Canada’s 1st Animal Law Pro-Bono Clinic


Canada’s 1st Animal Law Pro-Bono Clinic

Under the law, animals are property, they are owned. But the outdated property paradigm fails to serve animals or humans.

Animals are subjected to a legally allowable range of barbaric activities like trophy hunting, killing “death row” dogs, fur farming, and more, all because of their classification as property.

The Animal Law Challenge

Challenging the status quo is to recognize that animals need to be lifted out of the property cage in order to break down barriers to justice for all living beings. Modernized laws should treat animals as living, sentient beings with thoughts and feelings, as someone, not something. (For a deeper dive, see TEDxCapilano U — Why Animals Need Law.

Identifying An Access Need

Working in a Vancouver law firm dedicated to animal law for over 20 years made it clear to me that a pro bono animal legal clinic would be a tangible way to break down barriers to justice for animals and their humans. Many animal law clients are low income and need pro or low bono legal services for themselves and their animals, but they were very underserved. This access to justice barrier was untenable.

The Honourable Robert Bauman, retired Chief Justice of B.C., quoted in the textbook Canadian Animal Law, outlined his thoughts on access to justice and animal law:

The rule of law requires that ordinary people can access the justice system to enforce their rights;... This is so in all areas of law, and the law relating to animals is no different.

Canada’s 1st Animal Law Pro Bono Clinic is Launched

A pro bono animal law clinic was sorely needed for access to justice.

Pieces to the access puzzle began to fit to-gether when years ago, co-adjunct professor, Amber Prince and I, recast the animal law course at UBC’s Allard School of Law making it eligible for the social justice stream. Not long after, we both worked on a significant animal law appeal that brought access to justice for animals and their humans into national focus, Santics v. Animal Control Officer for the City of Vancouver, 2020 CanLII 1843 (SCC). Punky Santics’ death row dog case went up to the Supreme Court of Canada (sadly, leave was denied). Facing multiple barriers to accessing justice, it would have been helpful if the Santics family could have had access to a free animal law clinic instead of being unrepresented at trial.

In 2018, we began discussions with the Law Students Legal Advice Program (LSLAP) and by 2019, a concrete plan was formed to open a specialty animal law pro bono clinic deploying law students as clinicians who could run the new clinic. I agreed to stay on as a volunteer.

By 2020, Canada’s first Animal Law Pro Bono Clinic (ALPC), was launched at LSLAP. It was a proud moment helping our first law student tackle their first file three years ago. I continue to volunteer as the ad-hoc animal lawyer to our student clinicians and am gratified seeing low-income folks getting much needed animal law help on “dangerous” dog cases, emotional support animal matters, cruelty cases, human rights and tenancy cases and more. Students obtain practical experience while serving a community need, breaking down barriers to justice. The ALPC is an unbridled access to justice victory.

We are looking forward to celebrating the 3rd anniversary of the groundbreaking ALPC in autumn 2023 with B.C.’s Attorney General, The Honourable Niki Sharma, KC, who will be attending to say a few words. (In autumn 2021, The Honourable Chief Justice Robert Bauman made a speech at Allard to help us mark the 1st year of LSLAP’s ALPC.)

Recently, I was appointed to the CBABC’s Access to Justice Committee where I hope to continue to help break down barriers to justice for animals and humans.

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