Daniel talks about animal rights law with Sophie Gaillard, practicing attorney and Animal Advocacy Director at the SPCA Montreal. The morality of farming practices, eating animals, cruelty and the horror of castrating pigs without pain control are discussed. Sophie shares her journey and the ridicule she and her allies have had to overcome to bring these issues to the fore. Daniel rethinks his assumptions and offers his cashmere jacket for penance. Sexual politics come up too. Witness a serious, painful, emotional (and sometimes funny!) conversation about a topic that cuts to the bone of what it means to live in a humane society.
Full Episode Transcript
DANIEL: Hello and welcome to this episode of Viva Voce, I am Daniel Goldwater and I am greeted today by my guest Maître Sophie Gaillard
DANIEL: Hi Sophie.
DANIEL: Can I call you Sophie?
SOPHIE: You may.
DANIEL: You can call me Daniel.
SOPHIE: Or Danny?
DANIEL: I like Penelope.
SOPHIE: Ok, we’ll go with Penelope.
DANIEL: Thank you. So, Sophie, you work for the SPCA.
SOPHIE: Yes, I am Director of Animal Advocacy at the Montreal SPCA.
DANIEL: I see, and you are also a member of the Bar?
SOPHIE: I am.
DANIEL: How long have you been a member?
SOPHIE: Since 2013.
DANIEL: Oh, OK.
SOPHIE: So I’m still a young member.
DANIEL: Yes, you seem young to me. So what types of things do you do in that position at the SPCA?
SOPHIE: So, I oversee our advocacy department, so I work on initiatives to try to strengthen animal protection legislation at the municipal, provincial and federal levels. I also oversee our cruelty investigation department, so our team of inspectors that are charged with enforcing the provisions of the criminal code that have to do with animal cruelty, as well as our provincial animal welfare legislation
DANIEL: Cruelty investigations? That sounds very serious.
SOPHIE: Yes, it is very serious, very depressing, extremely hard work. We have a team of really exceptional individuals who work in that department and who see a lot of horrible things. But they are there day in, day out, to help animals. Really impressive people.
DANIEL: I sometimes have a jokey demeanour, but I mean, this is objectively serious. These are criminal acts we are talking about and cruelty that is foisted upon vulnerable creatures. And I know you just alluded to the fact that some of these can be very horrible and probably traumatic. You don’t have to go into details that you don’t want to go into. But can you, for the sake of our listeners, maybe give some examples of types of cases that come up?
SOPHIE: Sure. We certainly do occasionally have cases of people who have sadistic tendencies who are relishing in harming, torturing and beating animals. But the overwhelming majority of our cases are cases of neglect, so people who have animals, who have responsibilities to care for them, and yet aren’t providing them with their basic care. So, animals that are starved to death, that are left ungroomed, to the point where their fur gets completed matted, or for horses, their hooves get so long that they actually turn and grow into their leg. We really see all kinds of things.
DANIEL: Who flags these things for you? How do you get the intake of these sorts of mandates, just regular citizens?
SOPHIE: Yes, overwhelmingly, it is from the public. We have a lot of people calling in when they are witnesses to animal abuse, so that is great that at least those cases get flagged to us. What doesn’t get flagged as much are cases where animals are being raised for food or for other purposes, because that generally happens behind closed doors and there is generally few people that have access to that kind of facility, so we receive fewer calls about that, but that doesn’t mean that there is not cruelty happening in those places as well.
DANIEL: Yes, I think one can very easily argue that creating an animal just for the purpose of eating it has a bit of cruelty in it. I don’t want to offend anybody who is listening, who is an omnivore. I mean, I will speak for myself, I actually am an omnivore. I do eat animals and it is something that if I cast my mind to the morality of it, I’ll admit it is hypocrisy, because I also at the same time have great sympathy for animals and I don’t think it is necessary that I eat them, and yet I do. But I don’t want to be on trial here. That said, when you’re saying that animals are being raised for food, wouldn’t that just be any farmer who is raising cattle? Are you saying, what is the state of the law there?
