“Sentient beings” with “biological needs”
June 12, 2015 – A first victory for the 52, 000 signatories of the Animal are not Things manifesto! Sixteen months after the launch of the manifesto, it is with great enthusiasm that we greet the legislative amendments set out in Bill 54, An Act to Improve the Legal Situation of Animals, which was introduced to the National Assembly by Pierre Paradis, the Quebec Minister of Agriculture, on June 5th.
As advocated for in the manifesto, Bill 54 includes a reform of animals’ legal status under the Civil Code of Quebec, recognizing them as sentient beings distinct from inanimate objects. More specifically, the Bill proposes to redefine animals as follows:
“Animals are not things. They are sentient being and have biological needs.
In addition to the provisions of special Acts which protect animals, the provisions of this Code concerning property nonetheless apply to animals.”
This suggested formulation has the merit of introducing the novel concept of animals being recognized as different in nature from inanimate objects in the eyes of the law. However, given that all legislative provisions applicable to property continue to apply, by default, to animals, the proposed reform constitutes a purely symbolic change; it does not have the effect of granting animals true rights.
The new bill also includes several other improvements that the Montreal SPCA has been advocating for, namely protection for a broader range of species not covered under the current legislation, requirements in relation to the psychological welfare of animals, and increased penalties, including jail time for recidivists.
However, the true scope of the reform set out in Bill 54 will only be ascertainable once accompanying regulations are made public and enforcement issues are addressed.
Thank you for your support!
Like most people, we believe that animals are not toasters. This view, however, is not shared by our Civil Code. From a legal standpoint, a dog or a cow is no different than a toaster or a chair: all are considered moveable property. Quebec law thus assimilates the act of hurting or abusing an animal to the destruction of property. Not only is this concept morally questionable, but it also clashes with how the majority of Quebec citizens think.
Likening animals to things also means ignoring the current state of scientific knowledge. Animals’ capacity to feel pain is now the object of broad consensus, at the very least when it comes to vertebrates. As research progresses, we are increasingly discovering cognitive and emotional capabilities in animals that are much more complex than once thought – and this holds true not only for primates, dolphins, and dogs, but also for cows, rats, and pigeons.
Animals are not things nor machines, but rather they are sentient beings whose lives matter to them. It is therefore legitimate to consider their interests and moral worth when making decisions about them.
We are well aware that our proposal conflicts with certain traditions, force of habit, and the notion that animals exist solely to serve human interests. Yet, we also believe that mentalities have evolved and that it is time to undertake this reform that is both legitimate and just.
Our province is particularly weak when it comes to legal protection for animals. Indeed, Quebec ranks as the worst province in Canada in terms of animal welfare legislation.
In 2014, it has become urgent to break free from the Civil Code’s categories and to grant animals a legal status that is distinct from that of moveable property, and that takes into account their capacity to feel pleasure and pain – to grant them, in short, the status of sentient being.
Nicolas Basque, musician (Plants and Animals)
Josée Blanchette, journalist
Léa Clermont-Dion, journalist and director
Martine Delvaux, author and professor of literature (UQAM)
Élise Desaulniers, author
Alanna Devine, Director of animal advocacy, Montreal SPCA
Anne Dorval, actress
Jacques Godin, actor
Me Anne-France Goldwater, lawyer (Goldwater, Dubé)
Stevan Harnad, Canada research chair in cognitive science (UQAM)
Jean-Thomas Jobin, comedian
Martine Lachance, Directrice du Groupe de recherche en droit animal (GRIDA)
Georges Laraque, Former hockey player and activist
Claudia Larochelle, television host and author
Jacques Languirand, television and radio host, playwright and actor
Nat Lauzon, radio host
Franco Lepore, Canada research chair in cognitive neuroscience (Université de Montréal)
Pascale Lévesque, journalist
Marie Soleil Michon, television host
Joëlle Morin, actress
Christian Nadeau, professor of philosophy (Université de Montréal)
Annie-Soleil Proteau, television host
Gilles Proulx, journalist and radio host
Benoît Roberge, television host and author
Michel Seymour, professor of philosophy (Université de Montréal)
Julie Snyder, television host and producer
Élise Turcotte, author
Patricia Tulasne, actress
Simon Tremblay Pepin, Ph.D. candidate in political science (York University)
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Daniel Weinstock, Director of the McGill Institute for Health and Social Policy
Laure Waridel, co-founder of Équiterre
Matthew Woodley, musician (Plants and Animals)
Marc Zaffran/Martin Winckler, physician and author