Animal rights not adequate on P.E.I., says Camille Labchuk

New Animal Welfare Act "misses the mark"

Mitch MacDonald comment@theguardian.pe.ca
Published on January 2, 2016

Animal rights lawyer and former P.E.I. resident, Camille Labchuck and University of Alberta law professor, Peter Sankoff, before appearing in the Supreme Court of Canada recently to intervene on a landmark case regarding beastiality laws. The two appeared on behalf of Canadian charity Animal Justice.


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The provincial government has missed the mark on protecting the rights of some of P.E.I.’s most vulnerable animals, says a lawyer who deals specifically with animal welfare.

Camille Labchuk, former P.E.I. resident who has lived in Toronto and Cambridge, Mass. for the past several years, said the agriculturally-heavy province has a long way to go in protecting the rights of commercial animals and wildlife.

Labchuk criticized the state of animal rights in the province after being questioned about the Animal Welfare Act passed by P.E.I. legislators last July.

“It missed an opportunity and it did a couple of things that were not as good as they could have been,” said Labchuck, who is executive director of the not-for-profit group Animal Justice.

The Canadian registered charity advocates for the humane treatment of animals, usually focusing on the legal front and through advancing public knowledge of animal practices and preventing abuse through enforcement of existing laws.

Labchuk said there are flaws in the legislation, especially regarding a perceived “barrier of enforcement” and concern of commercial animals such as horses, cows and mink receiving less protection than house pets.

She said the act also drops previous requirements for farmers to comply with a national code, leaves out mention of randomized inspections and excludes protection for wild animals and fish.

“So essentially, someone could abuse those animals, there's a huge oversight and huge gap in rationalization,” said Labchuck, who was also critical of the legislation’s term of  ‘extreme anxiety’. “Instead of just saying ‘anxiety’ or ‘distress.’ We feel there’s no need for the standard to be so high because it’s very difficult to prove.”

Crafting of the legislation began after the conviction of puppy mill owner Bud Wheatley five years ago after approximately 80 cats and dogs were seized in a raid.

Wheatley was sentenced to jail time after being found guilty of causing unnecessary pain, suffering or injury to animals.

While the intentions of the legislation may have been well-meaning, advocates have described it in the media as “taking a wrong approach.”

P.E.I. resident Elizabeth Schoales, who is also the Atlantic Canada representative for the charity, was also critical of the act and described it as “insufficient” in a guest opinion published by The Guardian.

She said the biggest problem is the act’s structure on relying on complaints from the public.

That process itself is full of loopholes and fails to properly identify how an animal must be treated, she said.

“It’s replete with ambiguous terms like adequate care, reasonable protection, and significant impairment over time,” she said. “ It’d be difficult for any member of the public to know what this means.”

Back in Ottawa, awaiting the outcome on a groundbreaking Supreme Court case, Labchuk muses that animal rights is her passion.

“The only reason I went to law school was so that I could use my law degree to help animals,” she said. “For too long industries who’ve abused animals in Canada have gotten a free pass.”