SOPHIE: Right, so occasionally there are cases in which there is a farmer or some other person who raises animals for commercial purposes that does engage in what is considered legally as cruelty behaviour. So, for example, gratuitously beating an animal or torturing an animal. It does happen. But the other thing to keep in mind is that there are a lot of things that happen to animals raised for food that are not considered illegal. These are standard farming practices, which would be illegal if they were carried out on your dog or my cat, but they are perfectly legal. So things like castration without anesthesia, I’m sure you can imagine extremely painful…
DANIEL: Wait, sorry, I have to slow you down on that. That just made my voice go up an octave or down an octave, up an octave. And why would they not use any anesthetic?
SOPHIE: Well, if you want to get into it, there have been studies looking at ways that you can use anesthetic: it requires manipulating the animal ahead of time to administer the anesthetic. So, when you’re talking about thousands and thousands of pigs on a hog farm, it is very labour-intensive to do that. So, this is where industrial farming really creates a problem, where shortcuts are taken because it is more profitable to spend the least amount of time, money and energy as possible invested in caring for these animals, and so, at the expense of the animals’ welfare.
DANIEL: I think I have a high tolerance for things that are dramatic or intense, given that I’m also an attorney and I practice in family law. Though I haven’t had files of, castration in one way or another.
SOPHIE: Not literally.
DANIEL: Not literally and, just to say this back in my own words, you’re saying that there are thousands, likely millions of animals like pigs – pigs, for many people who are listening or watching probably know, are extremely intelligent. In fact, I think there is an argument that they might be even more intelligent at least similarly intelligent to dogs.
DANIEL: And they are having their genitals cut off, without anesthetics?
SOPHIE: Without any anesthetic, and for other species like calves and sheep, without any pain control whatsoever, and all these animals are raised in extremely confined spaces where they can barely even turn around. So all this, if it was done to dogs and cats, would be illegal, our team would be all over it. These people would be dragged to the court system and would have to pay fines at the very least. But there is an exemption in our provincial law for farming, for agricultural activities. And basically that exemption says that anything that is conducted in accordance with what is called generally accepted practices within the industry is automatically legal and exempted from the law. Basically what we do here in Quebec and unfortunately that is the case in all provinces in Canada almost, is we delegate to the industry the ability to decide what is legal or illegal in terms of how we treat animals regardless of how much suffering those acts entail.
"In Quebec, we delegate to the farming industry the ability to decide what is legal or illegal in terms of how we treat animals regardless of how much suffering those acts entail."
DANIEL: I have a lot of respect for farmers and I understand that farming has, in at least a lot of modern contexts, become agribusiness. I understand that the notion of the lone farmer with the family is a disappearing reality. But, given that I am a lawyer, I think in terms of definitions and thresholds, so “generally accepted industry practices”, how does one define that?
SOPHIE: So, generally what is used to interpret that concept is what we call the National Codes of Practice, these are codes of practice, guidelines, recommended ways of doing things that are generated by the industry itself on a national level. So you have a panel of people, mainly overwhelmingly industry representatives, who sit on this panel and produce these codes. And that, generally is considered how the acceptable practices come to be in any given industry and they allow things like castration without anesthesia, keeping animals in extremely confined spaces, etc.
DANIEL: Talking to you, Sophie, about these subjects... I have an appetite sometimes even for provocative subject matter and I am unapologetic about it because I’m an attorney and I think it is important to face reality. That said, these topics, even I am having hesitations to go further into it lest I offend or disturb people who are listening. Nonetheless, I’ll just go with it because you are here. I think any reasonable person, if you were to go to them and say: “Hey we’re going to castrate an intelligent sensitive animal that is cuddly and that you would like to have it in your home, it is even sympathetic to your anthropomorphic brain, or anthropomorphizing brain, I should say, and we are going to do this on a mass scale". I think people are going to respond: “Don’t do that, that is a bad idea.” And you’re telling me that there are usually agribusiness-type representatives and I’m sure there are a lot of players in that when this legislation or these regulations get passed, but why is it that people are . . . why didn’t I know that?
SOPHIE: Well, because the meat industry is extremely good at disguising this kind of thing. It is not the kind of thing they want the public to know and so they’ll talk about humane raised natural meat, grass-fed beef and they’ll put nice little pictures of cattle grazing peacefully in the fields on their product. And there are active efforts on their parts to sort of hide the reality behind their industry.
