In Canada, the Canadian Council on Animal Care was created to uphold ethical standards of replacement, reduction and refinement of animal use in research, product testing and education. However, the effectiveness of this system in achieving these goals has never been formally evaluated. Decisions about experimental animal use are influenced by several levels of governance (the local Animal Care and Use Committee, the national inspection program, policy documents), as well as external factors such as regulator requirements, granting bodies and industry. This study will examine these relationships to evaluate the effectiveness of the system in achieving ethical goals. This is a case study that can be used as a template for similar evaluation in other countries.