Canada’s animal welfare laws have remained largely unchanged since 1892. Recent amendments have increased penalties, but the application and scope of the current laws remain ineffective. Consequently, under the Criminal Code it is difficult to prosecute even the worst animal abusers. Our laws need to be improved to serve as a real tool to protect animals from neglect and abuse.
Animals as property
Canada’s animal cruelty legislation is outdated and lags far behind most developed countries. In Canada, animals are not protected equally as the criminal code does not provide a clear definition of “animal”, but rather, refers to specific animals and protects them differently.
The current law contains a separate section and separate offences for cattle, and refers to dogs, birds and “other animals.” Canada offers virtually no protection for wild and stray animals, as un-owned animals have less protection than owned animals. In fact, under the Criminal Code, animal cruelty crimes are considered property offences instead of violence against a living, sentient creature.
Crimes are difficult to prosecute
Another issue with the Animal Cruelty section of the Criminal Code of Canada is the use of the term “willful neglect” which requires proof that an accused intended to harm or kill his or her animal(s). Courts must prove that neglect was a willful or motivated action. Even in cases where dozens of animals have been left out in the cold to die or starved to death, judges will typically conclude that the accused didn’t actually intend for the animal(s) to suffer or die and will find them not guilty.
Although penalties dealing with animal cruelty were recently updated, these penalties are still insufficient, with many loopholes, and do not act as a deterrent to violent offences and abusive owners.
The Canadian Criminal Code also does not provide protection for animals being trained to fight each other. It is an offence to engage in animal fighting, but not to train animals to fight nor to accept money from animal fighting. The requirement to catch perpetrators in the act makes it very difficult to prosecute cases of dog fighting.
The solution: Effective legislation
Animal cruelty provisions should protect all animals, not just “those kept for a lawful purpose.” This outdated wording needs to be revised and animal offenses should be moved to their own separate section of the Criminal Code. Effective legislation must also include a clear and concise definition of “animal”.
Effective legislation must prohibit the training of animals to fight other animals and enable the conviction of individuals found to be betting on animal fights.
Effective legislation must refer to “negligent” behaviour, which is defined as “departing markedly from the standard of care that a reasonable person would use” and does not require the courts to prove that neglect is a willful action.
The penalties dealing with animal cruelty must be increased, both monetarily and punitively. Penalties should be stiffer when taking into account the severity of the crime. The legislation should also allow the court to prohibit offenders from owning animals in the future and to make restitution payments to the organizations charged with caring for the abused animals.
What you can do
Ask the Canadian government to update its animal cruelty laws by adopting effective animal welfare legislation that will actually improve the condition of animals in Canada and promote animal welfare. Only cases prosecuted under federal laws can lead to a criminal record, and without appropriate changes, it will be almost impossible to convict animal abusers in Canada.