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May 4th marked the conclusion of the highly anticipated ‘Toronto Pig Save’ court case. In which Anita Krajnc, an activist with Toronto Pig Save, was charged with ‘mischief’. On June 22nd 2015, Krajnc and other members provided water to pigs in trucks on their way to slaughter. The defence, presented by James Silver and Gary Grill, argued that pigs are persons and not property. A proposition that was ultimately rejected by Justice David Harris, despite the ruling going in Anita’s favour. The final verdict ruled that Anita did not interfere ‘with the lawful use’ of property.
“The judge recognized compassion as a virtue in this case, and common sense prevailed in the finding that Anita Krajnc was not guilty for showing mercy to terrified, thirsty pigs on their way to slaughter,” PETA President Ingrid Newkirk said in a statement.
The defining aspect of this court case depended upon the legal status of animals as property, not persons. Throughout history, the status of animals as property has extremely restricted their protection under the legal system. Animals fall under a distinct form of property and within the law must be treated both ‘humanely’, without causing ‘unnecessary’ suffering. Nonetheless, ‘unnecessary’ cruelty has failed to protect animals from virtually all forms of institutionalized animal exploitation, such as their use for meat and dairy. Professor Reinold Noyes highlights why animals will ultimately be forgotten in our legal system; "legal relations in our law exist only between persons. There cannot be a legal relation between a person and a thing or between two things." It is because of this inability of ‘legal relations’ that animals cannot be awarded equal consideration and thus, animal suffering will be regarded as necessary whenever it benefits human property owners. As Gary L. Francione states, “If the law regarding animals is to change, it is necessary to eradicate the property status of nonhumans.” Is it time to afford legal protection for an animal’s fundamental rights?
As seen from the video of the incident, the pigs in question were undoubtedly suffering. Cramped, hot, and dehydrated. Unlike inanimate objects, such as a chair or table, animals are sentient and possess the capacity for independent action. Ultimately, treating one as property means to be exclusively the means to another's end. We believe it is morally wrong to inflict unnecessary suffering on animals. However, when there are far healthier food choices that can be made, no form of animal suffering can be regarded as necessary. During 2015, in Canada alone, 14,212 pigs were found dead upon arrival at slaughterhouses, unable to survive the journey. That same year, dog owner Emma Paulsen who admitted to leaving six dogs inside her hot truck, was sentenced to six months in jail for their deaths. As humans we already include pets, such as cats and dogs, within our circle of compassion. Rightly so, as their suffering is no less intense than our own. Pets are such a beloved part of many people's lives, but why does both the legal system and our moral compass sway depending on the species? Social attitudes concerning animals are downright confused. Faced with a dying animal on the roadside, we would likely do what we could to help it. Logically, our response shouldn’t differ outside of a slaughterhouse.
Under the law
“a person has the ability to be self aware and the ability to understand”. But
an animal’s inability to understand and adhere to our rules is as irrelevant as
a child or a developmentally disabled person’s inability to do so.While non-human animals do not possess
the sophisticated rational abilities that we do, they are nevertheless sentient
beings. Sentience is the capacity to feel, perceive, or experience
subjectively. Animals possess morally significant interests.
Peter Singer, professor of Bioethics and prominent moral philosopher, explains;“Most people think that the life of a dog or a pig is of less value than the life of a normal human being. On what basis, then, could they hold that the life of a profoundly intellectually disabled human being with intellectual capacities inferior to those of a dog or a pig is of equal value to the life of a normal human being?”
As stated before, an animal's intelligence is irrelevant when it comes to our moral obligations. Nevertheless, studies have shown that they share a number of cognitive capacities with other highly intelligent species such as dogs, chimpanzees, elephants, dolphins, and even humans. Neuroscientist Lori Marino believes that “there is good scientific evidence to suggest we need to rethink our overall relationship to them.”
Pigs have an innate moral value and their worth is not determined by their usefulness to us. Animals were not ‘put here’ for any purpose. They are on this planet with us, not for us. It is of crucial importance that for development and progress of animal rights, the legal system evolves. Human history shows an ever-expanding circle of moral concern and it is about time that we begin acceptance of non-human animals into that circle.
Ben lives in Southern England and is passionate about environmentalism and veganism
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