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Supreme Court of B.C. Grants Animal Justice & Zoocheck Leave to Intervene in Vancouver Aquarium Lawsuit

Animal Justice September 11, 2017

VANCOUVER – The Supreme Court of British Columbia has granted Animal Justice and Zoocheck leave to intervene 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.

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The Animal Justice and Zoocheck application to intervene can be downloaded here.

The Aquarium’s petition can be downloaded here.

The Parks Board’s response to the petition can be downloaded here.

For more information, contact:

Camille Labchuk
Executive Director
camille@animaljustice.ca

 

Animal Justice

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Animal Justice Seeks Leave To Intervene In Vancouver Aquarium Appeal

Animal Justice September 28, 2016

VANCOUVER – National animal law organization Animal Justice is asking the B.C. Court of Appeal for permission to intervene in an important appeal that could affect the ability of animal advocates to do undercover investigations into animal cruelty, and to otherwise film, photograph, and expose animal abuse.

The case is an appeal of a decision of the B.C. Supreme Court in a lawsuit filed by the Vancouver Aquarium against filmmaker Gary Charbonneau. Mr. Charbonneau’s film Vancouver Aquarium Uncovered criticized the Aquarium for its practice of keeping and breeding whales and dolphins in captivity. In response, the Aquarium sued Mr. Charbonneau for violation of copyright, and sought an injunction to have the film removed from the internet.

The Aquarium was partially successful in April when the judge hearing the injunction ordered that 15 segments with nearly five minutes worth of material be removed from the film. The Aquarium claimed copyright over these segments, which included material from its website and footage shot at its facility–despite well-established limits on copyright law that allow users to reproduce copyrighted material for many purposes, including criticism and news reporting.

Legal experts have called the Aquarium’s lawsuit an abuse of copyright law that improperly attempts to silence legitimate criticism and shut down robust public debate. In May, the B.C. Court of Appeal granted Mr. Charbonneau leave to appeal the injunction decision.

“Films and undercover investigation videos are powerful tools to expose hidden animal suffering and spark social and legal change,” said lawyer Camille Labchuk, executive director of Animal Justice. “If the injunction decision is not overturned, animal use industries will be emboldened to launch bogus copyright lawsuits to silence animal advocates and prevent them from exposing and publicizing animal abuse through undercover investigations, films, and photographs.

“This case could be Canada’s own version of “ag gag” laws–the troubling statutes passed by many U.S. states that criminalize filming animal abuse on farms.

“Animal Justice is hopeful that the court will accept our application to intervene in this crucial case so we can protect the ability to film, photograph, and expose animal suffering.”

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For more information, contact:

Camille Labchuk
Executive Director
camille@animaljustice.ca

Animal Justice

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Why the Supreme Court Bestiality Decision Is Actually Good For Animal Law

Animal Justice June 15, 2016

By Camille Labchuk, Executive Director of Animal Justice. 

The Supreme Court of Canada sent shock waves around the world last week when it ruled in the case of R. v. D.L.W. that most forms of bestiality are legal in Canada. According to the judges, sexually abusing animals is only a crime if the abuse involves intercourse.

Many people were deeply disappointed by the outcome. Animal Justice intervened in the disturbing court case last November to speak up for animals and make sure the Court heard why protecting them matters. Like you, we wish the Court had ruled that all sexual touching of animals must be illegal.

But apart from the outcome, nearly everything else about the D.L.W. case is good news. Many parts of the decision are extremely positive for animals and the field of animal law, and we know that Animal Justice made a huge difference by intervening. Let’s break down the decision and take a closer look.

First, it was a split decision. Although six judges interpreted bestiality narrowly, we managed to convince Justice Rosalie Abella that bestiality should include all sexual acts with animals. Justice Abella wrote a strong dissent that adopted most of Animal Justice’s arguments, stating that it was obvious that the law should make all forms of bestiality illegal. Justice Abella wrote that she has a “great deal of difficulty accepting that in its modernizing amendments to the Criminal Code, Parliament forgot to bring the offence out of the Middle Ages…”.

Second, the majority and the dissent both mentioned that protecting vulnerable animals is important. This is the first time ever that the country’s top court has acknowledged society’s long-standing and growing concern with the welfare of animals. It’s an incredible development for the field animal law. Our legal system is built on precedent, and now we have a powerful precedent from the Supreme Court that animal lawyers will be able rely on in future cases.

This recognition that animals matter is thanks to Animal Justice’s intervention. The other parties in the case (the Crown and the accused) wouldn’t even agree that the offence of bestiality is about protecting animals. In their view, the offence was exclusively about protecting human morality, and had nothing to do with protecting vulnerable animals from serious abuse to which they cannot consent. Without Animal Justice in the courtroom to point out that animals matter, the decision may have been very different.

By being in the courtroom, Animal Justice made a difference in the case. Animal Justice was mentioned by name in both the majority opinion and the dissent. Interveners don’t often get this type of recognition, so we know that the judges appreciated our arguments and took seriously what we had to say about animals.

Finally, it’s important to note that the majority decision doesn’t means the Court thinks animals are unimportant. It simply means that the judges felt they had to interpret a criminal offence narrowly, stating “it is for Parliament and not the courts to expand the scope of criminal liability for this ancient offence.”

The Court gave clear direction that Parliament can act, and that’s exactly what we are asking for. We’re urging the government to support Bill C-246, MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith’s private member’s bill that would close the bestiality loophole and update other animal protection laws.

Ultimately, Animal Justice accomplished a lot by intervening in the case. Although the result was not what we had hoped for, we know this case will help animal lawyers make more progress in the future.

For a more detailed analysis, check out my co-counsel Peter Sankoff’s video blog on the case.

Animal Justice

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