The simple answer to the (currently) common question "what is animal law?” is essentially any area of the law that affects an animal. Animal law interplays with many of the well-known types of law, such as family law, wills & estates law, criminal law, health law, etc.
Animal law can be broadly broken down into four categories: (1) aiding companion animals; (2) protecting wildlife & farm animals; (3) aiding animal advocates; and (4) lobbying and enforcing animal protection laws.
(1) Aiding Companion Animals
People tend to view their “pets” as members of their family. Therefore, just as legal matters organically arise with any other family member, legal matters can arise with companion animals as well.
Select examples include:
When a relationship breaks down, individuals might fight over who gets custody of the family’s companion animal(s);
Planning for the care and financial support of your companion animal(s) in your will;
Defending your dog from a “dangerous dog” designation (i.e., if your dog participated in a dog-biting incident); and
Bringing a claim for veterinary malpractice or wrongful death of your companion animal(s).
(2) Protecting Wildlife & Farmed Animals
Protecting Wildlife includes ensuring adequate laws are in place to protect endangered species, conserving wildlife habitats, curbing the wildlife trade (such as ivory made from elephant tusks), and generally ensuring people co-exist safely and peacefully with wildlife.
However, while the majority of Canadian animals are found in the farming system, there is no legal oversight for what happens to animals on farms. Instead, the industry is self-regulated. Animal law includes pushing for more transparency and accountability within the agriculture industry.
(3) Aiding Animal Advocates
Animal Advocates are important and passionate people in the fight to get stronger protection in place for animals. However, sometimes their intense passion can get them into trouble with the law!
Unfortunately, recent developments in Canadian laws have made it more difficult for advocates to lawfully protest. These are known as “ag-gag” laws. While the Ontario “ag-gag” laws are currently being challenged as unconstitutional, advocates need to be mindful of these laws in the interim.
Here at AEL Advocacy, we work with advocates to help them proactively understand how they can lawfully advocate. We also support and defend advocates who have gotten themselves into trouble (such as trespassing charges). Animal Advocates also commonly face criminal charges (such as “break and enter”, “mischief”, etc). While we do not take on criminal charges at AEL Advocacy, we will certainly help animal advocates find a passionate criminal lawyer who understands their position and can help defend them.
(4) Lobbying and Enforcing Animal Protection Laws
Canada has some of the worst animal protection laws in the western world. As such, we have a lot of work to do to change that! Luckily, positive incremental changes have been happening in Parliament.
For example, some “legislative wins” for animals in 2019 included:
Banning whale and dolphin captivity in Canada [through passing Bill S-203 in 2019, aka “Free Willy” Bill];
Broadening the scope of offences of the Criminal Code, related to bestiality and animal fighting [through passing Bill C-84 in 2019];
Amending the definition of “family violence” to include killing or harming an animal (or threatening to do so) [through passing Bill-78 in 2019]; and
Adding judicial training on the Violence Link (that is, the connection between violence towards animals and humans) [through passing Bill C-3 in 2021].
Overall, AEL Advocacy aims to help animal law continue to grow, evolve, and become a stronger “standard” area of the law. Ideally, less and less individuals will ask “what is animal law?”, as it becomes common knowledge in society.