From a deeply rooted childhood passion, Camille Labchuck’s love for animals set the foundation for being one of Canada’s leading animal rights lawyers. Today, with her non-profit Animal Justice, she leads the fight for animal protection and opens up about her daily challenges, the fashion industry, and how we can all implement change.

With Camille Labchuk

By Brenna Dixon

Did you have a love for animals from a young age?

Like many children, I grew up sharing my life with companion animals: hamsters, cats, rabbits, and even ducks. I knew as a child that animals were someone, not something. They each had individual personalities, likes, and dislikes. It didn’t occur to me that people could be cruel to animals until later in life when I started to see TV programs about seal hunting and the meat industry, and I was then inspired to take the next step by cutting meat out of my diet at the age of 12. The more I learned about the horrors of other animal-use industries, like dairy, eggs, zoos, circuses, laboratories, and the fur trade, the more I felt called to devote my life to saving animals from horrific lives and heartbreaking deaths at the hands of these industries.

 

Was Animal Justice something that stemmed from an already existing passion that fuelled your academic pursuits?

I went to law school with only one goal in mind: becoming an animal rights lawyer. I spent several years working in politics in Ottawa before leaving to pursue law, and that experience taught me the importance of making a legal change. I realized that the field of animal law was still tiny in Canada but that it was essential for it to grow if we were ever to have a shot at improving the situation for animals in this country. That passion inspired me to join Animal Justice.

 

What do you consider the most challenging part of your career, and how do you deal?

Industries make billions of dollars exploiting and killing animals, and their economic power means we’re fighting a David and Goliath battle. It can be challenging to go up against well-funded opponents, but the one thing we do have on our side is public opinion – most people do care deeply about animals and don’t want to see them hurt.

 

There are a plethora of animal epidemics occurring simultaneously around the world – do you seek cases out or are certain situations brought directly to your attention through media or individuals?

Both. We try to drive the agenda and ensure animal issues are on the political and media radar, but we are also nimble enough to respond quickly to new animal cruelty cases in the news.

 

Pertaining to fashion, there is a movement against using fur – big names have ceased using fur products entirely – what else can fashion do to ensure the safety of animals?

It’s encouraging that fur is being dropped by major fashion houses, and some U.S. cities have even banned fur sales. Next, I hope to see brands move away from using other animal products like down, leather, and wool. There are high-quality alternatives to all of these products that are warm and durable, and many incredible vegan designers are showcasing what they can do with cruelty-free materials.

 

What do you consider the first step in educating the public about animal rights? 

Most Canadians already feel empathy and compassion for animals, and we assume that our laws protect them from suffering. Unfortunately, that’s usually not the case. Canada has some of the worst animal cruelty laws in the western world, and we kill close to 800 million animals every year for food, fashion, experiments, and entertainment. Part of my job is to make sure Canada’s laws better reflect our shared values of compassion and respect for animals, and this involves making sure people understand how desperate the situation truly is. For instance, most people are shocked to learn that there are zero federal laws about how animals should be treated on farms or in laboratories.

 

How do you strategize campaigns against particular animal cruelty situations?

Every campaign is different, but we know that public pressure is an essential part of making a political and legal change, whether through the courts or through the legislature. So, we ensure the public has a voice and knows how to use it.

 

Has documenting certain animal injustices been particularly difficult as you are confronting big and multinational businesses and business owners?

Large companies often try to silence animal advocates through legal threats because they know that the truth is bad for business. We’ve been threatened with lawsuits by trophy hunters, and we regularly assist animal advocates who are being sued, such as the filmmaker sued by the Vancouver Aquarium for exposing the truth about whale and dolphin captivity at their facility. The good thing is that it usually backfires! People are so outraged by the attempt to silence animal advocates that we end up with an even bigger public platform to spread the word.

 

What do you consider an everyday animal injustice that people can immediately remediate?

By far, the most powerful step any one of us can take is simply leaving animals off of our plates. It’s better for the animals (obviously!), but it’s also an incredible thing to do for our own health, and a huge way to tackle climate change. Some people go plant-based on the spot, but others take it one step at a time and slowly phase out animal products from their diet.

Ultimately, being vegan isn’t about being perfect—it’s about doing our best not to participate in a broken food system. Don’t beat yourself up if you struggle initially. Many people slip up and have setbacks along the way. You need to find the right path for you to ensure being vegan is sustainable in the long run.

 

What are Animal Justice’s immediate goals in the next 2-3 years regarding animal injustice?

Politicians across the country are finally being forced to take animal issues seriously, so I expect to see national bans on a number of outdated practices, such as whale and dolphin captivity, cosmetic testing on animals, shark fin imports, and cosmetic mutilation of companion animals, like cat declawing, dog tail docking, and ear cropping.

We’re also pushing to see the federal government take responsibility for farms and impose some laws to outlaw some of the most abusive farming practices.

 

Animal protection is on the public’s radar, and that bodes well for overhauling our legal system for animals!

 

Camille Labchuk, Executive Director of Animal Justice, poses for headshots and portraits for the National Observer in the Ottawa Impact Hub offices, on June 25th, 2018.

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