Peter Sankoff

Peter Sankoff has written 23 posts for The Solution

Loving the Animal Law Vibe in Dunedin

Just got back from Dunedin, where last night I gave a guest lecture as part of Animal Law week, a production of the Student Animal Legal Defence Fund (SALDF) chapter recently established at the University of Otago – the first ever Chapter outside of North America.

It was a hell of an experience, and one I enjoyed immensely.   After years struggling to get a viable student group working at Auckland, it was refreshing to see a student-created group with so much focus and vigour – and so much concern for animal law issues.   In addition to my talk, the Otago group has set up a whole week of seminars, stalls and discussions, many of them student led and researched.   Quite a feat, especially when you consider that animal law has never been taught at Otago – and is not currently on the agenda.

The talk itself went well, and I received some wonderful feedback.   A packed house learned about the animal welfare construct and why it fails animals, and we continued talking afterwards as well.  I was pleased to hear that this SALDF chapter is planning to host further events through the year, and with the support of the Otago administration, an animal law course might not be far off. Continue reading

Making an Impact

A new book on animal law was recently published and launched in Australia. Animal Law in Australia and New Zealand, by Deborah Cao – with chapters by Katrina Sharman and Steven White – is the latest book on animal law to be published in this part of the world.  I haven’t yet had a comprehensive read, but the book seems to be a good treatment of the laws governing animals in this part of the world – a much needed reference work that will allow people to continue critiquing the status quo.

The book was launched by Michael Kirby during the Voiceless Animal Law Lecture Series, featuring Joyce Tischler, of the Animal Legal Defence Fund.  I was particularly struck by his remarks, a section of which I’ve reproduced below (full text available at the Sydney Morning Herald):

A year ago I launched a book that changed my life. It was Animal Law in Australasia. After reading it, I immediately ceased eating meat.

For more than a year, I have eaten neither flesh nor fowl. My diet is vegetarian, with a little fish. After nearly 70 years as a carnivore, this was a big change in my habits and eating pleasures. My partner, Johan van Vloten, told friends: ”It’s another fad. He’ll get over it.” But I have not and will not.

The book contained too much information. I could no longer pretend I did not know how sentient animals were slaughtered. No longer could I trick my mind into believing that meat and chicken pieces, so neatly wrapped in plastic or beautifully served on white plates, were the impersonal products of sterile, clean supermarkets. I was distressed at my earlier indifference and indirect participation in a huge industry of corporatised killing of sentient creatures…

Most people in Australia and New Zealand never think about these issues. Eating meat and poultry has been part of their lives for generations. They feel no guilt because they take no part in the slaughter. When they think about it (which is rarely), they assume the law lays down basic standards…

Animal welfare law has been introduced in a journey that commenced with protection for companion animals; spread to a prohibition on senseless cruelty in sporting, circus and entertainment animals; and more recently has extended to the treatment of farm, exported and wild animals, and those in corporations and laboratories subjected to testing for human protection…

A growing body of university students, most in law faculties, are electing to undertake courses in animal welfare law. Already, such courses are offered in six Australian law schools. More are on the horizon. What not so long ago was regarded as an exotic topic of limited interest is now a fast-growing curriculum subject with a real legal dimension.

Why has this happened? Why has it happened now? In part, it is because writers such as Singer rekindled the ideas of earlier thoughtful observers and planted them in the mind of contemporary Australasia. In part, this has happened because cruelty to animals happens in our midst and, as a community, we are responsible for it.

All good stuff.  Kirby has been a real leader in this area, constantly speaking his mind on behalf of animals, getting good press coverage on the issues, and reminding people that animal law is no fad; thinking people can be convinced about the dangers of allowing the existing status quo to go unrestrained.

I must confess that on a personal note, the first sentence made me blush, at least a little bit.  I created Animal Law in Australasia for two purposes: (1) to get people to think about their own actions; and (2) to get the ball rolling on more advanced critique of how animals are treated in Australasia.  Kirby’s speech told me that both objectives were in the process of being realized, and that’s enough to keep a smile on my face all day.

