Sunday, August 28, 2016
Last updated: 11 months ago

STOP UBC Animal Research influences similar campaigns across Canada

Geoff Lister/The Ubyssey

A UBC activist group is taking their campaign to end animal experimentation national.

STOP UBC Animal Research (STOP), an animal rights group that started at UBC’s Vancouver campus, has begun working with other groups with similar goals at institutions across Canada.

“We started out concerned about the animals at UBC, and the more we learned about this issue, the more…[we felt] there was an urgent need to reform the way that animal research is done in Canada,” said STOP spokesperson Brian Vincent.

In the long term, STOP hopes for an end to animal testing across Canada; in the short term, they advocate for more transparency in the animal testing that is currently practiced.

For the past year, STOP has been very successful in bringing attention to animal experimentation at UBC, receiving coverage from both local and national media, as well as public responses from UBC President Stephen Toope. Their campaigns resulted in UBC sparing the lives of seven endangered sea turtles and four rhesus monkeys, all of which were slated for death.

Earlier this year, STOP joined dozens of other organizations to create the Canadian Coalition Against Animal Research and Experimentation, which included a number of nascent groups targeting institutions such as the University of Toronto, Dalhousie University, the University of Alberta, York University and the University of Victoria.

“We realized that there were little pockets of concerned citizens across Canada who were concerned about animal research going on in their communities, but they felt helpless,” said Vincent. “We’re talking about sometimes two or three people.”

The group’s first action was to send a letter to the Canadian Council of Animal Care (CCAC), an organization which oversees animal research in Canada.

The letter asked the CCAC to phase out animal testing, but in the meantime, to institute American-style reforms to make animal experimentation more transparent in Canada.

However, the CCAC responded by arguing that Canada’s animal testing laws are stringent and that animal testing in research has been declining since 1975, despite the fact of a three-fold federal funding increase for research in that same time period.

“This provides long-term evidence for the effectiveness of the CCAC system of oversight, which has operated in the majority of the Canadian scientific community during the same time period. for the past three decades,” wrote Clément Gauthier, the executive director of CCAC.

STOP moves eastward

Vincent has already begun working with some of the groups at other universities.

“We will be providing training for people across the country from STOP UBC Animal Research, so I’ll be traveling to places [and] probably the first place is Toronto. I’ve already done two Skype training sessions with them, because they’re the most active and up and running.”

Paul York, the coordinator of STOP U of T Animal Research, said that despite the fact that his group has been around for three years, they changed their name when they saw how successful Vincent’s group was. They used to be called Stop Animal Experimentation at the University of Toronto.

“Because of the work of Brian and others there, we decided to use the same name and even the same logo,” he said.

York, however, said that his group has a different style of activism than the UBC branch.

“The mood is a little bit different in Toronto than it is in Vancouver. I don’t know if people are a little more conservative here or something, [but] it’s very hard to organize demonstrations,” he said.

“So we’re pursuing the educational route. That’s not to say we’re against the colourful stuff. I think that what Brian is doing is great and I think that it’s fantastic. But honestly at this point our group doesn’t have the momentum to do that.”

York went on to say that his group has spent a good portion of the year setting up informational tables on campus outside of research facilities, as well as organizing lectures on the moral and scientific arguments against animal research.

Despite their smaller size, STOP U of T has had more luck in one area than its UBC counterpart has.

York said that his group successfully filed a Freedom of Information request with the university regarding the testing that’s done at U of T, for which they actually received information, something UBC has never given up.

“Normally they black out things like that, but we’re very lucky that we got this report, and it indicates what the species are and how they’re used,” he said.

York said that they found that over 200 experiments were done in the top two levels of invasiveness.

“And this was on pretty much every kind of species. Hummingbird, monkey, newt, rat, mice, you name it.”

According to Vincent, when they filed a similar request at UBC, they got back a 70 page document, 60 pages of which were completely redacted.

Besides the successful request, STOP U of T Animal Research has yet to receive any sort of official response from the university.

“We call it a wall of silence. They won’t engage with us. The only way they’ll ever engage with us if there’s actually press,” he said. “They don’t want to talk to us.”