Animal Justice | Leading the legal fight for animal protection
Animal Justice leads the legal fight for animals in Canada. Their lawyers work to pass strong new animal protection legislation, push for the prosecution of animal abusers, and fight for animals in court.
Sault Ste. Marie just passed a progressive new animal care and control by-law that will mean greater protections for animals. Among other things, the by-law enhances animal care standards, bans circuses from using live animals in performances, and prohibits new zoos from operating in the City.
No More Animals in Entertainment
Sault Ste. Marie is the first Canadian city to take the huge step forward and ban keeping animals captive in zoos. Unfortunately, the only zoo in the City—the notorious Spruce Haven Zoo—has been exempted from the ban by a vote of 6-5, but the by-law will still prevent new zoos from popping up in the future.
Last year, Prince Edward Island became the first province to restrict the use of exotic animals in circuses. Now, Sault Ste. Marie is following suit, banning circuses and events in which any animal is required to perform for the entertainment of an audience. Unfortunately, equestrian shows, dog and cat shows, horseracing, sled dog racing, and aquarium displays are exempt, but the City still deserves some credit for the changes.
Some other highlights of the comprehensive new animal care and control by-law include:
New animal welfare rules, including a ban on collars that may restrict an animal’s ability to breathe or swallow.
Mandatory sterilization of cats over 6 months of age.
A requirement that animals be kept on premises that are free from unsanitary conditions that may disturb the enjoyment or comfort of the animal, or that may endanger the health of the animal.
Animal Justice celebrates this leap forward for animals in Sault Ste. Marie, and urges other municipalities to follow suit.
Animals won big-time in Montreal’s municipal elections this weekend! Voters elected mayoral candidate Valérie Plante of Projet Montréal, and sent incumbent mayor Denis Coderre packing. Not only does mayor-elect Plante become the first woman to lead Montreal, she is also promising to make animal protection a priority while in office.
Animal protection laws were a hot topic in Montreal in the lead-up to the elections. Outgoing mayor Coderre has a bad track record on animals—his administration was heavily criticized by animal advocates for implementing a misguided ban on pit bull-type dogs. The ban is considered unenforceable by authorities, is harmful to dogs, and is widely considered ineffective in making communities safer.
Projet Montréal has committed to repealing the pit bull ban, and implementing fair and effective solutions to promote safer communities through responsible dog care.
Plante’s party has also promised to do away with horse-drawn carriages on city streets. Horses are forced to pull heavy carts in dangerous weather conditions on congested downtown streets, and a series of horse injuries has left many Montrealers calling for an outright ban on the outdated industry.
As the Montreal SPCA’s executive director Élise Saulnier noted, “Citizens of Montreal expect to see big changes in animal welfare and services in their city during the tenure of Mayor Plante.”
Animal protection laws are increasingly becoming a voting issue, and it’s incredibly encouraging that Montreal voters supported a candidate whose party is committed to improving municipal animal protection. The Montreal elections are a clear signal to all politicians that citizens expect our representatives to make animal issues a priority.
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OTTAWA–National animal law advocacy organization Animal Justice is dismayed that animal cruelty charges against a St. Catharines veterinarian were dropped today in court.
Dr. Mahavir Rekhi was caught on videotape hitting, choking, and punching animal patients in his clinic. The College of Veterinarians of Ontario (CVO) gave Dr. Rekhi a mere 10-month suspension in Au gust, 2016 instead of permanently revoking his license. That suspension was reduced to only six months after Dr. Rekhi completed some training. In February, Dr. Rekhi reopened his veterinary clinic, prompting continued public outrage.
Dr. Rekhi was investigated by the Ontario SPCA, which laid 16 counts of criminal animal cruelty.
“Our system failed Dr. Rekhi’s animal victims every step of the way,” said lawyer Camille Labchuk, executive director of Animal Justice. “Evidence of Dr. Rekhi’s criminal conduct should have been referred to authorities immediately. Instead, the matter was initially dealt with exclusively through a College of Veterinarians of Ontario internal discipline process.
“Next, Dr. Rekhi’s slap-on-the-wrist suspension put him back on the street and in a position to abuse more animals. It was gratifying that criminal charges were laid against Dr. Rekhi after an extensive investigation, because this was the only remaining opportunity to legally protect animals from him. Upon conviction, a judge could have prohibited Dr. Rekhi from having custody or control of an animal.
