Should we put animals on trial?

Historian James McWilliams joins us to talk about a time when animals were actually a part of society — so much that they stood trial to account for their misdeeds.
There are calls in B.C. for a ban on some dog breeds. But what if individual animals were put on trial for incidents they were involved in? (veroxdale/Shutterstock)

In Canada and around the world, some people want animals recognized under the law as rights-holders.

It's an issue we've discussed on our show before.

But, with rights come responsibilities, and sometimes animals do things we'd consider illegal or immoral.

One implication of giving animals personhood rights, is you'd need some mechanism to determine when an animals rights have been violated. Similarly, you may need a way to determine when an animal has committed a crime.

An animal trial.

While that may sound silly, animals were put on trial, with a defence and a prosecution, in medieval Europe.

James McWilliams is a Professor of History at Texas State University. He's also an author of books about food and animals, including "The Modern Savage: Our Unthinking Decision to Eat Animals"

McWilliams has researched animal trials of the past and says, as we start to think about animals as rights-holders, we should consider the concept of animal trials today. 

We definitely need to entertain the idea. The closer that we get to affirming a reciprocal relationship with animals, the greater the expectation there will be for us to treat these animals fairly.- James McWilliams, Professor of History, Texas State University 

Click the play button above to listen to the entire interview.


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