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Meet B.C.’s First Animal-Rights Lawyer

Rebeka Breder is one of the first lawyers in Canada to make animal law her specialty—and as founder of the Canadian Bar Association’s B.C. animal law section and a teacher of UBC’s first-ever course in animal law, Breder is uniquely prepared to fight for our furry friends.

Q: What exactly is covered by animal law?

A: It’s a multidisciplinary approach to the law that includes pet custody cases, veterinary malpractice suits, strata disputes, breeder disputes, so-called dangerous dog cases, wrongful death or injury and disagreements between rescue operations and current or previous dog owners. I only take on those cases where I feel I will advance the interests and rights of animals.

Q: Is this a growing field?

A: I’ve been practising this type of law for over a decade, but animal law is still in its infancy in Canada. I equate it to where environmental law was about 20 to 30 years ago. It’s just a matter of time before more and more people begin to practice it.

Q: Have you noticed any recent changes in the way animals are regarded by the law?

A: Under Canadian law, animals have always been classified as property and had no rights. For example, many people aren’t aware that it’s perfectly legal to kill one’s pet as long as it is done in a humane manner. But the law is starting to evolve and courts are starting to recognize that animals are sentient beings with feelings, emotion and intelligence. It can take a long time for the law to catch up with shifting societal values.

Q: In what sort of cases would you like to see greater flexibility in the law?

A: I defend a lot of so-called “dangerous dogs.” The laws in these cases are not very precise and dog owners often face a steep uphill battle when trying to defend their “dangerous dog.” These cases can get quite emotional, with the city fighting tooth and nail to put a dog down and the owners fighting to save it. I think that Animal Control has too much discretion in deciding when and how to seize a dog and what to do with the dog once it is seized. I’m proud to say that as a result of one of my cases that was heard at the Supreme Court, provincial court judges are now able to release a “dangerous dog” back to its owners or the community on conditions. However, I still see lawyers trying to argue that judges do not have the jurisdiction to make such decisions.

Q: What is most rewarding aspect of your work?

A: Knowing that I’m helping individual animals and helping animals in the bigger picture by contributing to the evolution of animal law.

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