Victory: The Civil Code of Quebec now recognizes animals as “sentient beings”
December 4, 2020 - Today marks an important victory for the over 52, 000 signatories of the Animal are not Things manifesto! Nearly two years after the launch of the manifesto, it is with great enthusiasm that we greet the adoption of Bill 54, An Act to Improve the Legal Situation of Animals, which was introduced to the National Assembly by Pierre Paradis, the Quebec Minister of Agriculture, on June 5th.
With the passing of Bill 54, the Civil Code of Quebec will be amended in order to explicitly recognize animals as sentient beings. More specifically, the Civil Code will now read as follows, at section 898.1:
“Animals are not things. They are sentient being and have biological needs.
In addition to the provisions of special Acts which protect animals, the provisions of this Code and of any other Act concerning property nonetheless apply to animals.”
Such a recognition of animals as sentient beings, distinct from inanimate objects, carries, in our eyes, tremendous symbolic importance. It enables the law to better reflect both the current state of scientific knowledge as well as Quebec citizens’ values.
That being said, this reform of animals’ legal status constitutes a purely declaratory change. It does not have the effect of granting animals true rights. In fact, all legislative provisions applicable to property continue to apply, by default, to animals.
In addition to the important Civil Code amendment, the bill adopted today also includes several other significant improvements to penal legislation, namely a widening of the scope of protection to a broader range of species, new requirements in relation to psychological welfare, and increased penalties, including the possibility of jail time for repeat offenders.
The adoption of Bill 54 represents an important step forward for Quebec animal welfare law, but a lot more needs to be done in order to grant animals true rights. We will continue to advocate towards this goal and we know we can count on you for future developments.
Thank you for your support and see you soon!
Like most people, we believe that animals are not toasters. This view, however, is not shared by our Civil Code. From a legal standpoint, a dog or a cow is no different than a toaster or a chair: all are considered moveable property. Quebec law thus assimilates the act of hurting or abusing an animal to the destruction of property. Not only is this concept morally questionable, but it also clashes with how the majority of Quebec citizens think.
Likening animals to things also means ignoring the current state of scientific knowledge. Animals’ capacity to feel pain is now the object of broad consensus, at the very least when it comes to vertebrates. As research progresses, we are increasingly discovering cognitive and emotional capabilities in animals that are much more complex than once thought – and this holds true not only for primates, dolphins, and dogs, but also for cows, rats, and pigeons.
Animals are not things nor machines, but rather they are sentient beings whose lives matter to them. It is therefore legitimate to consider their interests and moral worth when making decisions about them.
We are well aware that our proposal conflicts with certain traditions, force of habit, and the notion that animals exist solely to serve human interests. Yet, we also believe that mentalities have evolved and that it is time to undertake this reform that is both legitimate and just.
Our province is particularly weak when it comes to legal protection for animals. Indeed, Quebec ranks as the worst province in Canada in terms of animal welfare legislation.
In 2014, it has become urgent to break free from the Civil Code’s categories and to grant animals a legal status that is distinct from that of moveable property, and that takes into account their capacity to feel pleasure and pain – to grant them, in short, the status of sentient being.
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Martine Delvaux, author and professor of literature (UQAM)
Élise Desaulniers, author
Alanna Devine, Director of animal advocacy, Montreal SPCA
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Stevan Harnad, Canada research chair in cognitive science (UQAM)
Jean-Thomas Jobin, comedian
Martine Lachance, Directrice du Groupe de recherche en droit animal (GRIDA)
Georges Laraque, Former hockey player and activist
Claudia Larochelle, television host and author
Jacques Languirand, television and radio host, playwright and actor
Nat Lauzon, radio host
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Franco Lepore, Canada research chair in cognitive neuroscience (Université de Montréal)
Pascale Lévesque, journalist
Marie Soleil Michon, television host
Joëlle Morin, actress
Christian Nadeau, professor of philosophy (Université de Montréal)
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