Whales and Seals and Bears, Oh My! The Evolution of Global Animal Law and Canada's Ambiguous Stance

AuthorKatie Sykes, Joanna Langille, & Robert Howse
 
Whales and Seals and Bears, Oh My!
The Evolution of Global Animal Law and
Canada’s Ambiguous Stance
Katie Sykes, Joanna Langille, & Robert Howse
This chapter looks at the emergence of a new perspective on animals in
international law, and the Canadian government’s position vis-à-vis this
development. We articulate three main propositions. First, although ani-
mal protection used to be thought of as mainly or even solely a domestic
matter, it is becoming a recognized (although still nascent) f‌ield in inter-
national law, so much so that scholars are now paying serious attention
to a phenomenon called “global animal law.
Second, the record on Canada’s participation in this growth of global
animal law has been decidedly mixed, and on balance Canada has been
more obstructive than supportive. While the government has provided
some limited and symbolic support for global animal welfare initiatives
Throughout this piece, “Canada” refers to the federal government of Canada. Our
analysis does not include reference to civil society groups, activists, academics,
or other groups in Canadian society who have oen supported the development
of animal welfare regimes.
In , there were two major international conferences on animal law: the f‌irst
annual European Animal Law Conference at the University of Basel in Switzer-
land and the second Global Animal Law Conference in Barcelona, Spain (ten years
aer the f‌irst, which was held in Michigan). A new online research hub, www.
globalanimallaw.org, was launched at the Barcelona conference in July .
210  ,  ,   
regarding domestic animals, it has actively opposed the development of
progressive international norms with respect to certain wild species that
are subjects of particular concern in international law: whales, seals, and
polar bears.
Our third proposition ref‌lects our attempt to explain why this second
proposition is the case. We posit that the limit to Canada’s support of
emerging global animal law is found where international eorts to pro-
mote animal protection conf‌lict with the government’s perceived political
interests, and where these eorts lead to dicult tensions in Canada’s
relationship with its Indigenous peoples. This is not to suggest, of course,
that Canadians are on the whole opposed to stronger international pro-
tection for animals, nor to downplay the important contribution of Can-
adian-based civil society organizations to the international movement to
curtail exploitation of whales, seals, and polar bears, and still less to deny
the deep anities that do exist between progressive international norms
regarding animals and the way Canadian Indigenous peoples conceptual-
ize ethical relationships between humans and animals. Rather, what we
want to convey is that the Canadian government’s position on these issues
is driven by its chosen strategy for bargaining with certain politically in-
f‌luential or sensitive geographically constituted interest groups, and its
decision to sign on to the rhetoric used by some leaders of those groups
regarding hunting and wildlife exploitation. By making those choices,
Canada’s government has led this country away from its traditional place
as a leader in the development of international norms, a decision that has
been exacerbated by the Harper government’s more general rejection of
international law.
Our f‌irst proposition is that a new perspective regarding animals is de-
veloping in international law. A progressive current can be traced in
scholarship, treaties, and jurisprudence, adding up to evidence that the
international community recognizes animals as morally signif‌icant beings
to whom humans owe both ethical and (limited) legal obligations. The de-
velopment of global animal law is evidenced by two signif‌icant recent de-
cisions from international tribunals: the ruling by the dispute settlement
As discussed in Section C(), below in this chapter.
For further discussion, see Chapters  and .

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