Though Canada has recently made incremental progress on animal protection laws, guest writer Kira Berkeley, who just founded Canada’s first intersectional animal and environmental law organisation, explains how there is still a lot of work to be done. Unfortunately, Canada is known to have some of the worst animal protection laws in the western world. According to the Animal Protection Index (API), Canada has received a D grade for animal welfare laws.
The main federal animal protection laws in Canada are found under the Criminal Code (the “Code”), which governs animal cruelty offences throughout the country. The Code criminalises animal cruelty generally, including offences involving killing or injuring an animal and/or causing unnecessary suffering to an animal (though there are various exemptions, such as farm animal practices). Notably, the Code has recently been amended to include:
- Banning whale and dolphin captivity in Canada (section 445.2); and
- Broadening the scope of beastiality and animal fighting offences (sections 160 and 445.1).
Apart from the Code, several other pieces of federal legislation touch on animal welfare. Some positive recent federal animal law developments include:
Amending the definition of “family violence” to include killing or harming an animal (or threatening to do so) under the Divorce Act (section 2);
Prohibition on import/export of shark fins under the Fisheries Act (section 32); and
Adding judicial training on the Violence Link (that is, the connection between violence towards animals and humans) under the Judges Act (section 3).
Hopefully, these recent federal law developments will set an example for greater things to come.
The laws differ from province to province, making inconsistencies and loopholes more likely to arise in the animal protection context. According to a review conducted in 2015, Manitoba ranked highest for animal protection laws because veterinarians in the province must report suspected animal abuse, including psychological harm.
In many provinces, the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (“SPCA”) enforces provincial animal welfare laws. That is, rather than a public body (such as police officers) enforcing these laws, it is left up to a private charity. However, Ontario moved away from the SPCA model in 2019 and enacted the Provincial Animal Welfare Services (“PAWS”) Act, which provides strong protections for companion animals. Yet, it still falls short of protecting animals from harmful "generally accepted practices" in the agriculture industry and other animal-use industries.
While provincial legislation falls short in many ways, a few positive provincial laws include:
- Nova Scotia’s law outlawing cosmetic surgeries on animals (Animal Protection Act, section 27);
- Quebec’s Civil Code recognising the sentience of animals (Animal Welfare and Safety Act, B-3.1); and
- PEI’s law outlawing cosmetic surgeries on animals and prohibiting animal fights ( Animal Welfare Act, sections 5-6).
Worringly, agricultural gag (“ag-gag”) laws have been spreading across the provinces in recent years . These laws aim to criminalise animal advocates, investigative journalism, and/or whistleblowers from exposing the horrid truth of the agricultural industry to the public. These laws are now prevalent in Alberta, Ontario, Manitoba and PEI.
What’s Next for Animals?
Canada’s national animal law advocacy organisation, Animal Justice, has launched a constitutional challenge to Ontario’s ag-gag legislation. Ideally, Ontario’s ag-gag laws will be struck down as unconstitutional, setting a strong precedent to combat the ag-gag laws in other provinces as well.
Additionally, several candidates in this year’s federal election addressed animal welfare in their campaign platforms. Now that the liberal government has been re-elected, we must hold them accountable to their animal protection platform promises, which were set out as follows:
Introduce legislation to end cosmetic testing on animals as soon as 2023 and phase out toxicity testing on animals by 2035;
Work with partners to curb illegal wildlife trade and end elephant and rhinoceros tusk trade in Canada;
Introduce legislation to protect animals in captivity;
Ban the live export of horses for slaughter; and
Work with our partners to help women and children fleeing violence stay united with their companion animals.
While there is much more work to be done, Canada is slowly moving in a better direction for animals.
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