Kevin Newman’s latest documentary, No Country for Animals opens with a question about human rights and animal welfare: “In Canada, we pride ourselves on racial and sexual equality, but what about the rights of other species?”
How Canada holds up to the rest of the world is a worthwhile comparison. Canada is well behind international standards that regulate housing and transportation for animals used in industry. Canada is the namesake of the documentary.
The latest installment of the ‘Revealed’ documentary series. No Country for Animals, directed by Karen Pinker, examines Canada’s deplorable record on animal welfare and looks at the people who are fighting to bring about much-needed change. It was telecast tonight on Global.
Without being unnecessarily graphic, No Country for Animals exposes Quebec’s notorious puppy mills and examines the mistreatment of animals raised for food. We see the gestation crates where animals spend their entire lives confined in standing positions, and overcrowded abattoir-bound trucks where livestock can go for days without food or water.
It all happens because Canada has very outdated, ineffectual laws protecting animals and when cruelty charges are made, they are often dismissed. “In Canada, animals are property,” explains one activist. Our legal standards protecting animals lag far behind the European Union or California, for example, where major steps have been taken to protect animals and enhance their lives.
This documentary introduces viewers to some of the people who are fighting to bring about change in this country. There’s Nicole Joncas challenging the Quebec courts to close their horrific puppy mills, or Twyla Francois, armed with an undercover camera, campaigning vigorously to bring attention to the mistreatment of farm animals. We meet Canada’s first lawyer to specialize in animal law, and a new, young generation dedicated to the fight to improve the lives of animals through legal and educational means.
The documentary opens with Twyla Francois, a filmmaker and investigator. Many of her informants are investigators for provincial authorities. After a shot of the Woofstock festival in Toronto, she says that we spend $4.5 billion every year to pamper our pets, while permitting legal abuse to other animals.
Leslie Bisgould, the first Canadian animal lawyer informs us that the penalty for smashing someone’s SUV is far greater than for beating their dog.
Alanna Devine, Director of Animal Welfare for the Montreal SPCA says that less than one-quarter of one percent of those accused of animal cruelty are ever convicted. You have to prove intentional neglect. The Criminal Code provisions, crafted in 1892, talks about preventing “unnecessary suffering”, but the implication is that anything we deem “necessary” goes unpunished.
Nicole Joncas runs an animal rescue in Quebec. We see scenes in a puppy mill. All the dogs are screaming; the noise is unbearable. They are terrified. Some are sick or badly injured. Quebec has the dubious distinction of being the puppy mill capital of Canada, with over 2,000 mass breeding operations.
Nicole is frustrated. She reported the mill to everyone but no one was listening. She spoke to Anima Quebec who have four inspectors for the entire province. They looked into it, but ended up just telling the owners to clean things up.
In addition to federal legislation from the 19th century, each province has its own laws. A 2009 study by the Animal Legal Defence Fund ranks Quebec’s laws as the worst.
Cut to shots of a pig farm, where institutionalized violence takes place on private property. Twyla says that these animals are considered to be nothing because they were born for this purpose, but there is no difference between them and a dog or cat, in terms of what they feel.
She grew up on a farm in Manitoba. Her father was a butcher. When she was a 13-year-old member of 4-H, grooming her pet calf, she realized what happened to farm animals and became vegan. Twyla is now a chief inspector for CETFA (Canadians for the Ethical Treatment of Food Animals).
She shows us shots of a transport trailer, with no enrichment or protection from the elements. She tells us that pigs freeze to the metal in winter. Cattle and sheep travel for up to 52 hours with no food, water or a break. This is in line with CFIA (Canadian Food Inspection Agency) guidelines. CFIA will not discuss changes.
So Twyla takes matters into her own hands. She goes to cattle auctions to enforce regulations.
“We know the regulations better than the CFIA,” she says.
At one particularly problematic auction, she finds a badly injured calf and convinces a government veterinarian that it needs to be euthanized. She counts this day as a success because the suffering ended for one animal.
Cut to shots of poultry being thrown into the back of a truck like sacks of potatoes. This is completely legal, says Twyla. The workers consider it standard practice. Cruelty has been institutionalized.
We return to the pig farm. 95% of sows in Canada are confined for their short and unhappy lives in gestation crates which are 2 feet by 7 feet. They go crazy.