DANIEL: Well, you know, in terms of the reality, if I were to play the devil's advocate or put my shoe on the other foot, I think it is PETA and perhaps other sorts of animal rights groups out there – and I sympathize with their cause, I really do – but I have noticed sometimes that they use very provocative images of animals in captivity and horrible situations being tortured, and this is marketing to try to capture the public's attention. I know when I was younger and I started witnessing this, my first reaction was: “Well, this is almost like torture porn.” I felt over-manipulated in the other way. Well, I recognize these things are happening and God knows that I should be aware of them. But, you know, putting a bloody carcass of a sensitive animal in my face is not really converting me to your cause. What do you have to say about something like that?
SOPHIE: Well I understand your point. But my experience of this is that unfortunately sometimes that is what it takes, to shock people and get them to realize what is hiding behind whatever is sitting on their plate. And personally, I went vegetarian before seeing any kind of footage, but the footage is what made me go vegan and it is the same case for many people that I know. The footage is really powerful. This footage, I don’t know much about PETA's investigations, most of their work is in the U.S. but here we have an organization called Mercy for Animals who does undercover investigations here in Canada. They pick random farms, but every farm they go to, they document horrific abuse. And when you think about it, it is not the workers’ fault when you’re dealing with thousands of animals and that you have pressure to go quickly, to not slow down the slaughter line, to not waste money or time tending to an injured animal, you start seeing animals differently and you start seeing them like objects. A lot of studies have shown that slaughterhouse workers suffer from post-traumatic stress and all kinds of psychological ailments following their experience in these kinds of places, because it is really alienating and I think the only way to survive psychologically in those kinds of settings is to somehow remove yourself and distance yourself from feeling any empathy for those animals.
DANIEL: You know there was a psychologist friend of mine, my sister is actually a clinician, a practicing clinical psychology, so I think it was her, I should know... She told me that trauma is the unspeakable. If you want to simplify it, it's when you witness something that is unspeakable. And the way that the mind has to wrap itself around that is to not speak about it and to act out sideways. And I didn’t intend for us to get this deep into it and perhaps I’m just listening to my body. You know the expression the banality of evil? This is Hannah Arendt, the journalist, this was in a context that is often overplayed but, to make it very simple, the reason why I’m bringing it up is... it was in the context, of course, of Adolf Eichmann, a bureaucrat in the Nazi government who was trying to portray himself... he was on trial in Jerusalem and she wrote this piece about the banality of evil and it has been misunderstood and perhaps understood, it is hard to know exactly what her intention was, I don’t want to be disrespectful to her spirit.. But, apparently, once you get into a bureaucratized system and you are one component within that system, you’re alienated from the evil that is happening in the entire system. And, to your point, sometimes people need to be shocked, they need to have photos of the cadavers, they need to have those things. It is compelling. You’re making me think about. . .
"It is certainly the fact that there are a lot more women in this movement. I mean, even if you just look at the staff at the SPCA where I work, it is overwhelmingly female. I’m not sure what that means and you know, nurture-nature, I won’t get into that debate.
SOPHIE: It is also to counter all these images that we’ve been fed since we’ve been kids about when you get your Playmobil farm, you don’t have the industrial hog farm, you have the nice little fencing with the nice little cows on the grass and our storybooks don’t show industrial farms, they show farms from the 1920s. So we’ve been fed all these misleading information in terms of how animals are raised in Canada for food. And sometimes you need to jolt people to get them to realize that it is not the way it is happening.
DANIEL: You know, to talk a bit about you, you alluded to the fact that you have this sentiment, this reflex, perhaps, early in your life for animal welfare. You want to maybe just speak a bit to that? Why is it that you chose this field of law which is atypical, I think it is safe to say, it is a very rarified field... You know, the law, the legal sea, you’re in this little inlet somewhere, so what brought you to that?
SOPHIE: Yes, so I’ve always been very much empathetic toward animals as far back as I can remember so I became vegetarian when I was four years-old and my parents first explained to me what meat was and where it came from very honestly and I was so shocked and revolted that I said I’m not eating anymore of it.
