The Emperor Has No Clothes


Image taken from the CCAC’s website.

A ground breaking article by Professor Laura Janara (University of British Columbia) has recently been published in the peer-reviewed Canadian Journal of Political Science. “Human-Animal Governance and University Practice in Canada” is essential reading for anyone interested in policies relating to the use of nonhuman animals for research and education in Canadian universities. Dr. Janara systematically reviews the history, practice and discourse of the Canadian Council on Animal Care (CCAC), the primary administrative body that oversees animal research. Far from offering protection to animals, Dr. Janara argues, “CCAC administrative oversight helps depoliticize and legitimate this culture of causing pain, suffering and injury to nonhuman animals“(p. 9). She systematically examines the key claims of the CCAC – that it acts in the public interest, that it is democratically legitimate, and that it secures compelling ethical and scientific peer review of research and pedagogy using animals – and shows each of them to be a fallacy. Even the CCAC’s own internally-requested 2013 review of its practices was scathing, noting “significant structural deficiencies of the CCAC” and a “governance vacuum” (p. 20).

The abstract for Dr. Janara’s paper is provided below, and readers are urged to read the article in full. It should be of particular interest to members of the Queen’s community. Why? Because whenever Queen’s is asked to provide information about its animal use practices, it ritually invokes its compliance with CCAC guidelines to forestall discussion.  For example, the university web page on animal care assures readers that the role of the University Animal Care Committee is to ensure “that the highest ethical standards, as defined by the Canadian Council on Animal Care (CCAC), are observed.” (The University Animal Care Committee is the local body instituted at each university to implement CCAC guidelines, and report back to that body.)

We now know that those ‘standards’ are shockingly low.

In response to official freedom of information requests, the University has repeatedly refused to disclose information about its practices, noting, that “all animal research at our institution meets CCAC standards and is subject to the on-site-peer-review process… Acting in the interest of the people of Canada, the CCAC advances the ethical use and welfare of animals in science by: Providing standards informed by scientific evidence; Verifying their effective implementation; Increasing the level of knowledge, awareness and sensitivity to relevant ethical principles”. These are precisely the kinds of claims that are debunked by Dr. Janara’s research.

In the fall of 2014 when hundreds of Queen’s students, faculty and staff signed a petition calling for Queen’s to cooperate with local sanctuaries and rescues to arrange adoptive homes for lab animals, the university said it was unnecessary, noting that “Queen’s is a holder of a certificate of Good Animal Practice (GAP) as assessed by the Canadian Council on Animal Care (CCAC)… As in all CCAC assessed programs, the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee is the cornerstone of the program.”

Once again in March 2015 the university ignored demands for transparency, re-iterating that it “is committed to ensuring that all animal care and use is conducted in accordance with the national standards set by the Canadian Council for Animal Care”.

The shortcomings of the CCAC system have now been rigorously explored, and anyone who cares about the animals at Queen’s should refuse to be stonewalled by the University’s ritual incantation of CCAC compliance. Unless and until we have greater transparency and public input and oversight, the failures of the CCAC process will continue, in Dr. Janara’s words, to “legitimate this culture of causing pain, suffering and injury to nonhuman animals”.

Human-Animal Governance and University Practice in Canada: A Problematizing Redescription

Laura Janara (University of British Columbia)

Abstract: Each year through the practices of Canada’s universities, vast numbers of nonhuman animals are caught, bought or bred, narrowly confined, manipulated and killed. These university−animal relations are governed by a state-based regime, the Canadian Council on Animal Care (CCAC). Through the lens of critical public philosophy, I clarify the power that has constituted this governance regime and now sustains it, examining the regime’s justifying claims, its practices that authorize universities and scholars as legally compliant and the related effects of its power. The resulting critical redescription reveals fundamental problems with the political legitimacy of CCAC governance and thus with the university−animal relations that it sanctions.