Manitoba’s Bill 62 may be susceptible to constitutional challenges, law professor, Jodi Lazare told Manitoba’s Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food. Lazare is an assistant professor of law at Dalhousie University with expertise in constitutional and animal law.
She is doing research, funded by the social sciences and humanities council of Canada, on the constitutional dimensions of animal rights activism.
The bill isn’t clear what it means to interact with an animal, Lazare said. “Is making eye contact interaction? What about taking photographs?” she asked.
A lack of clarity is a challenge because in a constitutional democracy, people are expected to know in advance what they are and are not allowed to do.
The law might conflict with the right to peaceful assembly, said Lazare. She argued it also limits the freedom of expression.
The constitution protects freedom of expression, “to promote the pursuit of truth,” said Lazare. “These types of gatherings are about stimulating criticism of the food system and catalyzing change among consumers of animal products.
“Producers and members of the industry understandably might disagree with the message,” she added. “But people nevertheless have a right to share it.”
To examine legislation for constitutional compliance, the challenger must show a right has been limited. Then, the government must produce concrete evidence showing “the limit is reasonable and demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society,” Lazare said.
It will be difficult for the government to justify itself based on biosecurity since no evidence links activists to the safety of animals or the food system, Lazare said.
“There’s really no way to know without putting something in front of a judge,” Lazare told the Co-operator. “In my view there are some serious potential constitutional infirmities with some of these laws.”