DANIEL: At four years-old?
SOPHIE: Yes they were open-minded enough to let me make that decision and were proud of me for making a decision and supported me for as long as I wanted to keep up that habit, which I kept. They both now are vegan too, which is nice.
DANIEL: So, wait, you had an effect on your parents and made them. . .
SOPHIE: Yes, it took me about 20 years to get them to go vegan but it was a long-fought campaign putting pictures of pigs on the meat in the fridge.
DANIEL: Oh God. They must have been a little resentful.
SOPHIE: Yes, but now they’re both happy with their choice, their forced choice. So it was always something that I was doing on the side so I got involved in activism when I was a teenager, I was doing protests in front of fur stores, etc. when I was a teenager and I never really thought I could make this into a career and I was actually in a completely different field, I was a speech-language pathologist at a hospital and I was just not really satisfied with the way my career was going.
DANIEL: Wait, you were a speech-language pathologist at a hospital? So you were helping people with some brain trauma and strokes?
SOPHIE: Yes, exactly. And in the work, I certainly learned a lot of life lessons and had some pretty crazy experiences doing that job but it didn’t really resonate with my passion and I wasn’t really satisfied with the job on a day-to-day basis, so I did a little soul-searching, and tried to find a career that could somehow ally my professional skills with my passion for animal advocacy and I happened to cross the website of an American organization called Animal Legal Defense Fund and I saw there were lawyers out there in the States working on behalf of animals. I thought, that is it, I found what I wanted to do. So I went back to school, got my law degree, and throughout law school, I tried to do as much animal law as I possibly could. Given that it is an emerging field, and there wasn’t much in the way of courses, and I was lucky enough to get the job at the SPCA right after finishing my bar. So I was very lucky to get that job.
DANIEL: You know, not only were you lucky but, in another way, from my perspective, what makes you lucky, and in which I have a wee bit of jealousy, is that you made a decision root and stick, with a full heart, to go into law for this particular subject. I do not think that is the experience of many people who go into law school. Many people we know, who are young people, who come from different walks of life and whoe want to help people for the most part, they still have to search and find themselves. That searching that you went through prior, even though you were in another helping profession, which I think bode well for you. So now that you’re in the field and that you have this great experience, what are some of the things that you can impart to us about what you’ve learned now being an actual lawyer in this field? What are the skills, the wisdom, the things that you’ve seen that you wish you could have told your earlier self when you were a teenager protesting, what would you say to that younger woman?
SOPHIE: I don’t think I would change anything about my experience as an activist, I think that was a good experience. I still have some ties with the activist communities, I’ve given workshops for activists, knowing their rights and what to do when the police comes and talks to them, that kind of thing. So I still feel that it is a really important component of the animal movement, the activism side. But I think probably what I would have told myself is: “you will be taken seriously one day.” Because at the time, things have moved a lot for the animal protection movement in the past 10 years. We’re still subject to ridicule but it is definitely not as bad as it was 10 years ago, it is emerging as an area of serious concern, both ethically and in law. And you know, that was one thing I was kind of after too and I think getting my law degree is just having something that gets me get taken a bit more seriously. The law degree does tend to help with that and so it is a really nice feeling to not be as ridiculed, as mocked, to be invited in forums such as this one, and to be able to talk about this serious issue with all the seriousness that it deserves and the attention that it deserves.
DANIEL: Since you opened the door there to perhaps being subject to ridicule or mocking, and to your point, you got a lot of people taking you really seriously all of a sudden. And I noticed that in my life, once I joined the bar and I walked around and people would ask “what are you doing?", "I’m a lawyer.” Everyone started to treat me differently, decided to project things onto me and I always found it very weird in my own internal monologue. I’m still Daniel. I’ve always been me and now all of a sudden the world is treating me differently for better and for worse as some people tend to not like lawyers.
SOPHIE: They like my kind of lawyer a bit better than your kind of lawyer, I think. Unless you talk to the farmers.
DANIEL: Right, the farmers might not be your friend. I work in family law, and sometimes I meet gentlemen my age, maybe a bit older, who think that the courts are biased toward men and you get these fathers’ rights guys. So you get there is politics all around us and that is part of being an attorney but in terms of being ridiculed, maybe this is a naive question, why would anybody ridicule you or mock you for choosing this?
