Bill 54: does it include oysters, too?

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Pontiac Perspective  Peter J. Gauthier

In December 2015,
the Quebec Government passed Bill 54 recognizing animals as sentient beings.  This bill was deemed

Pontiac Perspective  Peter J. Gauthier

In December 2015,
the Quebec Government passed Bill 54 recognizing animals as sentient beings.  This bill was deemed
necessary because, prior to its adoption, animals were considered property with the same legal status as chairs and automobiles. Previously, legal action against mistreatment of animals, operation of “puppy mills”, and general disregard for the well-being of farm animals, pets, and strays was difficult and uncertain. Obviously change was needed, but the use of the term “sentient beings” has caused concern among farmers and pet owners.
The idea that animals were non-sentient beings, incapable of emotional response, had its origins
in the “Enlightenment” period of human history. René Descartes (1596 – 1650), dubbed the father of western philosophy, defined animal life as mere bundles of matter reacting to physical events.  Animals, as non-sentient beings, were incapable of truly experiencing pain or pleasure; their reactions to wounds and bruises were just nervous twitches. This concept of animal life allowed for experimentation (including vivisection) on non-human life forms and justified treating
animals as inert property.
However, advances in biology and evolutionary theory have led to the recognition that animals experience pain and
suffering as well as pleasure and enjoyment. With this came the question of what it means to be a
sentient being. In religious terms, sentience implies an immortal soul capable of entertaining the concept of the sacred or of God. In more general terms, sentience indicates the ability to experience pleasure and pain. In this latter sense, animals can be considered as sentient beings.
This gives some understanding of the use of the term “sentient beings” in Bill 54. Quebec is not the first jurisdiction to use the term;  France, Australia, New Zealand and other countries have also used this concept in defining animal rights and treatment. In fact, New Zealand’s legislation
forbids exposing animals to potential pain or uncomfortable conditions for scientific research.
The problem arises when the idea of sentient beings is applied equally to all animals. There is a difference between a dog’s sense of pain and discomfort and that of an oyster. Here, human intelligence, scientific and moral understanding must be brought to the issue. We recognize some organisms have more complex nervous systems and brain capabilities than lower forms of life. We should also recognize that all creatures have their place in the earth’s eco-system. This demands respect and consideration of all life forms, even those that eventually provide food for humans.
(See related article below)

Questions about Quebec’s new Animal Welfare Bill

Deborah Powell

SHAWVILLE – Qualifications of inspectors was one of the main concerns raised during the Quebec Farmers’ Association’s (QFA) monthly Food Forum webinar, held January 28, where Bill 54 – an act to improve the legal situation of animals – was discussed.  The webinars were held in 7 locations across the province; locally, PHS was the venue, with about a dozen people attending. 
Presenters Stephane Forest, UPA (Union des producteurs agricoles) lawyer and Nathalie Côté, Quebec coordinator for Verified Beef Producers (VBP), explained how the Bill applies to livestock farmers. While the law describes what inspectors can do when inspecting farms, there are no details about what training they are required to have.
“We get a little nervous about the qualifications of inspectors,” said Andrew Simms, QFA
executive member for the Shawville area, although he didn’t see the bill changing his life, unless more reporting is required.
“The reason behind the bill was the bad reputation Quebec had for puppy mills and the like,” said Chris Judd, QFA Executive Member, who added there are already good regulations for livestock producers and transporters.
During the public hearings held last fall before the bill was passed in December, the UPA communicated their concerns about the potential to increase costs in Quebec compared to other provinces, as part of their 16-point memorandum. A
number of changes requested by the UPA were incorporated into the final bill.
Chapter 7 of Bill 54, ‘Regulatory Provisions‘, is also of concern as it is very open-ended, giving a lot of power to the Ministry to make new regulations.
In June 2015, Quebec was ranked last of the Canadian provinces in quality of animal
protection laws by the California-based Animal Legal Defense Fund (ADLF). This motivated MAPAQ Minister, Pierre Paradis, to introduce the new legislation with the stated goal of enshrining animals in Quebec’s Civil Code as sentient beings and not as “furniture” or other movable assets.
The legislation also includes amendments that double the potential fines for offences against animals to between $500 and $250,000 and prison terms of up to 18 months.