Preventable Barn Fires Should Warrant Animal Cruelty Charges

When human lives and safety are at stake, we take fire risk very seriously. Our homes, workplaces and schools are designed and maintained to prevent fires from happening in the first place. When they do happen, fire exits, alarms, and extinguishers are accessible and clearly marked. We have all participated in regular fire drills.

We have proven ourselves capable of treating fire as both a preventable and a grave concern. That's why it's all the more astonishing that in the last few weeks at least eight fires have killed more than fifty thousand animals in Canada. Each of these animals was an individual with a personality, likes and dislikes, and the capacity to feel fear and pain. Each of these terrified animals burned to death with no means of escape.

Incredibly, there are no specific regulations in place to protect animals from burning to death in preventable barn fires. In the face of government and industry inaction, animal advocates have been calling for reform.

A petition by Canadians for the Ethical Treatment of Farmed Animals demanding the industry create a barn fire code of practice has garnered over 33,000 signatures. The petition recommends common-sense structural requirements like alarms, sprinklers, fire compartmentalizing, maintaining electrical wiring, and protocols for responding to fire.

Canadian Federation of Humane Societies has also issued detailed recommendations for farmers, including installing fire extinguishers at regular intervals, scheduling regular fire safety inspections, and ensuring flammable materials are stored away from where animals live.

Many of these recommendations are mirrored by the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, which has issued a report advising farmers on the leading causes of barn fires, preventative maintenance to reduce the risk of barn fires, preventing fire spread, reducing the impact of fire, and assessing one's own risk.

Farmers would have to be living under a rock to not realize that barn fires are a serious risk, and one that can be dramatically minimized.

Yet, these voluntary measures are not being undertaken with urgency, as they should be. The industry has shown its characteristic lack of empathy for the animals, expressing remorse for the farmers who sustained an economic loss rather than the animals who burned to death in these fires. The industry is out of touch with the public, which sees these animals as having moral worth--that's why these barn fires continually make national news, spark public outcry, and result in scathing editorials.

Animal protection laws vary by province, but it is generally required not to permit animals to be in distress. Allowing animals to burn to death in barn fires without taking preventive measures is nothing if not permitting animals to be in distress. Provincial law enforcement should investigate jointly with fire marshals, and if farmers haven't take steps to prevent fires, they should face sanctions.

There's no excuse for not taking common sense preventive measures to reduce the risk that hundreds or thousands of animals will experience the pain and terror burning to death with no means of escape. We shouldn't be satisfied with waiting for the industry to voluntarily take action, when it has proven itself incapable of even feeling remorse for the preventable suffering inflicted on these animals.

As a society, we have already proven ourselves capable of taking fire risk seriously when human lives are at stake. Animals are no different than us in their ability to experience pain and fear. As long as they are held captive to serve human interests, they deserve at minimum to have their safety taken seriously.