SOPHIE: Well I think for a long time, this is a cause that wasn’t taken seriously, that was described as being sentimental and as a woman that is something that is particularly annoying. So it was just considered as something not important, sentimental.
DANIEL: What is important?
DANIEL: Humans are important too.
SOPHIE: They are, but they’re not the only thing important, and they are animals too you know.
DANIEL: And what is funny about the way you put it is that this is still about humans in my view, this is about how humans are behaving.
SOPHIE: And our responsibility.
DANIEL: So, now that you’ve gone through your career, do you feel that times are changing?
SOPHIE: I do, certainly not as quickly as I would like, but still, as much as I like my job, one of the difficulties is that it is really rare that you actually succeed or get a victory or obtain that legislative change that you’re trying to get. It is an uphill battle all the way, but it makes us resilient let is say.
DANIEL: It does, I think I should admit that we haven’t had files together exactly, but we’ve crossed paths in certain ways, and I’m not saying this just to be flattering but I was taken aback about how serious you were. Because I’ll cop to it, I did have certain prejudices that people who are in animal rights are tree huggers, these are people who are sentimental, who are wishing what the law would be rather than accepting what the law is. And it was very heartening to me and made me wiser to understand that “Daniel, don’t be an idiot, this person is as good if not a better lawyer than you, knows the law, can cite and understand where the law is going and maybe I’m behind, maybe I’m the one that is looking back rather than looking forward”. So if you could tell people who are listening right now, there is probably going to be people who are watching or listening who want to go into law or in some parallel justice initiative, what would you tell them would be some of the best projects right now, initiatives to help along the animal rights cause?
SOPHIE: Right, I think it is actually one of those causes where probably the single most important thing you can do doesn’t even require you to be a lawyer, it is just to be careful with what you consume in terms of products, to think about how your lifestyle choices affect animals. And I really do think that the single most powerful action you can take on behalf of animals is to reduce your consumption of products that are made from them, as much as possible. Anything else you do on behalf of animals is a bonus but that is really the single most important thing you can do.
DANIEL: You’re making me feel guilty, Sophie.
SOPHIE: That is not the point.
DANIEL: You know I think I should. . . I don’t want to get into it. I think this is. . . I don’t want to get into it. I’ll tell you this, this is cashmere. Yes, I’m wearing a cashmere jacket and that is what I chose. I like cashmere. Comes from a goat. What bothers me about it is that I’m taking joy in this jacket and, was the goat harmed? I’m not sure.
SOPHIE: Likely, unfortunately.
DANIEL: Likely, and you know the thing that made me so ashamed right now is that I don’t know. It is one thing to know “how the sausages were made”, to use an expression, and it is another thing to not even know.
SOPHIE: Yes, but you know, I think you’re maybe somewhat to blame, but there is also a lack of good vegan options in certain areas. I’ve seen a huge change since I went vegan about 15 years ago where the only alternative you had was a block of tofu and there was one vegan restaurant in Montreal, and it was not so clean people serving the food. So things have really changed in that area in terms of food, how even our big IGA’s and Metro’s have huge alternative meat sections, alternative cheese, almond milk, soy milk, oat milk, rice milk, whatever milk you can imagine is available. We have upwards of 20–30 vegan restaurants in this city and that is something that we see all over the Western world so definitely there are more and more alternatives available and I think that the more we have those options, the more likely people would be to make the right decisions when they’re choosing products.
DANIEL: Yes, sometimes there is true wisdom to the market, to the invisible hand and all that, maybe there is an arc of history that bends toward justice. Your point about, it was quite cute the way you put it, that “oh there are only some vegan restaurants around and not so clean people”. You make me think, and you’ll see where I want to take this, but my first girlfriend, one of my first love, was vegan, and I was young about 17.
SOPHIE: Yes, she was cool.
DANIEL: She was, and wherever she is today she is probably still cool. And I was a bit of a scallywag and I was like “come on, you know”. You alluded earlier to the notion that this is sentimental, oh and that you’re a woman. There is an interesting intersection in those things right now. Do you notice that this tends to be more of a female cause or is that just stereotypes, or is there some truth that perhaps women are just more empathic? I think that to date they show they are. But it is a strange intersection, where does your mind take you on it?
