New Poster Series: Animals Call for Help

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In QAD’s latest poster series, animals contact the ‘barbaric practices snitch line’ to speak out about the terrible things that happen to them in the biomedical labs at Queen’s.

Generally, when people talk about ‘cruel’ or ‘barbaric’ practices inflicted on animals, they are thinking in terms of actions that reflect a deviant individual personality (as in sadistic acts of torture), or practices of foreign or minority cultures (such as cockfighting). In Canadian law animal cruelty is defined in a way that exempts “generally accepted” cultural and economic practices. This means that animal farmers, trappers, slaughterhouse workers, scientific researchers and countless others can harm animals in horrific ways, while enjoying complete legal impunity, because their actions are classified as “generally accepted’ instances of animal use. If I, as an ordinary individual, sever a cat’s spinal cord to render her lame, or strap a monkey in restraints and deny her water to make her work for me, or deliberately induce bleeding in a hemophiliac dog, I am guilty of a crime. If a Queen’s researcher does these things, it’s considered a generally accepted scientific practice, or business as usual.

The goal of the barbaric practices poster series is to redirect the language of barbarism/cruelty away from minority practices, and aim it where it belongs, at routine, institutionalized violence against animals.

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Horsing Around at Homecoming: The (Bigger) Problem of Animal Abuse

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Screenshots of the incident.

Over the Homecoming weekend, a Queen’s student was kicked to the ground by a Kingston police horse named Murney, after the student slapped Murney’s hip. A video that captured the incident has since gone viral, as major news networks picked up the story and generated significant public discussions.

However, missing from these discussions is an important issue underlying the physical assault of a police horse: a deep-seated disrespect that humanity as a whole has shown to the fellow animals with whom we share this world.

To make sense of this, we need to first consider the criminal charge the student faces for slapping the horse, which reveals disturbing inconsistencies in the way our laws protect different animals in Canada.

In July 2015, the Harper government amended the Criminal Code and enacted the Justice for Animals in Service Act (better known as “Quanto’s Law”), after an Edmonton police dog named Quanto was stabbed to death by a fleeing suspect in 2013. The aim of the law was to offer police, military and other service animals greater protection from violent attacks, above the lamentably low standard of protection provided by the broader animal cruelty laws. And Quanto’s penalties are rather hefty, anywhere between fines of up to $10,000, to a minimum of six months and maximum of five years in prison.

While Quanto’s Law was swiftly passed in a year, another proposed bill that also sought to improve protections for animals was not so well-received. Bill C-246 (Modernizing Animal Protections Act) was defeated in Parliament on October 5, 2016 at second reading.

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Transparency? Or Spin? A Reply to Stephen Archer (Queen’s Department of Medicine)

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In March 2015 QAD sponsored a special “What is Queen’s Hiding?” event for Freedom of Information Day, calling on Queen’s  to release information about the numbers and types of animals used in research at Queen’s, and the nature of the experiments conducted on them. The University continues to refuse to release this information. However, the University Veterinarian was prompted to organize a workshop of research administrators from across Canada, as well as PR experts from Oxford University and other institutions that have faced scrutiny and criticism concerning their practices and governance around animal research. After attending this workshop, Dr. Stephen Archer (Head, Department of Medicine) wrote a blog discussing the calls from QAD and other groups for greater transparency, and the lessons he learned from the workshop on how to respond to such requests. While the blog represents Dr. Archer’s personal views, not official University policy, we believe it is representative of a more general mindset amongst research administrators, and hence is worthy of careful analysis.

Although intended as a defense of the University’s system of governing animal research, Dr. Archer’s blog is in fact a testament to its inadequacies. This response will focus on four general areas of concern: claims regarding transparency, research ethics, scientific rigour, and governance.

Transparency

Dr. Archer says that his “blog attempts to provide some transparency around the use of animals in research requested by animal rights groups, including a local organization, Queen’s Animal Defence.” The information QAD has requested includes: How many animals, of which species, does Queen’s use for research and education purposes each year? (This would include not just animals used in actual procedures, but animals used in breeding facilities; animals used to train researchers in killing techniques; animals killed because they are surplus, or the wrong size, and so on.) The information requested also includes general descriptions of the kinds of research being conducted on animals – not proprietary information that risks academic freedom – but general information that would allow the public to understand the broad nature and purposes of the research being conducted. Year by year statistics would also allow the public to see if Queen’s is in any way meeting its commitments to reduce and replace the use of animals in research. Dr. Archer’s blog offers no information, or “transparency” of this kind.

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What is Queen’s Hiding? The Importance of Transparency for Animal Protection

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Over two years ago a member of Queen’s Animal Defence (and Queen’s faculty) submitted a freedom of information request concerning nonhuman animals used in research at Queen’s. Queen’s declined to release the information. An appeal was submitted, and we are still awaiting an arbitration decision from the Information and Privacy Commissioner’s Office. (The decision has been delayed three times.)

Queen’s is utterly secretive about research using animals. We don’t know the numbers and types of animals used; the purpose and types of experiments performed on them; the source and ultimate fate of the animals; or the results of any evaluation of the quality or utility of resulting research. In response to requests for information, or justification of research, Queen’s invariably repeats the same mantra: it complies with the guidelines of the Canadian Council on Animal Care (CCAC). The CCAC is a quasi-administrative body governed by animal research interests which establishes guidelines for animal use. The Canadian Federation of Humane Societies is the only advocate for animals on the CCAC – one voice out of 22 member organizations.  In other words, the biomedical research industry makes its own rules, behind closed doors. (See this recent post for a more detailed critique of the CCAC.)

We should know by now never to entrust the care of vulnerable beings to powerful organizations acting without public scrutiny. Consider residential schools. Or the sex abuse long tolerated and covered up by the Catholic Church. Or the non-consensual surgeries, experiments and other abuses inflicted on people with disabilities and mental illness in residential institutions. These aren’t cases of a few bad apples run amok – a priest, or government agent or doctor here and there. They are structural, institutional failures on a massive scale – failures that have been deeply exacerbated by misplaced ‘trust’ in experts and authorities.

Queen’s Animal Defence has been criticized for demanding information about what happens to animals at Queen’s – as though it’s bad manners to question the ethics of the research industry, or to suggest that researchers, like all humans, are vulnerable to human frailties like professional myopia, arrogance, careerism and greed. Continue Reading