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Many questions to ponder this holiday season

By: Brian McLeod

  |  Posted: Saturday, Dec 14, 2013 06:00 am

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Recently, there have been a number of news stories regarding activist groups working to establish regulations to extend the laws that protect human beings to now include protection for other species on our tortured little planet. Most individuals recognize that many other life forms on this planet exhibit intelligence. Personally, I’m not sure if these activists are pointing out a real issue, or if there is more smoke and mirrors to their position. But even if we assume they are correct, for the time being, I see some real problems in administering these laws and ensuring justice for all animals.

Our first dilemma will be where we “draw the line,” and determine which life forms will get legal rights, and which will not. Whales seem deserving of these rights, but what about weasels, wolves, and wolverines? Is it fair to give rights to elephants, but then refuse rights for elephant seals? Rights for bats, but not for cats or rats? Seems to me this system will be prone to a huge number of value judgments, with the corresponding possibility of serious errors.

Even if we manage to sort out which animals are “in” and which ones are “out,” there are still a number of hurdles to be overcome, such as:

1. If a humpback whale eats a giant squid, and both animals are on the “in” list, is the whale guilty of murder?

2. Secondly, assuming our squid-eating whale is considered a murderer, who advises the whale about its rights? Who amongst us is capable of translating English into whale-speak?

3. Beyond the above two problems, there are all kinds of other procedural problems that need to be solved. For example, just exactly how do you throw a whale into jail? Or consider the poor whale who requests to be released pending his trial. Isn’t every prosecutor going to plead to the courts that there is a high risk of flight for this whale, since we know they regularly migrate thousands of miles every year?

4. Finally, if we accept the notion that any defendant deserves to be judged by his peers, then should the jury be open to humans, whales, and other “legal” species, or is true justice obtained only when the jury is limited to just other whales? And, further, should only humpback whales judge the guilt of a humpback whale, or can blue whales, sperm whales, gray whales, or any other whale be allowed to sit on the jury?

These are difficult questions that will need to be answered next year, but for the time being, let’s sit back and enjoy the upcoming Christmas season. And when you are in the midst of this enjoyment, give thought to those poor souls unable to celebrate the season. For those in hospitals, for those who’ve lost a loved one, or a job, or those who are poor, or ill, or homeless, those who are physically ill, or mentally ill, or all alone, for those in prisons, or those in prisons they built for themselves, for all those less fortunate than ourselves, a quiet moment of prayer does not seem too much to ask.

Brian McLeod is a St. Albert resident.


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