Next week, I’m attending Animal Law week at the University of Otago as a guest speaker.  The first ever New Zealand chapter of the Animal Legal Defence Fund has put together a wonderful program of events intended to bring “animal law” to the masses and show how interesting the subject really is – and how important the issues are.  Just goes to show what can be done once a spark is lit – and how momentum for change in the legal community continues to grow.

Vegan politics

UPDATE: An interview with Laraque explaining how he became vegan.

Great news from Canada, where former professional hockey player Georges Laraque has become perhaps Canada’s first vegan politician, joining the Green Party, which over the past five years has been growing in size and stature.   Laraque makes no bones about what his priorities are: “promoting the link between physical health and the environment”, which sounds a lot like educating people about veganism to me.

It’s refreshing to see vegans coming forth in all areas of public life.  Again, while many refuse to admit it, veganism is still regarded by many in mainstream society with confusion, derision and fear.   Electing those with vegan views to public office is just one way of getting over the many stereotypes existing about this way of life. And as I’ve said in many posts, more vegans is the most direct way to changing society’s view about animals.

Amazing that – and please correct me if I’m wrong – we are still waiting for New Zealand’s first “out” vegan politician.  It’s no small feat, believe me, and the person who achieves that designation will face many of the same prejudices and stereotypes as our first gay politician, our first transgender politician and others of similar disadvantaged groups.  Take it from the first vegan member to ever grace Auckland’s law faculty.  It takes time to break down doors of discrimination and get people to see that vegans are “people too”; just people with a different view of the importance of avoiding the consumption of animals and animal products.

Dog Killers Set for Trial

The two men charged with the dog killings in Wellsford have now appeared in court. It was pretty much a standard appearance to enter a plea, and they won’t be back in court for a few more weeks, when a pre-commital hearing will take place.  The surprising piece of information coming out from this appearance was that the two defendants have elected a trial by jury.   Had anyone asked beforehand, I would have bet heavily that they would have gone for trial by judge alone.  Seems to me that their only chance of success in this case is showing that the dogs didn’t suffer sufficiently during the killing spree, and were killed quickly.  As hard as that sounds to believe, it would have a better chance of success before a judge, who would have a strong understanding of the prosecution’s burden of proof, and would be less likely to be swayed by the emotions of the situation.  I struggle to believe a jury will care about technicalities in light of the number of dead dogs, the “massacre-like” nature of the killings, and the sheer craziness of it all.

The defence’s most likely strategy is to put the dog owner on trial, suggesting that he had too many dogs, that their own dog was killed by his, and that he consented to the killing and is the real person to blame.  They may well be able to weaken his credibility as a witness, and perhaps sway a few jury members who worry about dangerous dogs.  As I’ve indicated in prior posts, Mr. Hargreaves is no choir boy, and has a lot to answer for himself – but I still don’t see how attacking him buys an acquittal.

This case should be won or lost on the basis of the scientific evidence, and the SPCA’s ability to show that the dogs suffered.   Regardless of the reasons for the killing, it was done in a manner that the SPCA should be able to show was detestable, and the owner’s actions will not be enough to legally absolve the defendants of responsibilty for what happened.  Still, with a jury involved, it should be a rousing trial, and an interesting one to follow.

Charges Finally Laid in Wellsford Killings

Well, it took awhile, but charges have been laid in relation to the Wellsford dog killings.  Stay tuned for more details.

New Animal Welfare Act Amendment Bill Introduced in Parliament

With surprisingly little fanfare or attention, the new Animal Welfare Act Amendment Bill has been introduced into Parliament.  You can download a copy of the Bill and read the government’s statement behind it here.

As promised, it’s got more than just an increase in penalty for wilful ill-treatment.

Watch this space to read my review of the Bill in a few days time…

Comprehensive Review of the Animal Welfare Act?

Interesting comment from David Carter, Minister of Agriculture – and responsible for the Animal Welfare Act 1999.  Not surprisingly, Parliament is fast-tracking Simon Bridges’ Bill to up the penalty on wilful ill-treatment, but Carter indicated in this article that he would consider ‘whether [the Bill] should be widened to make the Animal Welfare Act work better’.  Wow!  Could be significant.  Stay tuned…

Blowing Off Some Steam about Wellsford and Politicians

There’s a lot to be angry about these days.  Ever since a couple of lunatics decided to commit the ‘Wellsford Massacre’, by emptying their shotguns into a shed full of puppies, the media has been alight with stories about animal welfare.  In one sense, that’s good.  We certainly need to be paying more attention to what is, sadly, a prevalent problem.  Nonetheless, there’s a lot to get angry about from the media coverage as well.  I’m not sure whether it’s the media, the killers up in Wellsford, some lady calling me a dick-head, or a combination of all these things, but I’m feeling pretty steamed.  Rather than attempt a coherent blog in this state, I’ll throw out a few points on the ‘things that are making me mad’, and hope it makes some degree of sense in the end.