Paul Shapiro (HSUS) is shown speaking to an audience of Manitoba agricultural students. He mentions Proposition 2, passed in California to eliminate gestation crates. The victory was a landslide. We see some videos asking voters to say Yes to Prop 2. Twyla would like that to happen here.
Across the pond to Amsterdam where we follow a discussion about animal rights, which are debated much more vigorously in Europe. Lesli Bisgould, the lawyer, reminds us that, in Canada, animals are property and can be used in any way by their owners.
However, the founding document of the European Union, the Treaty of Amsterdam, recognizes animals as sentient beings. The people filmed in Amsterdam don’t understand why Canadians don’t seem to care. Canadians, after all, helped save Europe during World War II.
We cut to a Dutch farmer nicknamed the “Pig Whisperer”. He tells us pigs are funny, nice, social animals. The Dutch government has passed protection laws stating that pigs must not live in crates. But Canada has no proposal on the books to get rid of them. His farm used to be a factory farm, but now the pens are always open, there’s straw on the floor, and pigs roam. Toys are mandated in every pen.
In other European countries such as Sweden and the U.K., confinement pens have likewise been banned. The Swiss constitution actually recognizes the dignity of all creatures.
We cut to an Italian border crossing, where the Italian police do routine inspections of livestock trucks. This never happens in Canada. Dr. Mario Sapino, the chief veterinarian, is there. Animal activists are too, working alongside the police and inspectors. The truck has ventilation and food, but Dr. Sapino says that the animals are packed in too closely and are touching each other. The driver is fined the equivalent of $5,000.
European cattle get a break every 14 hours, compared to our 52. Dr. Sapino says that no one in Europe would ever consider transporting animals that long.
In Canada, we blame our geography. Most animals are raised in the prairies and slaughtered in Ontario and Quebec.
European eyes are now on Canada. They worry that their own standards are not high enough. Then they see ours.
Nicole has tried to sue the Government of Quebec for failing to enforce its animal cruelty laws. She tells us that her case was thrown out, so she moved to a court of appeal. Things have become complicated by the fact that the puppy mill in question has gone bankrupt. That’s what they do; shut down then move to another town.
The court of appeal told her that this was a political question, not a legal one, therefore not under their jurisdiction.
“This has been the hardest four years of my life,” she says.
Lesli Bisgould tells us that law students believe that animal rights is the next legal frontier. Animal law courses are springing up in universities and a new breed of lawyers is graduating.
Alanna Devine tells us that, 25 years ago, environmental law was considered unusual; now it’s very common. Animal law is gaining acceptance as a career.
We see two McGill law students chatting over Skype with a lawyer in Zurich, who was the very first prosecutor in the world to take on animal cruelty cases.
Nicole is now considering a consumer-based campaign against puppy mills – a class-action suit. She says she’s seeing a glimmer of movement from the Quebec Government, who are now providing more money for inspectors.
But what about Canadian consumers? How ready are we to change?
We see a field full of happy black boards crunching on walnuts at Perth Pork Products. The farmer used to use indoor methods to keep prices low. Now he raises heritage breeds for boutique butchers such as Mario Fiorucci of The Healthy Butcher in Toronto.
Mario visits every farm he buys from to ensure that the animals are raised humanely. He sees a business opportunity as customers become aware of more humane options. Price is always an issue, of course, and consumers can pay 25 – 50% more at the butcher shop for humanely raised animals. But North Americans have become addicted to cheap food.
Arthur Schafer, Ethicist at the University of Manitoba, tells us that most people don’t want to eat meat raised inhumanely. He says the public needs to be informed, and that there’s evidence that Canadians want to know where their meat comes from.
Meanwhile, Mario offers hands-on classes to aspiring chefs. He says that, with higher prices, people try to eat less or no meat, and they focus on higher quality.
This is our choice.
Twyla visits The Healthy Butcher and talks with Mario. She questions just how humane “humane meat” is. Animals are still commodified. They are still transported and slaughtered.
The small animals in the butcher case, like the chickens, do her in. She is looking at the whole animal, not just anonymous parts.
Alanna Devine says that changes will not be fast; they will be incremental. She lives for the small victories.
Twyla does it because she dreams of the day that Canadians will finally get it, and start to make humane choices.
If you missed it, you can watch it here.