The Canadian Seal Hunt as Seen in Fraser's Mirror

AuthorLesli Bisgould & Peter Sankoff
 
The Canadian Seal Hunt as Seen
in Fraser’s Mirror
Lesli Bisgould & Peter Sanko*
In Reece v Edmonton (City), possibly the most signif‌icant case relating to
animals and the law ever decided in Canada, Alberta Chief Justice Catherine
Fraser wrote a landmark dissent that did more than simply express dis-
agreement with the majority judgment on the questions of standing and
abuse of process upon which the decision was ultimately based. What made
her opinion so revolutionary was not the conclusion she reached but her
willingness to scrutinize the legal questions at stake from a refreshingly
atypical perspective. In the opening paragraph, Fraser CJA concisely yet
eloquently described the legal challenge facing Lucy the Elephant and
her human supporters in their attempt to remove Lucy from the solitary
life she was living in the cold conf‌ines of the Edmonton Valley Zoo. In the
* The authors thank Allison Boutillier, JD Candidate , University of Alberta,
for her invaluable research assistance.
 ABCA  [Reece].
As Katie Sykes & Vaughan Black, “Don’t Think About Elephants: Reece v. City of
Edmonton” ()  UNBLJ  at  have written, “[t]he dissent engages in re-
markable depth with questions including the relationship between human beings
and animals, the debate over the existence of ‘animal rights’ and the nature and
eectiveness of legal provisions for the protection of animals . . . [T]o see them ad-
dressed at all in an appellate court decision is surprising, and that they are given
such thorough and sincere consideration is little short of astonishing.”
106     
process, she expanded on something critics of the case undoubtedly had
puzzled over — why it was worth considering these issues at all:
Some may consider this appeal and the claims on behalf of Lucy incon-
sequential, perhaps even frivolous. They would be wrong. Lucy’s case
raises serious issues . . . about how society treats sentient animals — those
capable of feeling pain and thereby suering at human hands . . . .
In this single empathic excerpt, Fraser CJA showed a willingness to take
Lucy’s claim seriously, and more importantly, she rejected the established
view of animals as mere things that can be ignored by the judicial process.
In a broader sense, she held up a metaphorical mirror and challenged
the legal system to look into it, urging readers to ref‌lect upon an elephant
suering at human hands, repeatedly stressing the importance of avoid-
ing a rote, mechanical application of legal rationales that gloss over such
suering and make it seem so rational. In the process, Fraser CJA rec-
ognized that notwithstanding the important doctrinal discussion about
standing and abuse of process, this was the major challenge facing Lucy,
and perhaps the most signif‌icant shortcoming of the legal system for all
animals. Without some shi in perspective in the way in which animal in-
terests are regarded by the law, these same animals are likely to forever
suer death by precedent. If the law will ever have real impact where ani-
mals are concerned, it will ultimately be necessary to persuade judges and
society alike to follow the path forged by Justice Fraser and reassess the
justif‌ications that currently condemn animals to suering and death for
purportedly legal, justif‌iable, necessary, and otherwise rational reasons.
This chapter attempts to pay homage to this important dissent and
consider an important issue of animal use by turning what we are call-
ing “Fraser’s Mirror” on the Canadian seal hunt. Harp seals are Canadian
icons and the big, black, watery eyes of these seal babies have melted hu-
man hearts the world over. At the same time, the Canadian seal hunt re-
mains the largest commercial slaughter of marine mammals on earth.
While some dismiss critics of the hunt as only caring about baby seals
because they are so cute, the real signif‌icance of that observation is that it
reveals just how harsh human behaviour, and the laws protecting it, can
Reece, above note  at para .
Paul Johnston & David Santillo, The Canadian Seal Hunt: No Management and No
Plan (Amsterdam: Greenpeace International, ) at , online: Greenpeace www.

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT