Manifesto for the Evolution of Animals’ Legal Status in the Civil Code of Quebec
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.