Not Quite Property, Not Quite Persons: A 'Quasi' Approach for Nonhuman Animals

AuthorAngela Fernandez
PositionAssociate Professor, Faculty of Law, University of Toronto
Not Quite Property, Not Quite
Persons: A ‘Quasi’ Approach for
Nonhuman Animals
Angela Fernandez*
is paper challenges an assumption central to animal law, namely, that the legal
category ‘property’ must be abolished for nonhuman animals. It argues that it would
be better (and more likely to gain traction with judges, legislatures, and the public at
large) to reformulate the status of nonhuman animals in terms of both property and
personhood, an approach I call quasi-property/quasi-personhood. Nonhuman animals
as quasi-property/quasi-persons captures the gains of each concept, namely, securing
for nonhuman animals (some of ) the rights of persons and validating the (admittedly
weak) ones they already have while leaving intact their current legal categorization
as property, recognizing and emphasizing that they are a nuanced form of property
that trigger certain duties and responsibilities in the humans who own them or come
into contact with them. is approach has the virtue of working with existing and
familiar legal categories in a way that is true to their inherent exibility, rejecting the
binary, black/white thinking that has characterized animal law in favor of a pragmatic
compromise that has the virtue of being acceptable today and leaving room for the future
growth of more progressive attitudes towards nonhuman animals.
* Associate Professor, Faculty of Law, University of Toronto (angela. Earlier versions of this paper benef‌ited from
presentations at: “A Workshop on Property, Vulnerability, and Resilience
(September 23, 2017), University of Essex, United Kingdom; the Center
for Transnational Legal Studies (September 27, 2017), London, England;
and the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics, Fifth Annual Oxford Summer
School on Animal Ethics, “Animal Ethics and Law: Creating Positive
Change for Animals” (July 24, 2018), St. Stephen’s House, University of
Oxford, Oxford, England; Posthumanism Research Institute (September
25, 2018), Brock University, St. Catherine’s, Ontario; Animal Law Lab
(October 22, 2018), Faculty of Law, University of Toronto.
Fernandez, Not Quite Property, Not Quite Persons
I. I
II. O D — W  R  P  I
III. I P  P
A. Why Quasi-property?
B. Why Quasi-person?
IV. C
* I have referenced a number of the papers presented at the Oxford Summer
School, organized by the Deputy Director of the Oxford Centre for
Animal Ethics, Clair Linzey, who put together an outstanding four-day
program, which I am so happy to have attended. I would like especially
to thank the following people who I interacted with there: Kathy Hessler
of the Lewis and Clark Law School (for providing me with the text of not
one but two of her presentations, which I rely on here); Justin Marceau
(for pressing me on the semantics point addressed in the last section of the
article); Steve Wise and David Favre (for their company and discussions);
and Camille Labchuk Executive Director of Animal Justice Canada (not
just for her company at the Summer School but for all the work she does
for nonhuman animals in Canada, including sending law professors like
myself on the organization’s Board of Advisors materials allowing us to
keep up on what is happening with the group’s cases and other activities).
ank-you also to Bruce Chapman for sending the Oxford call for papers
my way and to my Dean Edward Iacobucci for making funds available
through an institutional SIG Grant to attend. Katie Sykes straightened
me out on some important points relating to corporations and, more
importantly, said yes when I suggested to her that we approach the
Canadian Journal of Comparative and Contemporary Law about doing a
special issue on animal law. It is wonderful when things you think are a
good idea actually happen.
(2019) 5 CJCCL
I. Introduction
In an article “Animals as Vulnerable Subjects: Beyond Interest-
Convergence, Hierarchy, and Property”, Ani B Satz wrote that
“existing [animal law] scholarship is entrenched in a paralyzing debate
about whether categorizing animals as ‘persons’ instead of ‘property’ will
improve their legal protections”.1 I agree with Satz that dichotomous
thinking about nonhuman animals as either property or persons is
unhelpful. However, given that both of these categories are so central to
legal thinking, this paper argues that we should move towards and into
both of those categories, using them creatively and expansively rather
than trying to avoid or supersede them as Satz argued we do. I propose
we do just this by adopting the category of quasi-property/quasi-persons
as the legal status for nonhuman animals, a concept which this paper
Claude Lévi-Strauss famously wrote that animals were “good to
think”2 with. I start from the position that the categories we use (e.g.
property and person) structure and channel much of what we think
and, importantly, movement and change in our thinking (and our legal
structures) can come from approaching those categories dif‌ferently but
not so dif‌ferently that they will be dif‌f‌icult to identify with (for lawyers and
non-lawyers). is paper is motivated by where things currently are in
animal law scholarship, specif‌ically from a pragmatic perspective but also
from the truth, which seems to go under acknowledged, that nonhuman
animals already have some rights, and so are arguably legal persons of a
sort, yet they remain property, even if they are a unique form of property
due to their status as living sentient beings.
Work like what I propose here has been done on the property side
by long-time American animal law scholar David Favre.3 Favre has
1. Ani B Satz, “Animals as Vulnerable Subjects: Beyond Interest-
Convergence, Hierarchy, and Property” (2009) 16:1 Animal Law 65 at
2. Claude Lévi-Strauss, Totemism (Boston: Beacon Press, 1965) at 89.
3. See David Favre, “Time for a Sharper Legal Focus” (1995) 1:1 Animal
Law 1. is was the inaugural issue of the American journal.

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