“Now that the charges against Dr. Rekhi have been withdrawn, the doors of justice have been slammed in the face of vulnerable animals. If our system cannot get a cruelty conviction in a straightforward case with video evidence, what hope is there for animals in more marginal situations?”
It has been reported that part of the rationale for withdrawing the charges includes that investigators sought out information from the CVO without first receiving a complaint. However, Animal Justice filed a complaint with authorities immediately after the abuse videos came to light, and it has been reported that at least one guardian of an animal abused by Dr. Rekhi also filed a complaint.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) just fined a meat company $200,000 for five counts of false labelling. The fine was imposed after Eastern Meat Solutions was busted for packaging beef products as prime rib, Angus, and sirloin—when they were not.
This fine is part of a larger, worrying trend by Canada’s food industry regulator: The CFIA prioritizes enforcement when business interests are affected, but neglects enforcement when animal suffering is at stake.
Animal Justice works to expose the epidemic of false animal welfare claims by companies doing business in Canada, along with countless duped consumers, and a nonexistent government response. We filed consumer protection complaints against slaughterhouse Maple Lodge Farms for claiming to treat chickens humanely even while on probation for illegal animal cruelty. We went after supermarket chain Safeway for marketing chicken meat as “certified humane,” even though genetically manipulated birds are crowded in dark warehouses and deprived of everything that makes life worth living. And we caught the Dairy Farmers of Canada red-handed for running deceptive dairy ads disguised as public health announcements. Despite this long list of violations, the CFIA has refused to prosecute or fine companies for false animal welfare claims.
Earlier this year, we told you that the CFIA is overhauling food labelling regulations. One planned change is that it will be easier for food companies to mislead consumers about animal welfare claims like “free range” and “grass fed.” The CFIA plans to make animal welfare claims its lowest enforcement priority, encouraging consumers to take their questions and concerns to the food companies rather than law enforcement. But consumers have no way to verify claims made by companies, which stand to benefit financially from misleading consumers.
But labelling isn’t the CFIA’s only problem—it routinely underenforces animal transport regulations, too. Meat and egg companies often truck animals long distances in freezing cold or blistering hot weather—illegally allowing animals to suffer to death from weather exposure, lack of ventilation, or crowding. Yet transporters typically only face a measly few thousand dollars in fines for these violations—even when an offender has already racked up dozens of prior offences.
Food fraud is wrong, and meat companies should be held accountable for misleading consumers about product quality. But animal suffering is far more troubling, especially when companies lie to consumers about it so they support it financially. In these cases, the animal victims endure physical and emotional agony—not just a lower-quality meal.
If you agree that the life-and-death treatment of sentient animals is more important than the quality of someone’s steak dinner, please write to federal Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAuley: email@example.com. He needs to hear that the CFIA’s enforcement priorities do not represent the values of caring Canadians.
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On Thanksgiving, many Canadians give thanks for the wonderful things in our lives, including friends, family, and health.
But turkeys killed and eaten for Thanksgiving dinner have nothing to be thankful for. Raised in appalling conditions on Canada’s industrial turkey facilities and shipped to slaughter, their lives are bleak and filled with suffering.
Turkeys are curious, friendly, and sensitive birds with big personalities. But in Canada, 20 million turkeys are killed for food every year—many of them destined for Thanksgiving meals.
Undercover footage has exposed brutal conditions, abusive transport, and botched killing in the turkey industry. In one exposé of a Kitchener, Ontario turkey farm, workers were seen punching, throwing, and kicking birds, hitting them with metal rods and shovels, and crushing their spines.
And footage from a turkey slaughterhouse in Abbotsford, British Columbia shows painful, botched killings. Multiple turkeys are improperly stunned, thus fully conscious when their throats were slit with a metal blade. Many birds missed the blade, and were then dragged vats full of boiling water to remove their feathers. This killing process is standard in the turkey industry.
Earlier this year, Animal Justice filed a legal complaint with authorities after a witness documented bleeding and injured birds bring trucked to slaughter. Turkeys can be shipped in open-sided vehicles, exposed to blistering heat and frigid cold, for up to 36 hours—all without food, water, or rest. Canada’s weak transport laws are infrequently enforced.
