Where Are They Now? Spotlight on Sophie Gaillard
In this continuing series of updates on former Student Animal Legal Defense Fund members, Animal Legal Defense Fund is proud to spotlight graduates protecting animals through the legal system.
“Having left an established career to go to law school in the hopes of becoming an animal protection lawyer, working at the Montreal SPCA feels like I have landed my dream job. The Animal Advocacy Department has made a real difference for animals in this province, and I am immensely proud to be part of it.” –Sophie Gaillard, Montreal SPCA website
1) Current position and organization:
Lawyer, Animal Advocacy Department & Investigations and inspections Department, Montreal SPCA
2) How long have you been in your current position?
Since September 2013, so 3 years.
3) What do you do in your current position?
In my role as lawyer for the Investigations and Inspections Department, I supervise, manage, and provide legal guidance to the Montreal SPCA’s inspectors, who enforce the Criminal Code of Canada’s animal cruelty provisions as well as Quebec’s provincial Animal Welfare and Safety Act. I also act as a liaison with prosecutors and provide training and support to police in animal cruelty matters.
As lawyer for the Animal Advocacy Department, I work on initiatives to strengthen animal protection legislation at the municipal, provincial and federal levels, including by doing lobbying work and developing and managing public awareness campaigns. I have also more recently been working on lawsuits to challenge legislation that is detrimental to animals.
4) Have you had any other work experiences in animal law (or animal protection generally) since graduating law school?
I am also the Canadian spokesperson for the Animal Legal Defense Fund. In this capacity, I assist with compiling and updating the Canadian Animal Protection Laws Rankings & the Canadian Animal Protection Laws Compendium. I also testified on behalf of the Animal Legal Defense Fund at the Quebec National Assembly last year, during hearings that were held on an animal protection bill tabled by the provincial government.
5) When did you take an interest in animals and, specifically, helping animals?
I have felt a deep connection with animals from my earliest childhood. I became vegetarian when, at the age of four, my parents truthfully answered the question of where meat comes from (it took me a few more years to become vegan!). I then got involved in grassroots animal activism in my teens and continued to engage in it in my spare time throughout my undergraduate studies, Masters, and during my first career (I used to be a clinical Speech-Language Pathologist).
6) What did you study in undergrad, and what school did you attend?
BA in Linguistics and Masters of Science in Speech-Language Pathology – both at McGill University in Montreal.
7) What got you interested in pursuing a law degree?
When I began my career as a clinical Speech-Language Pathologist, it became clear to me fairly quickly that my true passion was animal protection and animal rights and that I wouldn’t feel fulfilled professionally if my day job wasn’t somehow tied to the movement. So I set out to look for a second career. That’s when I happened across the Animal Legal Defense Fund’s website and discovered the field of animal law – a lightbulb went off and I immediately knew that I needed to go into law.
8) Where did you go to law school?
McGill. Again ;)
9) When you were involved with SALDF, what position(s) did you hold and what sort of activities and events did you help with and/or spearhead?
I held the position of president for one year and vice president the other years. I helped to organize an international animal symposium, a conference on animal and environmental law, assisted in the creation of an animal law student-run seminar, and did legal research for a number of cases.
10) How did being involved with SALDF play a role in your education and career?
Being at a law school that didn’t provide many opportunities for coursework in the field of animal law, my involvement in SALDF allowed me to develop and, importantly for obtaining a future career in the field, demonstrate on my resume a certain degree of expertise and specialization. It was also really therapeutic to have access to a small community of fellow-minded students throughout law school!
11) Any other noteworthy law school experiences, internships, etc.?
12) What do you hope to accomplish in your work for animals (and/or is there an accomplishment thus far you are particularly proud of)?
There is so much more to do! But I am proud of one accomplishment in particular, which is having initiated, developed and successfully managed a campaign for the recognition of animals’ distinct status as sentient beings in the Civil Code of Quebec. The campaign drew so much momentum and support that the Quebec provincial government introduced a bill to amend the Civil Code this effect last summer, and the bill passed last December. Quebec is now the only jurisdiction in Canada to officially recognize animals as sentient beings, distinct from mere moveable property.
13) What advice would you give law students who are considering a career in animal law?
There are so few professional opportunities in animal law in Canada – at least for now – that when you want to work in the field, you really have to carve your own path and create your own opportunities to get some degree of experience and specialization. I would encourage students to get involved with SALDF, actively seek out opportunities for pro bono work with local lawyers working on cases or local animal rights groups who require legal assistance, try to get an internship in animal law either in Canada or the US and attend the annual conference for networking purposes.