Before doing so, a disclaimer.  I worry some times that people read parts of my comments rather than the whole.  So let me state this loud and clear: I am not against punishing people who commit cruelty against animals.  Far from it.  I’ve done as much to try and get sentences fairly applied as anyone, and have written legal articles, drafted submissions to Parliament and worked with prosecutors to bolster sentences for animal abusers.  It is, to be sure, a component of what needs to happen in order to have a country that treats animals better than it currently does.  Nonetheless, as you’ll see from my comments below, I have serious reservations about the way this has suddenly become ‘the answer’ to our problems.

My Talk with Simon Bridges, MP
A few weeks before he introduced his new Bill to raise the maximum penalty for wilful ill-treatment to animals causing death from three to five years, Simon Bridges called me to see what I thought.  I told him I thought it would do absolutely nothing for animals, and might even set back the cause.  I think he was taken aback, as my position seemed both counter-intuitive and contrary to the ‘animal lover’ position.  So I explained.   The problem, as I see it, is not the maximum sentence for the single most serious crime relating to animals.   A three year maximum, believe it or not, is fairly high by New Zealand standards.  Sure, judges rarely impose the maximum, but that’s true for all crimes.  Nonetheless, the three year maximum is not out-of-whack with other jurisdictions, and gives plenty of room to get jail time for those who commit horrid acts. Continue reading

A few more thoughts on the Wellsford Massacre…

As more details emerge from what happened in Wellsford two days ago, the whole picture gets a great deal grimmer.  In New Zealand terms, this was a huge story, splashed all over the front page of the Herald, and it has garnered considerable attention.  Sadly, it says a lot about our view towards animals, and highlights some of the weaknesses of the existing animal welfare system.  Incidentally, if you haven’t done so, it’s probably worth reading what I had to say on this yesterday, as I don’t plan on repeating any details of the case that I talked about then.  But here are six additional things to think about:

First, the horrors of the incident should not be underestimated.  When SPCA inspectors, who see plenty of awful things done to animals every day, are left speechless – it’s pretty bad news.  The perpetrator of the act deserves the condemnation he’s getting now, and hopefully the jail time he deserves.  Let’s be honest.  That’s one pretty sick guy. Continue reading

Ummm… What’s There to Think About?

Depressing images from this morning’s New Zealand herald.  The lead story on the internet version of the paper is entitled ‘33 dogs massacred in ‘rifle-killing frenzy‘.

I’ll let you look over the depressing facts yourself.   I’m interested in the legal aspects of the case.  Consider the following facts set out in the Herald – keeping in mind that the Herald ‘facts’ are not necessarily actual ‘facts’:

Yesterday, holding back tears, [the owner] described the sounds of his dogs being shot – sounds that echoed off the quarry walls for 20 minutes.

“They were screaming, making sounds dogs just don’t make. When one was gone, the others knew they’d be next, but they had nowhere to go.”

In all, 23 pups and young dogs, which slept in the owner’s truck, were shot, as were a male and female dog living in a van wreck and eight adult dogs housed in a kennel. They were shot through the grating.

Four pups hiding under their mother in the van survived, as did two other dogs the shooters didn’t see.

These six were taken to the owner’s workshop in Wellsford, but one later died. None of the dogs had been registered.

Pretty despicable stuff, all arising out of a dispute between neighbours over actions taken by the dog.

Almost is frightening is the last paragraph of the story:

SPCA executive director Bob Kerridge said two investigators had visited the property and would determine whether the dogs suffered before they died. A decision would then be made on whether to charge the gunmen. Wilful ill-treatment carries a penalty of up to three years’ jail.

Ummm… Bob, what’s to think about?   Continue reading