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Animals are not objects

Quebec academic creates a manifesto to recognize animals as sentient beings.

By NATHALIE KINNARD | SEP 03 2014

What do a dog and a chair have in common? According to the Quebec civil code, they are both considered to be movable property. From a legal standpoint, animals have no more rights than a pair of shoes, and this opens the door to inhumane practices ranging from abandonment to cock fighting.

Yet, recent scientific studies have proven that many species feel pleasure and pain, so shouldn’t they be considered sentient beings? We denounce any kind of mistreatment of our fellow humans, and we are, after all, animals.

“It’s time that the law be changed to correct this blatant injustice towards animals,” says Martin Gibert, a postdoctoral researcher and lecturer at Université de Montréal. But Canada – and Quebec in particular – lags behind other countries on the issue of animal rights. This situation compelled Dr. Gibert, who has a doctorate in moral philosophy, to co-author the 2013 Manifeste pour une évolution du statut juridique des animaux  (Manifesto for the evolution of animals’ legal status in the Civil Code of Quebec) with Sophie Gaillard, legal counsel for the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and Élise Desaulniers, author of Vache à lait : dix mythes de l’industrie laitière (Dairy cows: Ten myths about the dairy industry).

The manifesto was inspired by an initiative in France that led to a law recognizing animals as sentient beings. Dr. Gibert hopes that Quebec will follow suit.

Stevan Harnad, holder of the Canada Research Chair in Cognitive Sciences at Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM) and one of the first people to sign the manifesto, believes raising public awareness and changing mindsets are key. “The public is ready for this change,” he says.

In fact, since the manifesto was published in January, 2014, more than 46,000 signatures have been collected. The list includes many respected artists, politicians, athletes and scientists. “Quebecers have shown a keen interest in the animal rights issue,” Dr. Gibert notes. The successful symposium on animal rights held at UQAM on July 16, says Dr. Harnad, shows that the current law is not in line with public values.

Many people say that changing the legal status of animals is the first step toward legal protection against unnecessary acts of cruelty, whether these are committed in the context of mass production and slaughter or scientific experiments. Dr. Harnad goes a step further, asserting that “any and all exploitation of animals that is unnecessary to human survival must be banned.”

The authors of the manifesto hope to meet with Justice Minister Stéphanie Vallée to discuss a change in the Civil Code. “The final step would be to have a bill passed by the National Assembly,” says Dr. Gibert. In the meantime, supporters may add their signature to the manifesto at animalsarenotobjects.ca.

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  1. Reuben Kaufman / September 3, 2014 at 18:16

    I question the accuracy of the following sentence:

    “From a legal standpoint [Quebec Civil Code], animals have no more rights than a pair of shoes, and this opens the door to inhumane practices ranging from abandonment to cock fighting.”

    Clearly, animals are afforded more legal protection in our society than inanimate objects. People who are convicted of animal cruelty are subject to legal sanctions. I don’t think I need to list examples here as to what constitutes “cruelty”.

    That said, of course there is room for great improvement, and I would support significant moves in that direction. I certainly agree with most of the sentiments expressed in the article. When I was an undergraduate in biology (1960s), the things we were allowed to do in biology laboratories (nay, encouraged to do) would never be permitted today. Movement in the current direction may have been slow, but it was steady. I spent several sabbatical leaves in England over the years, and there the regulations surrounding care for research animals are significantly more rigorous than ours. Those regulations cover not only all vertebrate animals (fishes, amphibians, reptiles and birds in addition to mammals), but also some “advanced” invertebrates (octopuses and relatives) that are used in research.

    Having legal protection is one thing; the degree of enforcement is another. I’m not in a position to evaluate how strictly our laws are enforced. At my university, we observed the guidelines of the Canadian Council of Animal Care. Although these guidelines are observed voluntarily, and so may not have the force of legislation behind them, I was impressed at how seriously the guidelines were (and I assume still are) observed.

  2. Dorina Ramirez / September 4, 2014 at 02:50

    animals were here as long as we have been if not longer and they deserve the right to live and not be tortured and abused or neglected. Animals are a part of our world and it needs to be a law so that people stop doing these horrible inhumane things to them. Animals just cant speak thats all but they feel and have a heart and brain as we do. And for humans to take fun in torturing animals for there own satisfactions should not be allowed. Shame on the ones who abuse and torture.

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