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Tackling Access to Justice in Animal and Environmental 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. [...] whether we are talking about animals as pets, animals as part of our industrial food supply system, animals as sentient beings in need of protection from inhumane treatment or even animals involved in criminal offences.[1]

– The Honourable Chief Justice Robert Bauman

Access to justice is a significant challenge in the field of animal and environmental law.

This is partly because low-income individuals and vulnerable communities are disproportionately exposed to and impacted by animal and environmental law related issues. These groups are more likely to live near polluting industries, to face destruction of local green space and wildlife habitats, to experience housing and tenancy issues related to pets, and so on.

Unfortunately, these individuals and communities are also often prevented from pursuing legal remedies to protect themselves, animals, and the environment because the justice system is too expensive or complex for them to navigate.

Another significant barrier is that animals and the environment are not always recognized as legal persons or entities with inherent rights. The legal status of animals and the environment as property creates a significant barrier to justice and can result in a lack of accountability for those who harm animals or the environment.[2]

The legal system itself can also be a significant barrier to justice in animal and environmental law. Many, if not all, laws and regulations are written with human interests in mind, making it difficult for advocates to make the case for animal and environmental protection. This often results in a lack of legal protection for animals and the environment, and can make it challenging to achieve justice.

While we are starting to see shifts in the law where animals are being understood as more than inanimate property[3], or where particular ecosystems are being granted legal personhood[4], we have not come far enough.

To address these challenges, we recently launched a free Animal and Environmental Law Inquiry Service. Through this service, our lawyers can provide up to two hours of summary legal assistance to members of the public who need help understanding how to address an animal or environmental law concern. As Canada’s only intersectional animal and environmental law organization, we apply a holistic approach to help individuals and groups understand their legal situation and consider the environmental, animal, and human aspects of a legal problem.

Our Animal and Environmental Law Inquiry Service aims to help low- and modest-income individuals, community groups, charities, and not-for-profit organizations who are facing animal and environmental issues in Ontario and who would otherwise be unable to obtain legal services due to financial barriers, inability to qualify for legal aid, or due to the niche nature of animal and environmental legal issues. In doing so, AEL Advocacy aims to break down barriers to justice for nonhuman animals and the environments where they live.

We look forward to working with communities across Ontario to create a more just and accessible legal system for humans, animals and the environment.



[1] Page 476 Canadian Animal Law [Lexis-Nexis 2021] V. Victoria Shroff


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