Where the Wild Things Are (and Have Been): An Archeology of Legal Discourses on Animals in Quebec


  • Michaël Lessard
  • Marie-Andrée Plante


Are animals mere things in the eyes of the law? Public discourse suggests so. However, the history of legal discourses about animals reveals another story. For better or for worse, animals have not been considered as mere things in law. It was long recognized that animals possess certain characteristics that are observable in beings, such as agency, sentience, and sociability. Together, agency, sentience, and sociability constitute a cluster of being-like characteristics sketching, through time, a portrait of the animal that is distanced from the image of a mere object of property. To support this conclusion, we ask where the “wild things” are and have been in our legal history. We relocate animals in the history of legal discourses surrounding them in the territory of Quebec, beginning slightly before codification. As many individuals worldwide would like to see their own jurisdiction explicitly recognize that animals are not things but beings, Quebec provides a fruitful case study for international readers on the impact that such a change may have on legal norms and discourses.