectional future of animal law. The speakers advised animal rights advocates to be sympathetic to broader social movements as a way to ensure that the gains made for animals do not come at the expense of marginalised groups in society. The underlying message was one of connectivity and a united approach to work for a better world for all. This sentiment echoed many of themes that emerged in A-law’s recent conference held in conjunction with Liverpool John Moore University.

As for our A-law members, Danielle Duffield spoke on a recent reform to New Zealand’s Animal Welfare Act 1999, which has incorporated instant fines for animal abuse as a new enforcement tool. This penalty is intended to penalise conduct that warrants a response stronger than a warning, but which is not severe enough to justify prosecution under the Act. Her talk examined some advantages of this enforcement tool, as well as some of the problems associated with the design of New Zealand’s regime.

Next, Edie Bowles discussed holding systems to account, detailing various mechanisms available to solicitors and the public to ensure that public bodies responsible for animals can be scrutinised. She provided fascinating examples of how she has used these tools in her work. Finally, I presented on veterinary codes, discussing how the codes of both UK and Ireland place animal welfare as a vet’s primary concern. I then considered how standard industry practices, often requiring the involvement of vets, place competing and mutually exclusive demands on them. I observed that it’s important for veterinary regulatory bodies to address this problem, and that presently this issue could be exploited to potentially advance the interests of animals.

The closing conference address by Lesli Bisgould, Camille Labchuk, and Peter Sankoff was particularly moving, with the speakers detailing their own journeys in animal law, the difficulties they have faced, and the losses they experienced as well as the gains. All speakers acknowledged the huge task ahead but were optimistic about the future. This sentiment was best expressed by Professor Bisgould who closed by saying, “It might be a very long road to animal liberation, but it’s shorter than it used to be.”

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