What’s wrong with our animal cruelty law?
The current animal cruelty section of the Criminal Code was written in the horse and buggy days of 1892 and contains several loopholes that prevent the prosecution of many serious animal abusers. The words “wilful neglect” makes it very difficult to prosecute cases of neglect. The wording requires proof that a person intended to neglect or cause harm to their animals. In cases that do go to court, most judges find defendants not guilty as they don’t believe there is sufficient proof the owner intended to harm their animals — even when dozens of animals have been starved to death.
It is also very difficult to prosecute animal fighting cases because charges can only be laid if inspectors witness the animal fighting. The law should follow the lead of many other countries, by making it illegal to train animals to fight or to allow animal fighting on one’s property.
The current law also provides less protection for unowned animals than for owned animals. It is not an offence to kill a stray animal.
Didn’t Parliament already pass a bill a few years ago?
Yes, they passed Bill S-203 in June 2008, but it only increased the penalties for people found guilty of animal cruelty, leaving in place the loopholes in the offences. Although many politicians think they have adequately addressed the issue of our federal animal cruelty law, they have not. Tougher penalties don’t do much good if animal abusers can’t be prosecuted in the first place. So much for ‘tough on crime’!
The Criminal Code is becoming obsolete.
Many provinces have updated their provincial animal protection acts to make them far, far stronger and more effective than the Criminal Code. This is great. But, it means that fewer and fewer cases are being prosecuted under the Criminal Code because it is so weak. Provincial prosecutions do not result in a criminal record and abusers, such as those who operate puppy mills, can simply move to another province and continue their abuse because there is no record that will follow them to another jurisdiction. It is absurd to have a federal Criminal Code that is so inadequate that it has become virtually obsolete due to much stronger provincial acts in many regions.
The violence link
Canada needs an effective animal cruelty law to better protect animals from cruelty and abuse. Canada also needs an effective animal cruelty law to address a form of violence that frequently leads to violence against people. The link between animal abuse and violence against humans has been well documented for many decades. Most serial killers and school shooters have a past record of inflicting cruelty on animals. When animals in a home are abused or neglected, it is a warning sign that women and children may also be at risk. The vast majority of pet-owning women seeking shelter from domestic abuse report that their partners have threatened, hurt or killed their pets.
Here’s the result of our weak legislation:
In Alberta a man shot his dog in the head three times and tied it to a post was not charged with animal cruelty by the RCMP. The individual who owned the dog considered it to be a "problem" animal and had decided to kill it rather than have it humanely euthanized.
After a massive cold snap in most of Canada many SPCAs found themselves with limited powers to be able to charge people who left their animals outside in extreme temperatures because of loopholes in the legislation.
Luka Magnotta, who committed an unimaginably gruesome murder in 2011, had long been hunted by animal welfare activists after he posted videos of acts of animal cruelty online. Magnotta was never charged with animal cruelty.
A man in BC who violently killed at least 46 sled dogs in one of the most horrific animal cruelty investigations in the province’s history escaped jail time.
An Ottawa area man beat a cat to death with a shovel after it stole a steak from his barbeque. He got a $500 fine and was allowed to keep his other animals.
The BC SPCA seized 87 animals in distress on the farm of a couple near Dawson Creek. The seized animals included a lynx, an alpaca, parrots, turtles, and over 70 small mammals. The SPCA had issued a number of orders to the owners to address concerns such as lack of water, poor sanitation and untreated injuries. When they didn’t comply, they were charged with animal cruelty. Their sentence? A $700 fine and two years probation.
In April 2008, a New Brunswick man bludgeoned five of his Pomeranian dogs to death with a hammer. The judge acquitted him because it was ruled that the dogs died quickly and did not suffer. He was found guilty of injuring a 6th dog that did not die from his hammer blow. Under the Criminal Code he was given a conditional discharge, placed on probation for 1 year and ordered to pay a $50 fine.
These are just a few recent examples of animal abusers being let off lightly due to the inadequacy of Canada’s animal cruelty law.
It’s hard to imagine how people can abuse animals, isn’t it? How can someone look into the eyes of a dog, a cat, a horse or any other animal and deliberately cause the animal pain – or leave the animal to starve to death? Incredibly, such things happen almost every day across Canada. These animals really need our help.