SOPHIE: I think it is certainly the fact that there are a lot more women in this movement. I mean, even if you just look at the staff at the SPCA where I work, it is overwhelmingly female. I’m not sure what that means and you know, nurture-nature, I won’t get into that debate, but definitely it is a fact that there are a lot of women in this movement.
"Once you get into a bureaucratized system and you are one component within that system, you’re alienated from the evil that is happening in the entire system."
DANIEL: What is wrong with my sex, what we don’t, what is wrong with my bros, we don’t have. . . No, I know you’re not saying that, I’m sure there are.
SOPHIE: There is a whole area of scholarship looking at it, there is actually a book called “The Sexual Politics of Meat” that looks at how being a man is associated with eating steak, and doing BBQ, and not being sentimental, and not having empathy toward animals. So yes, there is a whole area of feminist scholarship that looks at that exact intersection of feminism and the animal protection, the animal rights movement.
DANIEL: Sorry, you’re kind of lighting a fire in my brain, a good fire, and I want to Google that
SOPHIE: Yes, Carol Adams is one of the main authors in that area.
DANIEL: You’re making me feel ashamed again, I was that douchebag. And maybe there is a still a bit of douchebag in me, when I’m like “this is a steak”, and the cultural resonance of what this is and what it means about masculinity is so stupid if you really think about it. So, as we’re winding down and considering that you’re in a field that is emerging, and you know, godspeed, where do you think you would like this to go, in the next 5, 10, 15 years? What speaks to you on that question?
SOPHIE: Well, it is actually, like you said, a very exciting time right now in animal law in Canada. It is becoming really an area of interest and I can tell that just in the past 5 years, the number of students who contact me and want to do an internship at the SPCA is skyrocketing. I have 3 interns right now from McGill and Université de Montréal who are with me for the whole school year. I’m teaching Animal Law at McGill with one of my best friends and ex-colleague, Alanna Devine. So it is been taught in law faculties across the country, there is more and more interest in it, there is a new organization called Animal Justice, that is now exclusively working on animal law in Canada. And when you look to our neighbours down South, there is not much we can admire about them in current times, but one area where they have really done better than us is animal law. They have a lot more lawyers who are working full time on this. A few organizations have whole legal departments working just on litigation and legislation, and they do a lot of strategic impact litigation in all kinds of areas of law that touch animals. That is what we’re starting to move slowly toward in Canada. So I think I see a lot more litigation happening in the next 5 to 10 years.
SOPHIE: Do you want to join us? Come on board.
DANIEL: Making me all bashful. Maybe.
SOPHIE: You need to atone for that vest.
DANIEL: Yes, I do, in all sorts of ways. There are different sorts of atonement. That said, what about resources? You guys work with charitable donations I imagine.
SOPHIE: Yes, so, obviously our funds are limited because we’re funded almost exclusively by private donations. We receive tiny government subsidies for provincial law enforcement powers, we receive nothing for our criminal code enforcement services. And we receive a bit of funding from the municipalities whom we provide animal services to. However, we spend much more money caring for those animals who come in through those contracts that we get from the municipalities. So, it is the donors that make it happen.
DANIEL: You know, now to atone, I’m thinking about selling this and. . .
SOPHIE: Giving us the profits?
DANIEL: I’m thinking about it. And in terms of thinking about it, I think I just want to leave on this note. I think I shared it with you in a private conversation. A client that I’ve known said this to me: “This debate, Daniel, it is a 10-year discussion. If you think this is going to happen overnight and you want justice now, God bless you. It is a generational conversation.”
SOPHIE: Yes, certainly.
DANIEL: Well, thank you for joining us.
SOPHIE: Thanks for having me, it was fun.
DANIEL: Yes, thank you.
Sophie is an attorney and the Animal Advocacy Director at SPCA Montreal. A former practicing speech language pathologist, she also spent years as the Canadian spokesperson for the Animal Legal Defense Fund. Sophie has been passionate about animal welfare since she was a young girl.