Where the Wild Things Are

The escape of wild animals in Ohio is a story which has caught my attention. It is a sad story. The suicidal exotic zoo owner released some 50 wild animals, including tigers and lions, before shooting himself in the head. Tragically, the animals were shot and killed by authorities in an effort to protect the public. In the aftermath, animal rights activists push for legislative reform in a State, which, shockingly, has no regulation for the keeping of exotic animals. 

Here, in Alberta, we do have provincial legislation to regulate and protect wildlife, exotic animals, and domesticated animals as found in the Wildlife Act and the Animal Protection Act. We also have cruelty to animal sections in the Criminal Code, found in sections 444 to 445 and 446 to 447.  

Oddly enough all of these Criminal Code sections are found under Part XI of the Code entitled "Wilful and Forbidden Acts in respect of Certain Property." True, animals are owned but to conceive animals as property conveys the wrong message. The focus is off. Instead of protecting animals because they are living things, our society protects animals because, like a book, they are owned. It is, therefore, this ownership quality of an animal, the concept of damaged goods, which we have decided to protect through our criminal law. 

But the world is changing and our raison d'etre for protection of animals must change too. Peter Singer, a Professor of Bio-Ethics at Princeton, has been a long-time proponent of animal rights after the publication of his book Animal Liberation in the mid '80s.  Since then, animal rights has become a movement with increasing number of supporters. A recent Slaw blog on "Animal Law and Animal Welfare Groups" caught my eye. Additionally, the Supreme Court of Canada will be deciding on a leave application filed by Zoocheck Canada and others on the release of Lucy the Elephant from the Edmonton Zoo.

It is clear animal rights as an emerging issue will require a more thoughtful approach to the protection of animals and, perhaps, a much needed review of Criminal Code sections.