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Animal protection laws across Canada.


In Canada, animals are protected under both provincial and federal laws--several of which have been amended in the past few years. Here are some highlights of the changes.

Criminal Code of Canada

Until recently, the animal cruelty section of the Criminal Code of Canada (the Code) remained as written in 1892--literally, the horse and buggy era. When Bill S-103 received Royal Assent on April 17, 2008 the penalties were increased for the first time since the section was written. However, the Bill didn't address all the issues hoped for by animal welfare advocates across the country. In fact, some aspects of the revisions may make it more difficult for investigators to prove animal cruelty allegations. Besides leaving the 1892 wording in place, the Bill also made animal cruelty a hybrid offence, meaning that it's up to the Crown to decide--on a case-by-case basis--if a charge will be tried as a summary conviction offence or a more serious indictable offence.

For most offences under the Code, the maximum penalty for an indictable offence is now imprisonment for up to five years, while a summary conviction is subject to a fine of up to $10,000 and/ or imprisonment for up to 18 months. (See Table 1 for a comparison of maximum penalties for each type of offence). In all cases, whether summary conviction or indictable offence, the court may prohibit an offender from owning or having custody of animals for any period deemed appropriate. In the case of a second or subsequent offence, the prohibition period must be at least five years. The court may also order an offender to pay restitution to the animal's owner in cases where the offender harmed someone else's animal. Where the offender was the owner or custodian of the animals, the court can order reimbursement to an animal welfare agency for the cost of caring for the animals as a result of the offence.

Will the Changes Help the Animals?

While the Code still maintains different sections for livestock and other animals, it now treats both classifications of animals in the same manner. Previously, crimes against livestock were indictable offences while those against companion animals were summary conviction offences. Now the Crown decides in each case based on its circumstances.

Because crimes against animals are now hybrid offences, there is a higher burden of proof placed on the investigators of an alleged crime. Initially, each case needs to be treated as though it will have the higher standard (and stiffer penalty) of an indictable offence. Once the Crown (the prosecutor or judge) reviews the evidence presented, he or she elects the mode of prosecution. Time will tell if the extra requirements for investigations will deter police or other agencies from investigating crimes against animals, or if it will make a statement that such crimes are serious and not easily dismissed.

The provisions for prohibition in the revised Code are much more encompassing than previously; before being amended, the maximum period for which someone could be prohibited from owning animals was two years, and only in some circumstances. Now, the length of prohibition can be of any term--for example, the courts could enact a lifetime prohibition on owning animals. This is perhaps the most beneficial aspect of the revisions, as it can prevent chronic abusers from continuing to mistreat animals.

Provincial Laws

Several provinces have amended their laws or are considering revisions. Some of the highlights are listed here.

Alberta's Animal Protection Act

Proclamation of the amendments to this Act on January 3, 2006 marked the culmination of a stakeholder consultation process that began 18 months prior ,with input from the Alberta SPCA and other animal and industry groups. Key aspects of the newly-amended Act include an expanded definition of distress, detailed list of duties that must be performed by animal care providers, enhanced powers for animal protection officers, prohibition against abandoning animals, and increased protection for those who report suspected animal abuse and neglect.

Perhaps the most significant amendment was the expanded definition of what causes an animal to be in distress. The previous definition--common across most jurisdictions--referred to animals deprived of adequate food, water, shelter, and care. The amendments added the requirements of adequate ventilation, space, reasonable protection from injurious heat or cold, and specified that care must be veterinary care.

Prior to these amendments, the Act only applied to those who owned or were in charge of the animals. Now, the Act states that "no person shall cause an animal to be in distress." This means that it is now an offence for anyone, whether the animal caretaker or not, to cause harm to an animal. The revised Act allows peace officers to take animals into custody if the officer is of the opinion that the owner or caretaker is not likely to provide for the animal. For example, if a dog is left outside with no protection from extreme weather, and the forecast calls for -30[degrees]C the next day, the officer can remove the dog and take it to a suitable shelter before it is subjected to the bitter cold.

The maximum penalties under Alberta's Animal Protection Act remain at fines of up to $20,000 and unlimited prohibition periods.

British Columbia's Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act

Amendments to strengthen this Act received Royal Assent on April 1, 2008. The amendments refine the definition of distress to include inadequate ventilation, space, care, or veterinary treatment; authorize agents operating in remote areas to obtain warrants by telephone; clarify the authority of agents to seize evidence, take abandoned animals into custody, and to hold and dispose of animals; increase fines to $5000 for a first offence and $10,000 for a second offence; and clarify the obligation of animal owners to reimburse the B.C. Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals for care-related expenses.

