From Activism on the Streets to Advocacy in the Courtroom


From Activism on the Streets to Advocacy in the Courtroom

In my June BarTalk article, I wrote about how I turned my passion in animal protection into a career in animal law. I grew up as an animal rights activist in Montreal, where I helped organize and attend various animal rights rallies and advocated before different government bodies, all in the name of increasing animal protection. The included picture is me (on the left) in my teens in the 1990s, protesting on the streets of Ottawa against the Canadian commercial seal hunt. At the risk of sounding “cheesy,” at some point around that time, I decided I wanted to eventually go to law school so that I can turn my advocacy on the streets into advocacy in the courtroom. I wanted -— and still want — animals to get a much needed and deserved voice in our legal system.

Why should we care about animals having such a voice? I will suggest three reasons.

First, how we treat the most vulnerable in our society — be it the elderly, children, the disabled, marginalized people, or animals — is a reflection of who we are as individuals and as a society. I believe all of these groups should have meaningful protection regardless of whether a living being has fur, scales, or human skin.

Second, how we treat animals in our legal system matters because of our innate connection to animals. As Dr. Carl Safina, a professor at Stony Brook University said, “when babies are born, we do not adorn their nurseries with pictures of cellphones or laptops.” Instead, we put up pictures of cute farmed animals, wild animals, or little fish. Should our legal system — which governs who and how someone is protected — consider animals as just “things”?

Third, I believe we owe it to animals to make things better. As a human species, we have taken away so much from them. We’ve taken away their homes (think entire habitats that are clear cut). We’ve taken away their most basic freedom and wellbeing (think factory farms, where the majority of the over 800 million farmed animals killed each year in Canada spend their entire lives inside windowless buildings, where they are confined to such tiny living conditions to the point that they cannot ever stretch their wings or breathe fresh air or touch earth with their own feet).

For these reasons, advocating to make things better for animals has always been incredibly important to me. I find that being an animal law lawyer is an extension of my advocacy for animal rights as a younger girl.

When I see judges say or write statements like:

“I accept Ms. Breder’s proposition that in the case law, there is an acceptance that an animal is not just an ordinary piece of property… [A]nimals are something more than just a simple chattel… [t]hey are living beings that people create inextricable bonds with and those bonds are powerful.” (Lan v. Nand, 2015 BCPC No. 15-51173), or

“…[a]n additional consideration is the fact that the mammals most directly affected, the wolves, have no ability to bring the action...”(Pacific Wild Alliance v. British Columbia [Forest, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development], 2022 BCSC 904) in order to grant standing to an environmental conservation organization (Pacific Wild) to challenge the legality of killing wolves.

It confirms that advocacy in the courtroom can indeed help animal protection.

There is still a long way to go for animals to obtain meaningful protection and rights in our legal system. But I also have no doubt that the number of animal law cases will only continue to rise, as more people and organizations choose to advocate for animals in court.