Skip to main content

Opinion Our animal cruelty laws need to catch up in 2018

Camille Labchuk is a lawyer and the executive director of Animal Justice, a national animal-law advocacy organization

Molly, the pot-bellied pig was one of 57 animals saved last summer by the BC SPCA during a rescue operation on Vancouver Island. Nursed back to health by shelter staff, she was only three years old when she was adopted by a local couple in January who promised to give her a forever home.

Tragically, "forever" wasn't very long. Mere weeks after adopting her, Molly's new owners butchered her, posting photos and videos of themselves on Snapchat seasoning and preparing to eat her flesh. This animal was a thinking and feeling being – and I'm certain she felt betrayed in her final moments.

Story continues below advertisement

Not surprisingly, public condemnation soon followed, with a chorus of outraged and heartbroken people demanding the couple be charged and prosecuted for their gruesome act.

This comes as a shock to most people, but Molly's backyard butchery was not illegal. Killing and eating a pet pot-bellied pig clearly offends our collective morality, but it doesn't break the law. It's perfectly legal to kill and eat an animal that you own in Canada.

Our animal cruelty laws protect animals from experiencing unnecessary suffering or distress, but animals have no right to their own lives. In the eyes of the law, they are still considered property of the humans that own them. Animal owners can end their lives for virtually any reason – convenience, boredom with a pet or even to satisfy a desire to eat their flesh.

To be clear, this applies beyond pot-bellied pigs. It would be the same if the couple had butchered their pet dog. It's legal to slaughter and eat cats and dogs on a whim, too. So long as they are not mistreated in the process, the authorities can't do a thing about it.

If this makes you feel uneasy, you're not alone. Treating animals as mere property has fallen out of step with the prevailing moral conscience of our community. Most people already consider their companion animals to be family members, not property. Those of us who live with cats or dogs understand well that animals are unique individuals with emotions, personalities, desires and preferences. They share much with us, but have little in common with other property like a couch or coffee table.

Our discomfort is most acute when a family pet is a victim of the animals-as-property paradigm, but more of us are extending this concern to other animals. Canada killed over 21 million of Molly's pig relatives for food in 2016. Standard practices include confining pigs to small cages on industrial farms, shocking pigs with electric prods and putting piglets to death by repeatedly slamming them against a concrete floor. These practices may not be unlawful, but they are immoral.

Now, it's time for our laws to catch up to our shifting societal attitudes. Accepting that animals and their lives have moral value requires a fundamental rethink of our approach to protecting them. To date, politicians have utterly failed to update our laws in response to what we now understand about animals' complex inner and emotional lives.

Story continues below advertisement

I consider Canadian animal cruelty laws to be the worst in the Western world. They haven't been overhauled since the 1950s, and Parliament recently killed a bill that would have taken the first step toward updating them, including a non-controversial ban on dog and cat meat imports.

But it's 2018, and the public conversation about our moral relationship with animals isn't going away. This may not always be easy for legislators, but it's time for them to do the work. Let Molly's demise serve as a reminder that we can no longer turn a blind eye to the failings of our animal protection laws.

Report an error
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.
Comments are closed

We have closed comments on this story for legal reasons or for abuse. For more information on our commenting policies and how our community-based moderation works, please read our Community Guidelines and our Terms and Conditions.

Cannabis pro newsletter