Ontario's Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act

Ontario's March 2009 amendments were the first significant changes to that province's animal protection law since 1919. The amended law provides the courts with greater flexibility to impose stiffer penalties, including jail time up of to two years, fines up to $60,000, and a potential lifetime ban on animal ownership. It also allows Ontario SPCA investigators to inspect premises (other than private dwellings) where animals are kept for exhibition, entertainment, boarding, sale, or hire; and permits the Society to apply for custody of an animal while a case is still before the courts.

The legislation now also establishes standards of care for all animals, not just dogs and cats; requires veterinarians to report suspected animal abuse or neglect with protection under the law; makes it an offence to train an animal to fight with another animal or to own animal fighting equipment; and makes it an offence to harm a law enforcement animal, such as a dog or horse.

Manitoba's Animal Care Act

Proposed amendments to Manitoba's Act were introduced in the legislature in September 2008 and re-introduced two months later in a new session. The proposed amendments would develop a registry of licenced pet breeders; require pet stores to be licenced and keep records of the breeders from whom they purchase animals; require veterinarians to report suspected cases of animal neglect or abuse; restrict auction marts or assembly yards from receiving unfit animals; and double penalties to $10,000 for a first offence, and $20,000 and/or imprisonment up to 12 months for second or subsequent offences.

Nova Scotia's Animal Cruelty Prevention Act

This Act, intended to replace the existing Animal Cruelty Prevention Act, was granted Royal Assent on November 25, 2008 but has not yet been proclaimed in force. When it does, the new Act will increase maximum fines to $10,000 for a first offence, $25,000 for a second, and $50,000 for a third or subsequent offence. It also expands the definition of distress to include reasonable protection from injurious heat or cold.

Universal Declaration on Animal Welfare

A recent vote by the Canadian Parliament may have some impact on the future direction of animal protection legislation. Despite taking almost a decade of debate to update the Criminal Code of Canada--and a much weakened version of what was originally proposed--Members of Parliament in November 2009 unanimously approved a private member's motion to support the Universal Declaration on Animal Welfare. The Declaration, already supported by the European Union, Australia, New Zealand, India, and several other nations, establishes the status of animal welfare as an international issue of concern. Though the Declaration is non-binding in a legal sense, it may have significant impact in the future.

Tim Battle is the Director of Education for the Alberta SPCA. He can be reached at or 780-447-3600, ext. 3739.
Table 1: Maximum Penalties under the Criminal Code of Canada

 Section & Indictable Summary Prohibition
 Offence Offence Conviction Against Owning

444 Injuring or 5 years $10,000 fine any period
 endangering imprisonment and/or 18 months determined by
 cattle imprisonment the courts;
445 Injuring or minimum 5 years
 endangering for second or
 other animals subsequent
445.1 Causing offence.
447 Keeping a

446 Causing 2 years $5,000 fine any period
 damage or imprisonment and/or 6 months determined by
 injury (due imprisonment the courts;
 to wilful minimum 5 years
 neglect or for second or
 abandonment) subsequent

264.1 (1) (c) 2 years $2,000 fine n/a
 Uttering imprisonment and/or 6 months
 threats (to imprisonment
 kill or harm

Section 2 of the Code defines cattle as "neat cattle or an animal of
the bovine species by whatever technical or familiar name it is known,
and includes any horse, mule, ass, pig, sheep or goat; "where neat
cattle is an obsolete term meaning domesticated straight-backed animals
of the bovine genus.

Table 2: Recently Proposed or Revised Animal Protection Laws in Canada

Jurisdiction Legislation Status

Alberta Animal Protection Act Amendments proclaimed
 January 2006
British Columbia Prevention of Cruelty Amended April 2008
 to Animals Act
Canada Criminal Code of Canada Maximum penalties
 increased April 2008
Ontario Society for the Proclaimed March 2009
 Prevention of Cruelty
 to Animals Act
Manitoba Animal Care Act Proposed amendments
 introduced September
Nova Scotia Animal Cruelty Animal Protection Act
 Prevention Act (to replace existing
 Act) was granted Royal
 Assent November 25,
 2008 but not yet
 proclaimed in force.

Since Alberta amended the Animal Protection Act in 2006, several other
jurisdictions have revised their legislation or are considering
revisions, as listed below.
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Title Annotation:Special Report on Criminal Law
Author:Battle, Tim
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Feb 25, 2010
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