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Canadian Projects

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Animal protection in Canada

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Canada, as a modern nation based on European models of nationhood, was formally established in 1867 (with the island of Newfoundland added in 1949). In the preceding centuries European interests used the region for consumptive resource extraction. Animals such as fish, whales, seals and furbearers were killed in huge numbers, bringing many species, including some whales and many migratory birds, to the brink of extinction and, in a few cases, beyond. The British Navy's insatiable demand for timber largely wiped out mature white pines in Ontario.

The country's economy, in part, remains rooted in resource extraction, including gas and oil, various minerals, freshwater and timber, all of which now eclipse the once dominate position of the fur trade as the major generator of funding. Animals such as beaver (the country's national animal) and other furbearing animals, and the fish, whales, seals and other marine life that attracted Europeans from the early 16th century and before, were key economic drivers to early settlement. Basque fishermen plying the waters off what is now Newfoundland and Labrador probably predate Christopher Columbus' voyages to the West Indies, and the Norse established a presence on what is now Canadian soil nearly 500 years before Columbus, although the colony did not last.

Whaling, except by aboriginal people, has ended, and much fur production has moved off the trapline and into intensive farming. Both are cruel to animals, and the movement in Canada has been toward exempting "institutionalized" cruelty (including hunting and trapping, fur farms, factory farms and animal experimentation) from most provincial anti-cruelty laws. Native fish stocks, most notoriously the northern cod and Pacific salmon species, blue-fin tuna, sharks, and a few other commercially valuable species, have been devastated. The risks to wild marine life posed by "aquaculture" (penning wild species in close confinement) that have been identified by the experts have so far been summarily ignored by government regulators. Most Canadians, including media and politicians, are woefully ignorant of progress made in animal welfare legislation in the United States and, particularly, in Europe, and tend to be remarkably defensive whenever the issue arises.

On the international stage, Canada is noted for virtually never supporting any level of protection for native wildlife proposed within the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Fortunately it is only one of 175 countries with a vote, and when CITES protection is extended to endangered Canadian species, it is almost invariably in spite of Canada's opposition. Similarly, Canada left the International Whaling Commission in 1982, when the body began to shift from promoting whaling to conserving whales.

The default position of the Canadian government tends to favor protecting business interests over social concerns, with the result that it is often very difficult to find information pertaining to animal use. While Canada has, until the recent election of a strongly right-wing government, enjoyed an international reputation as a peacekeeper, in fact there is a great deal of highly secret biochemical warfare research conducted in Canada, all involving animal models. Medical and industrial research using animals also is shrouded in secrecy. It is difficult to impossible to get accurate statistics on animals in trade. A disproportionate percentage of provincial budgets is focused on "game" animals, and hunting, while in decline, and trapping and fishing all remain huge drains on provincial and federal budgets.

Our Canadian representative, Barry Kent MacKay, is a well-known Canadian naturalist who has a wealth of knowledge about animal protection issues, although primarily his focus is on wildlife. Barry, through decades of commitment to protecting animals, also has been involved in issues pertaining to companion animals, livestock and animals in research.

Areas of focus: