Failing Grades for Canadian Animal Cruelty Law

Chained DogNowhere is the sheer uselessness of the current Canadian Parliament more evident than in its handling of animal cruelty legislation.

An animal cruelty bill headed for final reading in the House of Commons on Friday has been condemned by opponents as “19th-century legislation adjusted for inflation.”

Bill S-203 is a sham

If Bill S-203 is passed in April or May, when it comes to a third and final reading in the House of Commons, our animal friends will suffer. The bill, which purports to update Canada’s Animal Cruelty Act, is a sham. Some of its critics say that its only function is to earn brownie points for politicians.

The bill’s critics include practically every animal protection group in Canada, from the SPCAs and humane societies to the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association and grassroots organizations.

Puppy MillThe Canadian public wants better. Just read the letters to the editor every time humane society inspectors break up another miserable puppy mill hell. People will tolerate all kinds of objectionable behaviour towards humans. But when a yobbo drags his dog behind an SUV, the overwhelming public sentiment is to string him up.

And yet after more than eight years of trying, Canada’s elected Members of Parliament can’t pass a decent animal cruelty bill into law.

The current legislation, dating from 1892, is ineffective in both scope and penalty. Efforts to update it began in 1999 but quickly ran into a buzz saw of opposition from farmers and hunters.

Eventually a watered-down version passed the Commons and went to the Senate – only to be bogged down again. Animal researchers wanted to be exempted as did alligator wrestlers. Aboriginal groups worried that a ban on brutal treatment might impinge on their traditions. Jewish and Muslim groups fretted that tougher laws might affect ritual slaughter practices.

At that point, Liberal Senator John Bryden came up with the worst of all possible worlds – a new bill that would keep the loophole-ridden 1892 law as is but make the penalties (which in practice are rarely applied) harsher.

“(Prior attempts) died primarily because the bills tried to do too much,” Mr. Bryden said. “I put a bill in that didn’t change the law, it addressed the penalties.”

Harper’s Conservatives enthusiastically embraced his private member’s bill. The New Democrats and Bloc Québécois did not. Predictably, the Liberals were split.

Ajax-Pickering MP Mark Holland tried to introduce a much stronger Bill C-373. But rural Liberals tended to support Bryden’s do-little Senate version. In February, his Bill S-203 sailed through the Commons justice committee with Liberal support. Some said they didn’t much like S-203 but would pass it anyway and then fix it another year. The Canadian Federation of Humane Societies says that there’s faint hope of that happening.

“We all look forward to the day when our laws concerning the abuse of animals are brought into line with acceptable sentences. However, it is never wise to be too hasty in changing the Criminal Code, given the far-reaching and sometimes unexpected consequences that can flow from our decisions.” ~~ Senator Donald Oliver, Nova Scotia

Under S-203, there would be no legal definition of what an animal is, and animal neglect would have to be proven to be predetermined or willful in order to be prosecuted.

Landfill AnimalsMPs planning to vote in favour of S-203 say that, granted, it’s not a great improvement over the old laws, but it is “a step in the right direction” that’s “better than nothing.” That is pure bull. S-203 is a useless and vacuous piece of legislation, a blocking tactic that will stall forward movement and do nothing to help animals.

Intent to harm must still be shown, and this makes it nearly impossible to get convictions, especially in cases of negligence. Fewer than 1 per cent of animal abuse complaints are successfully prosecuted, and S-203 will do nothing to change that. What good are stronger penalties when we can’t get convictions? And only animals that are somebody’s “property” are “protected” – not stray or wild animals.

A recent report by IFAW shows Canada has the worst animal cruelty laws among the 14 countries surveyed, including the Ukraine and the Philippines.

Compared with other developed countries, Canada’s Third World mentality on animal cruelty issues is beyond shameful.

A better solution: Bill C-373

The member’s bill that would actually do something to help animals is Holland’s Bill C-373.

Holland’s bill introduces the term “negligent” and defines it as “departing markedly from the standard of care that a reasonable person would use.” It prohibits the killing of any animal (owned or unowned) without a lawful excuse. (Lawful excuses include hunting, fishing, farming, euthanasia and self-protection.)

It outlaws killing an animal brutally or viciously, whether or not the animal dies immediately — which means that the boys in Edmonton who tied a dog to a tree and beat it to death would not get off on the basis that it died on the first blow (according to the examining vet) and therefore didn’t suffer. Other provisions deal with aspects such as fighting and baiting. Perhaps best of all, C-373 moves these laws out of the property chapter of the Criminal Code, reflecting the contemporary view of animals as sentient beings, rather than possessions.

MPs know that most Canadians support progressive animal abuse legislation. Those who disapprove of cruelty to animals may be interested in discovering how their MPs voted.

Excerpted from Thomas Walkom (Toronto Star, April 2), Matthew Jay (Ottawa Citizen, April 2), and A.S.A. Harrison (Globe and Mail, March 25)

Update on April 10

By a vote of 189-71, Bill S-203 passed final vote in the House of Commons on April 9th. It will become law once it receives Royal Assent and Proclamation.

More than 130,000 Canadians signed petitions specifically opposing Bill S-203. A 2006 poll found 85% of Canadians want modern and effective legislation that makes it easier for law enforcement agencies to prosecute those who commit criminal acts of animal cruelty.

Stated Pat Tohill, WSPA Programs Manager: “During the debate, many MPs argued that S-203 was only a first step. Many said they would support MP Mark Holland’s Bill C-373. Most said they would support further amendments to Canada’s animal cruelty laws. We will be holding MPs to their commitment to support further amendments to Canada’s cruelty laws. Canadians will not wait another century before animals are protected from heinous acts of cruelty in Canada.”

A more comprehensive animal cruelty bill has been passed by Canada’s House of Commons twice in the past ten years, receiving the support of all political parties only to die in the Senate.

The opposing votes were from NDP and some Liberal members and one Bloc MP. Conservatives stood steadfastly in support of this shameful bill that retains the archaic and problematic offences enacted in 1892.

To those MPs who supported Bill S-203, you can tick that off your list for another hundred years. Shame on you.


10 responses to “Failing Grades for Canadian Animal Cruelty Law

  1. Legislators, blinded by the emotions of the animal cruelty issue, continue to grant ever-increasing powers to the private charities enforcing animal cruelty across Canada without giving a thought to their accountability and transparency. I’ll focus on Ontario…

    Justice Anton Zuraw (case ONCJ 119) describes the Ontario SPCA in an acquittal verdict. “Those powers which it holds are pursuant to the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, RSO 1990 c.o. 36 as amended. These include the policing powers of investigation, right of entry onto private property without warrant [s. 12(2) of the Act], direct the removal of animals without judicial intervention, billing the owner for their costs, selling animals seized or destroying them… and lay(ing) charges – all the while attending to its own need to fund raise. In order to do the latter, it relies heavily on the publicity it can glean from high profile seizures and charges. It is a not-for-profit organization and a registered charity. Without publicity and high profile charges, the funds the S.P.C.A. needs to operate would no doubt dry up…… I would be naïve to suggest that the current set-up could not foster the perception in reasonable, open-minded people, that bias may exist and that conflicts will result. Bearing the foregoing in mind, it would be more than appropriate to have transparent policies and procedures that prohibit bias and conflict, indeed it would appear to be imperative.”

    Justice M.P. O’Dea in an acquittal verdict (R. vs. Reimer) Regional OSPCA Inspector Ms. Tanti decided that she should not be bound by this principle (Supreme Court’ in Evans re: sanctity of one’s privacy on their property and that this sanctity should not be lightly interfered with) – not because she needed to defend the rights of an animal – but because she did not want to take the time to follow any constraints that would slow her efforts to protect those rights. In my mind, this attitude would not be supported by the community in general. More specifically, I suspect that even those who support the rights of animals would, faced with the evidence in this case, be appalled at the extent of her failure to comply with her own legislation. I believe the community as a whole would not tolerate the admission of evidence obtained in such a flagrant manner.”

    Justice P. Griffiths Ontario Court of Justice on Appeal R vs. Burns and Massey “A breach of the right to be secure from an unreasonable search of a home is a breach of the highest order. This is not a technical breach of small importance. If the full facts as to the date of the informant’s information were before the Justice of the Peace she could not possibly issue a warrant.
    The breach then is neither minimal nor technical. I do not hold an inspector for the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to the same high standard for search warrant drafting as I would a peace officer. If I did, I would find that the inadequacies of the information in Appendix A are so many and so obvious that only bad faith could explain them.”

    Under current legislation, the police powers of the Ontario SPCA are not governed by the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services, the Ontario Ombudsman or the Ministry of Agriculture… according to former Minister Monte Kwinter, the actions of the Ontario SPCA are governed by the Ontario SPCA Act (policing itself) and the Charities Act.

  2. I think animal cruelty is disturbing, totally wrong and disgusting! Who would do it? Defiantly not me.
    It should stop!It is just like child abuse. I am so sorry for all the poor animals who have to go threw it all just because some people want to.It should of stopped already.

  3. i find it horible and out of order that people are hurting animals how would they like it if they were hurt6 almost killed put in pain please help stop them

  4. This matter on animal cruelty shouldn’t even be a discussion. Straight away if abuse or neglect are done they should go straight to jail with no perks like we have in our jails (tv, good food, etc) This is how they treated the poor animals that give unconditional love an trust so they should get the same. I could never fathom the thought of doing anything mean to them as they depend on us as being the higher up mammal, but as we see there are so many low humans out there that have no concern for them.

  5. i dont know what makes ppl do these horrendous things to animals but they certainky dont even deserve the good treatment of prison, what they do deserve is to get exactly what they did to these poor creatures… its not right n shouldnt be tolerarted, animals are more defenceless than our own children, children can at least tell us of their abuse!

  6. i think its wrong for people to be doing this to animals these animals are so defenceless they cant speak to you and tell you whats hurting them or whats makes them feel unco,fotable but you should know that usually what hurts you hurts them also. So if you think your not able to care for ANY animal that means your not suited to have 1 at all i think you should just givfe them up for adoption please dont leave them on the street or dont hurt them just think of them as another human!!!

  7. I think that is disgusting these poor animals are dieing for no reason there is no excuse for this poor behaviour it makes me sick .

  8. People capable of killing helpless animals (and I’m not talking about farm animals) are souless. You know what they say about serial killers – they start off by killing animals when they’re young.

  9. I can’t believe we are still fighting this crap…..The laws need to change. Domesticated animals are as much a part of a family as any person. They breathe, feel pain, happiness, hunger, cold the same as we do…Why hurt them. We have to put a stop to monsters of all kinds.

  10. I have learned, especially in Ontario under the Liberals, politicans “really” don’t want to make a difference, it is the “appearance” of making a difference that concerns them. In the long run really lousy legislation hurts as “the legislature does not make mistakes” and these politicans don’t “get it right”, it can prove extremely costly and injurious to everyday citizens and taxpayers.

    They seem to be doing allot more harm than good.


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