Animal rights legislation

I think that the majority of Canadians would agree that inhumane treatment of animals ought to be a punishable offence. I also think that most of us would agree that penalties such as stiff fines coupled with incarceration or, at the very least, community work are justifiable.

But if this is true, why is it that Canadian society and governments still argue over the issue of what constitutes animal cruelty?

Of course, it’s because we cannot agree upon what cruelty is. It is because society accepts a “certain level” of animal testing in laboratories, for example, so that we can use the pharmaceutical drugs that our doctors need to prescribe for us, when we are suffering. And as we know, animal testing is used for our cosmetics, shampoo, not to mention most of our household products.

We’re all caught in the sticky web of animal rights, whether or not we recognize it. From lipsticks to eyeliner, from household cleansers to pork chops, what we eat, what we wear, what we use to clean our homes involves the management and “harvesting” of other living organisms. Animals, in other words.

Most of us like animals and, as I mentioned above, would immediately agree that we’re shocked, outraged, disgusted by anything bordering upon inhumane treatment.

I believe, however, that we can all agree that some treatment of animals is heinous.

About a week ago, I heard of a cat being skinned alive by two “artists” who videotaped their act in the name of “creativity.” Somehow they thought they could justify their deed by claiming they were creating a work of art: videotape of extreme suffering.

On Monday, June 10, the Ottawa Citizen published “Animal cruelty by teens a ‘a warning’ of future violence, aggression.” In this story, several events were cited, the first of which noted that of more than 1,000 cases of animal cruelty in 2001, “20 per cent of the intentionally malicious acts were committed by teens, 95 per cent of them male.”

“Psychologists for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is unveiling a treatment program for youth who abuse animals, with hopes of helping them better empathize with animals.”

Such cruelty is by no means an American phenomenon. Our Canadian media is similarly filled with reports of inhumane acts as well as similar warnings from psychologists who claim there is a direct link between animal cruelty and human violence.

For a layperson such as me, unfortunately this seems like a logical progression. Animals are handy “silent victims” and thus provide safe targets for appalling cruelty. The Ottawa Citizen article was accompanied by a photograph of a vet holding “Westy,” a pet cat who two teenagers set on fire for “fun.” The cat has been rescued and its life saved. After three major surgeries and amputation of its “ears, tail and one leg” Westy has now become a champion for animal rights.

Such media articles and statistics supply facts, we readers like to assume.

But do they? Although we can read this story about Westy and recoil at the horrifying cruelty it speaks of, and although we can all be outraged at the so-called “artists” who skinned a live cat, other statistics rightly create justifiable debate.

“Over 1.7 million animals experimented on in Canadian facilities in 1999” is a fact noted on the website for the Animal Alliance of Canada.

The site expands on this factoid, quoting,

“A total of 1 746 606 animals including mice, fish, non human primates, dogs and cats were used in experiments. The vast majority was used in research (1 444 619) followed by testing (246 720) and teaching (55 267).”

“ ‘While the numbers have fallen a bit since 1998, animal experimentation is still big business in Canada,’ says Troy Seidle, AAC’s scientific advisor. ‘More insidious is that 4 out of 5 experimental procedures are driven by curiosity, not by medicine.’ The Canadian government has yet to instruct federal departments and funding agencies to commit to establishing and promoting non-animal alternatives to animals in research.

“‘To deny any animal the most basic right to pain relief on the basis that it would interfere with the desired outcome is unacceptable and such experiments should be outlawed. Simply put, the experiment is not over until the animal suffers a painful and horrific death,’ says Jacqui Barnes, a director of AAC. The organization continues to call for a ban on these types of experiments.

“According to the CCAC, random sourced animals are those that are not specifically bred for experiments. ‘The vast majority of these dogs and cats are obtained from a practice known as pound seizure, whereby homeless and abandoned companion animals from municipal shelters or pounds are sold to researchers,’ says Shelly Hawley-Yan, a director of AAC. “That Canadian researchers continue to use peoples pets even though the practice has been outlawed in countries like Great Britain is clearly a disservice to their profession,” she adds. Animal Alliance’s national campaign is aimed at banning pound seizure in Canada.

(For further information please contact: Shelly Hawley-Yan at 519 940-4712 or shelly@animal, Troy Seidle 519 570-3208 or, Jacqui Barnes at 416 462-9541 ext. 22 or jacqui@animalalliance.)

The above information is found at Go to this site and read for yourself about the campaign for animal rights.

I fully agree that the CCAC deserves our thoughtful support.

I am all for animal rights. I am not quoting the information from this site in order to minimize or ridicule their claims.

Quite the contrary.

But what is important is for each of us to understand is how we – you and me — are part and parcel of this huge societal issue. Just like you, I use products that are tested on animals every day in my life. Oh, sure, I use a few cosmetics that claim they aren’t tested on animals. I use some cleansers that make similar claims.

But I expect my life resembles yours: our lives are complex and interwoven with the raising and hence the killing of animals. I eat meat. I wear leather shoes.

And many of us here in Pontiac raise animals or are hunters or fishers, too. Such occupations and activities intimately connect us with other living creatures.

So I ask you: do Canadians need the recently adopted animal rights and protection legislation?

Yes. We do. We need legislation to punish those who step over the bounds of decency, who perpetrate hideous acts of torture upon animals.

We need legislation so that we have a societal yardstick against which we can determine what is acceptable versus unacceptable behaviour.

You’d think it was simply common sense not to hurt another living creature, wouldn’t you?


Katharine Fletcher is a freelance writer who telecommutes from her electronic cottage north of Quyon, Quebec.