Disturbingly, there are no federal regulations protecting turkeys and other farmed animals from horrific suffering while on farms. Please join Animal Justice in asking the federal government to regulate on-farm conditions for animals, and help spread compassion for turkeys by sharing this post!
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This week marks a gruesome anniversary: One year ago, a truck carrying 180 pigs to slaughter rolled over outside the notorious Fearmans Pork slaughterhouse in Burlington, Ontario. Dozens of baby pigs died in the horrific crash.
For animal advocates on the scene, it will always be impossible to forget the brutal suffering they witnessed. Some pigs died immediately, some suffered traumatic injuries, and others staggered around, dazed and in pain. Pigs were left to suffer for hours in the sun without medical attention.
While witnesses documented the carnage and made phone calls to animal welfare authorities pleading for assistance, the slaughterhouse showed no mercy. It put up barriers in a desperate attempt to conceal the scene from public view.
Bystanders pleaded with the slaughterhouse, asking to rescue some of the victims and bring them to a sanctuary. But workers ignored them and instead forced injured and escaped pigs to walk to their own death in the gas chambers of the plant. One video shows pigs being hit with paddles.
One of the pigs, unable to move, was shot in the head with a captive bolt pistol in front of traumatized witnesses.
After the incident, Animal Justice filed a legal complaint with authorities and demanded prosecution for clear violations of the Criminal Code, provincial animal protection laws, and federal transport laws. Thousands of people signed petitions calling for charges to be laid, but the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and the Ontario SPCA both failed to prosecute.
Instead, the police charged the driver with careless driving—essentially, a traffic ticket. One year later, there has been no justice for the young pigs who experienced appalling suffering at the hands of the meat industry. Their pain and deaths have escaped the scrutiny of the legal system.
Canada still has no federal regulations for the on-farm treatment of farmed animals, and a recent proposal to update archaic federal animal transport laws is deeply flawed. Meanwhile, the rules that do exist are seldom enforced.
Please take action today to ask the government to take animal protection seriously and improve Canada’s outdated transport laws.
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Minister of Forestry and Natural Resources has unlawfully delayed recovery strategies for 37 endangered or threatened Ontario species, says animal rights group
TORONTO — National animal law organization Animal Justice, represented by Ecojustice lawyers, is taking legal action to force Ontario Minister of Forestry and Natural Resources Kathryn McGarry to issue recovery strategies for 37 species listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
The mountain lion and Northern Bobwhite, both listed as “endangered” since the ESA became law in 2008, are among the 37 species left in the lurch due to the Minister’s inaction, the group says.
“The Minister’s unlawful delays have left dozens of vulnerable species without the protection they are supposed to have under the law,” said Nick Wright, Animal Justice’s founder and board chair. “More than 10 years have passed since the mountain lion and Northern Bobwhite were listed as endangered. And let’s be clear, endangered means that a species is facing imminent extinction or extirpation.”
A review by Ecojustice found that the Minister has repeatedly violated section 11 of the ESA, which requires the Minister to issue recovery strategies within one and two years of a species being listed endangered or threatened, respectively.
In many cases, such as that of the mountain lion, the Minister has simply, and unlawfully, allowed deadlines to pass by — effectively leaving the vulnerable species with minimal legal protections indefinitely.
In other instances, the Ontario government has delayed protection for endangered and threatened species by hinging its recovery strategies to the federal government’s protection efforts, even when the latter has done little or nothing to protect the species. For example, the Minister has dithered on her legal obligation to deliver a recovery strategy for the threatened black redhorse — a large river fish — since 2008, stating that she wishes to do so cooperatively with the federal government. But her reasoning is nonsensical given that the federal government decided a decade ago, in 2007, not to protect the species.
Likewise, for the Northern Bobwhite, the Minister has chosen not to issue Ontario’s recovery strategy, and has instead taken a back seat to the federal government which she claims is “leading the development of recovery strategies”. Trouble is, the federal government’s legal deadline to issue a recovery strategy for this endangered bird expired in 2006 — 11 years ago. Thus when the Minister says that the federal government is “leading”, what she appears to suggest is that where the federal government is willing to break the law, Ontario is willing to follow.
“The Ministry’s use of the ESA’s flexibility provisions is dubious,” said Amir Attaran, lawyer with Ecojustice’s law clinic at the University of Ottawa. “The province says it wants to cooperate with the federal government, but the nature of these delays has left us wondering if this is cooperation or a conspiracy to break the law.”
