Canada Stepping Up – Improvements to Animal Welfare Laws

Canada Stepping Up: Improvements to Animals Welfare Laws

We are now halfway through 2019, and it’s shaping up to be a very good year for animals. In the next few days Canadians can reasonably expect four new measures that advance animal welfare to become law – signalling a significant shift in the way we are thinking about the legal framework that governs animal protection.

It’s important news because, in the recent past, animal welfare has not been a high priority for Canada’s law makers. Instead, it’s been a lighting rod issue that caused division and frustration. For 20 years now, we’ve struggled to update the simplest piece of legislation that protects animals – the animal cruelty section of the criminal code. It was originally enacted in the late 1800s. It’s sorely outdated and is out of step with modern Canadian life, animal welfare science and criminal law.

Animal abusers and the Sex Offender Registry

First off the new measures – Bill C-84 modernizes the bestiality and animal fighting clauses of the criminal code. The legal term ‘bestiality’ will now refer to all sexual abuse of animals, not just the act of penetration. Bill C-84 signals Canada’s new priority on fighting animal crimes, which protects animals AND people too. What makes it ground-breaking is it that anyone convicted of animal sex abuse will now be required to register on Canada’s national Sex Offender Registry and to report annually to police.

This is a crucial improvement to our laws because sexual predators often use animals to groom or control the children and other vulnerable people they abuse. A recent report from the Center for Child Protection found that 87 per cent of the bestiality cases it studied also involved the sex abuse of children.

Tracking animal sex offenders protects children from their abusers by recognizing how violence against humans is linked to violence against animals. This is a Canadian first!

Bill C-84 also breaks new ground by extending animal fighting laws beyond cock fights to include all animals. It’s now a crime not only to attend an animal fight, but also to organize and host fights, train animals, broadcast fights or profit from the crime in any way.

Police know that dog fighting is usually associated with other criminal and gang activity. This is another way that Bill C-84 helps people while saving innocent animals from deadly cruelty.

Bill S-203: Canada’s ‘Free Willy’ law Bill S-203 seeks to ban the captivity of whales and dolphins. There is abundant scientific evidence that the confinement of whales and dolphins causes physical and mental pain and suffering and therefore fails to meet their health, behavioural and environmental needs.

In captivity, natural behaviours such as foraging, breaching and fluke waving are limited and sometimes impossible. Cetaceans are a highly intelligent, social, deep-diving species whose needs simply cannot be met in a tank.

Nor can our needs to study and learn more about cetaceans. Jacques Cousteau once said, “There is about as much educational benefit to be gained in studying dolphins in captivity as there would be studying mankind by only observing prisoners held in solitary confinement.”

For the first time in North America, law makers have recognized that banning the capture and confinement of whales and dolphins doesn’t go far enough. The Canadian Parliament is also moving to ban the breeding of captive whales and dolphins!

This is a critical step to ensuring that we don’t end up with a Beluga whale farm in southern Ontario. Currently Marineland holds more than 50 beluga whales and is actively breeding them for trade. Once S-203 takes effect, this abhorrent activity will be illegal. Then, hopefully those belugas can be re-homed in a marine sanctuary.

Shark finning ban

At the same time as S-203 comes into law, the government has committed to passing Bill C-68 which will ban shark finning – a cruel and devastating practice whose only purpose is to provide soup.

Shark finning is the act of removing fins from sharks and discarding the rest of the shark. They are often still alive when discarded, but soon drown because they are unable to swim without their fins.

Ninety per cent of global shark populations are now depleted and Canada is the third largest importer of shark fins outside of Asia. It is high time that we show leadership on this important conservation and animal protection issue.

Cosmetic Animal Testing

Finally, Bill S-214, bans cosmetic testing on animals and is an important step forward in protecting them from the needless pain and suffering. Cosmetic testing on animals is not required. It is not necessary. It causes pain, suffering and death. This is all for the sake of vanity (and greed).

Each one of these new bills is important. Together, they indicate integrated thinking in Canadian policy on animals, people and the environment. However, the situation still falls short of a comprehensive legal framework. There is a need to review of all laws that govern animal protection and a strategic approach to modernization.

But for now – June is looking like a good month. We look forward to a progressive future for the welfare of animals in Canada.