Woman with animal photography

‘It’s Time to Free Animals in Captivity’: Canadian Animal Rights Activists

Awareness for animal rights improving

Animal lives matter, and more people are starting to realize that, according to Canadian photojournalist and author, Jo-Anne McArthur.

McArthur exhibited a series of photos from her new book, Captive, at the 33rd annual Veg Food Fest at Toronto Harbourfront Centre, from Sept. 8 -10. The event was organized by the Toronto Vegetarian Association.

Her work shows animals in captivity in zoos and aquariums around the world, and the conditions they face, while people are seen standing showing no recognition of what is really going on.

“This is what I wanted to photograph at zoos is not those animals, but we animals, and how we fail to see them and interact with them,” McArthur said.

She calls the animals in zoos “invisibles.”

“We go to zoos for all sorts of reasons, but not to connect deeply with these animals,” McArthur explained.

Jo-Anne McArthur talking about her new book, Captive.

McArthur also does other work, which includes photography of what goes on in factory farms to make the public aware of the matter. As the images can be graphic, she still tries to make the image appealing so people will bother to look at it.

“Nobody wants to look at those images, so they have to be beautiful, well composed images, and have elements that draw people in,” McArthur said.

David Alexander, Executive Director of Toronto Vegetarian Association talking with Ryan Orlecki of the Toronto Observer about the impact Jo-Anne McArthur has on Veg Fest

The Animal Justice group also has a part to play in keeping animals out of captivity in zoos and aquariums. They are currently intervening in the Vancouver Aquarium’s lawsuit against the Vancouver Park Board which wants to continue to have dolphins and whales on display.

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Woman and booth
Camille Labchuck of Animal Justice standing in her booth at Veg Fest

Ryan Orlecki

Camille Labchuck, the executive director, believes that growing public awareness of animals in captivity has resulted in many aquariums losing their rights to showcase certain sea animals, while overall attendance at aquariums and zoos is declining.

“Ethics of care towards animals are rising, nothing like I have ever seen before,” Labchuck said. “We see mass demonstrations demanding that corporations and governments do better for the animals, and it’s only a matter of time before that translates into stronger laws.”

Animal Justice, contributes to the animal rights movement through the use of legal means. The group is in the process of proposing an Animal Charter of Rights and Freedoms, to give animals the right to be free of suffering, but also to be able to socialize with their own species and to have proper housing. A person can sign the petition themselves on the website to support bringing animal rights into law.

“It’s not about giving them the same rights as humans, but about giving them rights that make sense for them,” Labchuck said.

Instead, she proposes that official animal sanctuaries are the solution. This is where animals are cared for when they can’t be released back into the wild, but they are not kept for just profit.


People at the McArthur exhibit could see the look of despair of the animals in the photographs. Many people looked at her photographs intensely as they passed by, and engaged in conversation with the photojournalist, about new book.

“I think you don’t need to be a vegetarian or vegan to understand the ethics and morals of putting animals in captivity,” said Crystal Whitred, who was attending the festival.