The Environmental Commissioner of Ontario has criticized the government for failing to implement the ESA effectively. In a 2013 report entitled Laying Siege to the Last Line of Defence, the Commissioner noted a “disturbing trend” of the Ministry of Natural Resources “using the ESA’s flexibility provisions to permit broad, open-ended extensions on the development of recovery strategies.” The Commissioner went on to write that the Ministry appeared “comfortable using flexibility provisions not in exceptional circumstances, but as a matter of practice.”
“Ontario touts the ESA as the most progressive endangered species law in North America,” said Attaran. “The Minister’s foot-dragging has rendered this legislation a paper tiger — or in this case, a paper mountain lion — so we’re taking her to court.”
Animal Justice leads the legal fight for animals in Canada. Our lawyers work to pass strong new animal protection legislation, push for the prosecution of animal abusers, and fight for animals in court.
Ecojustice, Canada’s largest environmental law charity, uses the power of the law to defend nature, combat climate change and fight for a healthy environment for all.
VANCOUVER – The Supreme Court of British Columbia has granted Animal Justice and Zoocheck leave to intervene in the Vancouver Aquarium’s lawsuit against the Vancouver Park Board. The two organizations argued in court for the ability to intervene on Friday, September 8 with the favourable decision coming down late in the day.
The Aquarium is seeking to strike down the Park Board bylaw banning the Aquarium from confining whales, dolphins, and porpoises in its facility in Stanley Park. Animal Justice and Zoocheck will focus on dismantling the Aquarium’s troubling legal argument that confining cetaceans is a form of expression protected under section 2(b) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
If confining animals for entertainment is found to be a constitutionally-protected form of expression, there could be drastic consequences for animals. It would become difficult, if not impossible, to pass laws protecting animals from being confined as those laws would be vulnerable to legal challenge.
“The Aquarium’s freedom of expression claim in this disturbing lawsuit could permanently undermine animal protection laws right across Canada,” said Camille Labchuk, lawyer and executive director of Animal Justice. “Animal Justice and Zoocheck are pleased the court has recognized that our perspective, on behalf of animals, must be heard. We will argue in court to protect whales and dolphins, and other animals across the country, from the suffering they endure in captivity.”
Animal Justice and Zoocheck will submit to the court that confining cetaceans should not be considered ‘expression’. The organizations rely on well-established case law stating that expression that is violent or is connected with violence is not protected by section 2(b) of the Charter. Capturing and confining whales and dolphins are forms of violence, in that they involve the coercion and involuntary captivity of living beings who have complex thought, the ability to suffer, and the capacity for self-determination. Confining cetaceans has been shown to cause significant physical and psychological harm to them.
Animal Justice is a national animal law non-profit that leads the legal fight for animals in Canada. Zoocheck is a Canadian-based international charity that works to protect wild animals in captivity and in the wild. Animal Justice and Zoocheck are represented by lawyers Arden Beddoes of Farris Vaughan Wills & Murphy LLP, and Benjamin Oliphant of Gall Legge Grant Zwack LLP.
The Animal Justice and Zoocheck application to intervene can be downloaded here.
VANCOUVER – Animal Justice and Zoocheck are seeking leave at the British Columbia Supreme Court to intervene in the Vancouver Aquarium’s lawsuit against the Vancouver Park Board. The Aquarium is suing in an attempt to overturn the bylaw banning the Aquarium from confining whales, dolphins, and porpoises in its facility in Stanley Park.
Animal Justice is a national animal law non-profit that leads the legal fight for animals in Canada. Zoocheck is a Canadian-based international charity that works to protect wild animals in captivity and in the wild. The two organizations filed a joint intervention application this week.
Animal Justice and Zoocheck are deeply troubled by the Aquarium’s legal arguments, in particular the claim that its practice of confining cetaceans in captivity is a form of expression protected under section 2(b) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
If confining animals in captivity is found to be a constitutionally-protected form of expression, there could be drastic consequences for animals. It would become difficult, if not impossible, to pass laws protecting animals from being confined as those laws would be vulnerable to legal challenge.
