Defending animal rights means never eating your customers

Growing up on Prince Edward Island, Camille Labchuk lived with a circle of pets, including cats, hamsters, rabbits and ducks. But at nine years old she realized the darker side of relationships between humans and animals. Television images of the slaughter of a commercial seal near her home deeply impacted her and sparked a lifelong commitment to animal welfare.

“I couldn’t believe people were hitting baby seals on the head and then skinning them for their fur,” Labchuk said. “My experience with animals up to that day had mainly been that people were kind and loving to their pets. “It was then that I first realized that sometimes animals suffered at our hands.”

Labchuk, lawyer and CEO of Animal Justice Since 2015, she has dedicated decades to advocating for animal rights in Canada. She pushes hard for legislative changes and industry responsibility to protect animal welfare and legal representation of animals in court.

Being part of an organization like Animal Justice is a dream come true, he said. Over the years, more and more people are actively involved in calling radio stations, writing letters, and meeting with legislators to demand positive changes for animals.

Labchuk’s most recent high-profile case is a lawsuit brought by Animal Justice against the so-called “Ag-Gag Law” in Ontario Superior Court. The law prohibits journalists and animal rights activists from conducting undercover investigations and filming animal cruelty on farms and slaughterhouses. Labchuk maintains that the Animal Safety and Trespass Act, as it is formally called, violates the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Among his notable successes with Animal Justice was convincing Canada in 2019. prohibit the possession of whales and dolphins in tanks and aquariums. It was monumental because, for the first time in more than 100 years, Canada enacted new animal cruelty laws at the federal level, he said.

“Parliament had almost completely abandoned its responsibility to protect animals for a long time, so it was gratifying to see a wave of public support inspiring lawmakers to finally listen and pass this vital law.”

In her private life, Labchuk is a committed vegan, a lifestyle that aligns with her belief that animal lawyers should not eat their clients. Her journey to veganism began at the age of 12 and was motivated by a desire to distance herself from the cruelty associated with dairy and egg production.

“I learned that animals raised for milk and eggs experience some of the worst conditions, usually even worse than animals killed for meat, and that cows and chickens themselves are slaughtered once their bodies are exhausted. “Once I learned that, I was inspired to completely stop eating dairy, eggs, meat or fish,” he added.

One of Camille Labchuk’s goals is to recognize animals as sentient beings in Canada’s Criminal Code. Although this is a symbolic gesture, she believes it is important to challenge the perception of animals as property. #animalrights #animalcruelty

At first, Labchuk was hesitant about her career choice, thinking she would eventually pursue a degree in psychology with aspirations of becoming a neuropsychologist. Her goals took an unexpected turn when she joined the Green Party of Canada, ran in the 2006 election and then worked as press secretary for party leader Elizabeth May.

In Ottawa, he learned how powerful defenders can be. The turning point came when Labchuk was invited to document the seal slaughter with an organization fighting to ban imports of seal products into the European Union. He witnessed the work of professional advocates, recognized their calling, and decided to combine the law with his passion for protecting animals.

“For me, that experience was formative for one important reason: I realized that animal advocacy could be a full-time career path. “There weren’t many role models at the time, so this was a revelation.”

There are big challenges ahead for Labchuk and his compatriots. Canada has some of the worst animal protection laws in the Western world, he notes. Most people in the country take care of animals and everyone wants animals to be protected; Nobody wants to see them suffer, Labchuk said. However, he recognizes that animal rights advocates face strong adversaries in the powerful meat industry and hunting lobbies.

“Unfortunately, our laws do not reflect the will of the people. Rather, they reflect what industry lobbyists want to see to ensure maximum profit from animal exploitation.”

One of Labchuk’s key goals is to recognize animals as sentient beings in Canada’s Criminal Code. Although the recognition would be symbolic, it is important to challenge the perception of animals as mere property, he believes.

The continued images of animal abuse that Labchuk sees daily take an emotional toll, she said. She draws strength from her privileged position to make a difference and tries to channel negative feelings into a positive force for change.

“Sometimes I can help get laws passed, and sometimes I can mobilize the public to care a little more than before.”

In addition to her legal and advocacy work, Labchuk is actively involved in personal practices aligned with animal rights. Through his Instagram and other social media accounts, he spreads awareness about plant-based living and shares the joys of a compassionate lifestyle.

This story was produced in partnership with Journalists for Human Rights for the Afghan Journalists in Residence program funded by the Meta Journalism Project.

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