If granted leave to intervene, Animal Justice and Zoocheck will submit to the court that the capture, captivity, and confinement of cetaceans should not be considered ‘expression’. The organizations rely on well-established case law stating that expression that is violent or is connected with violence is not protected by section 2(b) of the Charter. Capturing and confining whales and dolphins are forms of violence, in that they involve the coercion and involuntary captivity of living beings who have complex thought, the ability to suffer, and the capacity for self-determination. Confining cetaceans has been shown to cause significant physical and psychological harm to them.
“The Aquarium’s freedom of expression claim in this troubling lawsuit could permanently undermine animal protection laws right across Canada,” said Camille Labchuk, lawyer and executive director of Animal Justice. “We hope to have an opportunity to explain this to the court.”
Animal Justice and Zoocheck are represented by lawyers Arden Beddoes of Farris Vaugh Wils & Murphy LLP, and Benjamin Oliphant of Gall Legge Grant Zwack LLP.
The Animal Justice and Zoocheck application to intervene can be downloaded here.
OTTAWA—Disturbing video footage secretly recorded at the Papanack Zoo in Wendover, Ontario was released this morning by Animal Justice. The footage shows zoo management admitting to beating a lion cub, baby animals stolen from their mothers to be tamed for use as selfie props, and animals performing repetitive, stereotypic behaviours. In one particularly disturbing scene, a skunk and raccoon have their mouths pried open with a cord by zoo management during a photo shoot for the reality TV show ‘Billy Goes North‘.
Papanack Zoo last sparked public outrage in February, 2016 when the owners gunned down a lion named Zeus who escaped from his cage.
The video footage was shot by a whistleblower who worked at Papanack Zoo, approximately an hour east of Ottawa.
The graphic footage shows:
A zoo manager describing how he trained a lion cub by repeatedly hitting the baby animal in the face.
Baby animals, including a baby cougar and baby fox, stolen away from their mothers so they can be handled by the public and used as selfie props.
A raccoon, skunk, and bobcat prodded and forced to pose in a photo shoot for the reality show ‘Billy Goes North.’ The raccoon and skunk have their mouths forced and held open with a cord by zoo management.
Zoo management stating that several Père David deers (extinct in the wild) broke their necks after running into the fence of their enclosure.
Animals engaged in repetitive, stereotypic behaviours such as pacing and rocking, including a spider monkey, baby coyote, and several large cats.
Ontario has become the roadside zoo capital of Canada because it is the only province that does not license or regulate zoos. Any person can confine wild animals in a public zoo or private menagerie without obtaining a license, following zoo-specific standards, or submitting to government oversight. Unlike other provinces, there is no way for the Ontario government to shut down a zoo no matter how disturbing the conditions might be for the animals unwillingly kept in captivity.
“This video shows that vulnerable animals endure appalling conditions at Papanack Zoo,” said lawyer Camille Labchuk, executive director of Animal Justice. “Public opinion is rapidly turning against confining animals for entertainment, yet the government continues to leave animals out in the cold. Even a hairstylist needs a license to operate in Ontario, yet anyone can open up a zoo without a license or government oversight. Animal Justice is calling on the Ontario government to introduce a comprehensive zoo licensing regime to protect animals from some of the worst forms of captive cruelty, and ensure that abusive zoos and aquariums can be shut down when appropriate.”
There has been significant public outrage over Ontario’s failure to regulate zoos after a Crown prosecutor in Niagara Falls withdrew animal cruelty charges against Marineland this week. Animal cruelty charges against Bowmanville Zoo owner Michael Hackenberger were also withdrawn earlier this year, and the Bowmanville Zoo has since re-opened under a new name.
Animal Justice is also calling on Country Music Television to cancel future airings of Billy Goes North, a highly-staged ‘reality’ TV show starring ‘exterminator’ Billy Bretherton.
Ontario is the only province that does not license or regulate zoos. Other provinces typically require zoos be licensed or permitted for some or all aspects of their operations, and adhere to zoo-specific standards.
There are no legal rules or animal welfare standards for the use of animals in film and entertainment, such as TV and film productions.
A 2015 Insights West poll found that half of Canadians oppose keeping animals in zoos and aquariums.
A compilation of footage prepared by Animal Justice is available here.
Broadcast quality footage and images are available upon request.
Animal Justice is encouraging the public to ask the Ontario government to license and regulate zoos at the following advocacy page.
For more information, contact: