What does a humane country look like?

We call ourselves Humane Canada, and that’s because it’s our vision: building a humane country. But how do we know if we are making progress toward that goal?

After much reflection and consultation with experts across the country, Humane Canada has developed a list of indicators that will help us measure how we are progressing in a diversity of issues – issues that affect companion animals, farmed animals, wild animals, animals used in science:  all animals.

While this list is not exhaustive and may not cover every single animal welfare concern, it is a way for us to assess the impact of our society’s legal system, policies and behaviours on animals.

We’ve organized the indicators into seven keystones that support the conception of a country that values animals – a humane Canada. They are:

Over the coming years, we will be measuring these indicators in order to evaluate our current status and progress toward ultimately achieving the goal of making Canada a more humane country.

Download the project overview report, Measuring Progress Toward a Humane Canada 

Download the Consideration Keystone Report, Including Animals as Individuals Within our Communities

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Consideration Keystone Report

In Canadian society, there is an expectation that we treat one another with respect and dignity. In a humane country, likewise, there is an understanding that each animal has a life worthy of respect and dignity; they are not considered as consumer products or objects of thoughtless use, but rather as individuals within our communities. Ethical considerations guide our legislation and decision-making about animal use. Where we do not have direct responsibility for care, we nonetheless have a responsibility to respect the needs and interests of animals, and the law restricts us from harming them for exploitative purposes.  

The Consideration Keystone Report examines Canada’s alignment with these humane principles by assessing how animals are considered within various practices and institutions. 

Indicator C1: Laws addressing ethical, responsible breeding of pets

In a humane country, companion animals are bred in an ethical and controlled fashion, avoiding the birth of more animals than homes that can be provided while allowing only traits that promote good health and welfare. In Canada, laws addressing ethical breeding practices are lacking across the country. Harmonized regulations and licensing systems with legally mandated codes of practice are needed to protect animal welfare. 

Additional Resources:

Indicator C2: Juvenile animals in shelters

Breeding companion animals responsibly includes only producing litters who will have a home. The presence of unwanted juvenile animals, in particular, is a clear sign that too many companion animals are being bred for sale or by accident. In 2021, more than half of cats and more than a quarter of dogs surrendered to shelters were juvenile, representing a drastic increase relative to recent years. Oversight is needed to ensure responsible breeding and to minimize the number of animals who are being bred without homes available for them to go to. 

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Indicator C3: Animal dissection in schools 

Modern technologies capable of replacing dissections and eliminating the need to use animals have become more plentiful in recent years. Furthermore, they provide greater advantages for learning and are less costly. While no provincial curriculum specifically requires animal dissection, all ten continue permit it. One province allows animal dissection only if alternatives are unable to meet learning objectives. Only three provinces expressly recognize a student’s choice to pursue non-animal alternatives to dissection. These types of approaches are important for reducing unnecessary animal use and protecting students’ choice to abstain from dissection, and should be implemented more widely. 

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Indicator C4: School board policies allowing students choice regarding dissections 

While dissection continues to be used as a tool for satisfying curriculum learning objectives across the country, student choice policies are important to protect the interests of students who object to the practice. However, school board policies allowing students to refrain from dissections are scarce. A preferred approach is for school boards to establish opt-in policies for dissections, by which students must actively consent to performing a dissection, or otherwise receive an alternative option. 

Additional Resources:

Indicator C5: Regulatory testing on animals 

Toxicity testing is a regulatory process to determine the impact of a product, device, or substance on humans, animals, or the environment, and identify any associated risks posed. Regulatory tests have historically been conducted on animals, though non-animal approaches are becoming increasingly available as alternatives to traditional animal-based methods. Just over half of the approximately 150,000 animals reportedly used in regulatory testing in 2021 experienced moderate to severe distress or discomfort or severe pain. The Canadian government passed legislation in 2023 to phase out testing on animals and should ensure all actions are taken to eliminate this practice as soon as possible. 

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Indicator C6: Promotion of alternatives to animal use in research

As non-animal methods are increasingly being developed and used in cosmetic and toxicity testing, it is reasonable to expect technologies and approaches could similarly be applied to reduce and replace the use of animals in scientific research more generally. However, federal funding agencies do not currently include the development and use of non-animal methods in their strategic plans, indicating that, at this level, no direction is being given to reduce and replace animal use in research and no priority is being set to incentivize alternative approaches. 

Additional Resources:

Indicator C7: Ethical hunting, trapping and fishing practices 

When hunting, trapping, or fishing are performed for recreation rather than subsistence, the non-essential interests of humans are placed above the more crucial interests of the animals. Where these activities are permitted for any purpose, some practices cause more suffering than others and our laws should limit them. While some ethical practices are promoted in Canada, a number of inhumane practices are allowed in regulations, varying widely across the provinces. Significant opportunities to improve these regulations exist. 

Additional Resources:

Indicator C8: Wildlife rehabilitation centres/sanctuaries

Being mindful of the needs and interests of animals and seeing them as individuals within the communities and environment we all share means we recognize and take responsibility for our impacts on them. Wildlife rehabilitation centres/sanctuaries provide protection and care for wildlife, often in response to harms caused by human activities. Fewer than one hundred wildlife rehabilitation centres/sanctuaries exist across the country, and an uncertain funding environment poses challenges for the prevalence and sustainability of these organizations. 

Additional Resources:

Indicator C9: Fur farming 

Fur farming is an exploitative use of animals, that is, where animals are used and subjected to suffering for unnecessary reasons, such as fashion or entertainment. The number of fur farms in Canada is at a record low of 97. This exploitative practice should be eliminated entirely by way of provincial or national bans on fur farming. 

Additional Resources:

Indicator C10: Animals kept in captivity and used for entertainment 

Using animals for entertainment purposes generally involves keeping them captive in settings that prevent them from engaging in natural physical and social behaviours that are critical to their welfare. Hundreds of animal-based entertainment facilities and events still exist in Canada, even though they exploit animals. 

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Indicator C11: Exotic pets 

Keeping exotic pets for our own companionship, novelty, or curiosity involves human interests being prioritized over the needs and interests of the animals. Even if a pet owner has respect for the animals and a desire to provide a good level of care, in the vast majority of cases conditions will be inadequate to ensure the animals have good welfare. An estimated 1.4 million exotic animals are kept as pets in Canadian households. Additional legislation is needed to regulate the keeping of exotic animals in Canada and should be aimed at banning the practice altogether. 

Additional Resources:

Legal Keystone Report

In Canadian society, we have created legal structures that establish rights and responsibilities to protect individual humans, and we expect that when someone is harmed there will be accountability. In a humane country, likewise, there is an understanding that each animal has a life worth living. Animals are recognized as sentient beings by a society that embraces its responsibilities with regard to their interests. This is expressed in the legal framework, and there is accountability to the law when animals are harmed.

The Legal Keystone Report sets out to measure Canada’s alignment with these humane principles by assessing the current status of indicators of a humane legal framework for animals.

Download the Legal Keystone Report, Toward a Humane Justice System for Animals

Indicator L1: Laws in Canada recognize animal sentience

For an animal to be sentient means that they can experience pain and pleasure, and that these experience matter and have importance to them. Animal sentience remains almost entirely unrecognized in Canadian legislation. 

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Indicator L2: Clear, consistent, and harmonized enforcement

Canada is a federation of eleven different national and provincial governments, each having their own animal welfare legislation. A formal structure to harmonize enforcement across federal and provincial governments is needed to ensure consistency.

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Indicator L3: Dedicated Crown policy and counsel for animal law

Crown prosecution policies play an important role in promoting consistency in how cases are prosecuted, and having Crown counsel who specialize in a particular area ensures those cases are prosecuted effectively. Policies for the prosecution of offences against animals are absent in Canada, and most provinces lack a formally-recognized Crown prosecutor specializing in animal abuse.

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Indicator L4: Consistent definitions of offences, powers, and obligations in provincial animal welfare protection

Since each province has its own animal protection legislation, definitions of offences, powers, and obligations can be inconsistent. In order to provide the strongest protections for animals, more consistent, comprehensive, and clear approaches are needed in provincial legislation.

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Indicator L5: Integrating animal abuse into crime reporting and tracking systems

It is critical that existing crime reporting systems integrate animal abuse and use this information to proactively protect humans and animals at risk. With the exception of bestiality cases being tracked in the National Sex Offender Registry, existing crime reporting systems do not integrate cases of animal cruelty; tracking systems do not specifically identify such cases.

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Indicator L6: Laws address animal abuse and violent offences toward humans in a coordinated fashion

There are relationships between violence toward humans and violence toward animals that make it important to address these issues together to better protect both humans and animals. A small number of Canadian laws have started to address violence toward humans and animals in a coordinated fashion; more provinces need to do so, applying a consistent approach.

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Indicator L7: Training of Justice Stakeholders

Knowledge of the link between violence toward humans and violence toward animals (the Violence Link) among those working in sectors that support humans and animals is critical for addressing violence holistically. Violence Link training is starting to be delivered to justice stakeholders through initiatives of a provincial Crown association, police organizations, and non-governmental organizations. 

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Indicator L8: Participation of Crown prosecutors, judges, and police staff in training

In addition to the development of Violence Link training programs as discussed in Indicator L7, there must also be participation in these training resources by justice stakeholders. Violence Link training is currently reaching the greatest numbers of justice stakeholder participants through programs delivered by police organizations. 

Additional Resources:

Indicator L9: Financial resources for enforcement

Agencies tasked with enforcing animal protection legislation must be adequately resourced if they are to be effective. There is a lack of information about public allocation of funds for animal protection enforcement at the provincial level. A serious concern is that a large non-governmental agency carrying out enforcement across one large province receives no public sector funding.

Additional Resources:

Indicator L10: Effectiveness in addressing animal abuse

Prosecution is one of the ways of addressing animal abuse concerns in Canada, though there are other approaches outside of the judicial process for addressing underlying issues that lead to animal welfare concerns. Of the cases where charges are laid, a lack of information makes it difficult to determine the proportion of cases where prosecution is pursued.

Additional Resources:

Indicator L11: Reflecting public perspectives, ethics, and values

The engagement of citizens and experts in policy development on animal welfare matters is important to support robust, evidence-based action with consideration for ethics and values. Canada lacks an animal welfare advisory body to support ethically-sound decision-making on issues regarding animals that reflects the values of Canadians.

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Indicator L12: Federal leadership on animal welfare

Central bodies within the federal government ensure important policy issues receive appropriate attention and representation within government. Canada lacks a central body for direction and coordination on animal welfare issues or to ensure animal welfare and interests are considered.

Additional Resources:

A number of these indicators touch upon the Violence Link, which is the evidence-based link between interpersonal violence and animal abuse. To find out more about Humane Canada’s Violence Link work, click here.

Featured Stories

Struggling shelters in the throes of a ‘perfect storm’ 

Across Canada, animal shelters are in crisis, with some on the verge of closing their doors for good. While pet adoptions increased significantly during the pandemic and surrenders decreased, now the opposite is true. The award winning Holly Lake takes a closer look at how this crisis started, what’s happening and what’s to come in Humane Canada’s new Articles & Opinions feature. Discover the story here.

Ontario announces proposed legislation to crack down on puppy mills 

Ontario’s Solicitor General, Michael Kerzner, introduced a bill on December 4th, 2023, that takes the province a step forward in combatting unethical breeding practices. Bill 159, Preventing Unethical Puppy Sales (PUPS) Act, 2023 will amend the Provincial Animal Welfare Services (PAWS) Act to prohibit the operation of puppy mills and permit the Lieutenant Governor in Council to make regulations governing recordkeeping for dogs and prohibit their sale and transfer under certain circumstances.

The bill will also include minimum penalties of $10,000 for individuals operating a puppy mill and $25,000 if the puppy mill contributes to a dog’s death or euthanasia, which is the same amount for causing or permitting an animal to be in distress. It also prohibits harmful breeding and care practices that are often associated with puppy mills, presenting an opportunity for an important step forward for ethical breeding in Canada. Read the story here.

Jail sentence for illegal bear killings 

After illegally killing a mother bear and her cub, a BC man received two 30-day jail sentences, to be served concurrently. The man also received two fines, in the amount of $,500 each, and was prohibited from hunting and possessing weapons or firearms for 20 years.

In his decision, the judge recognized that fines may not always be a significant deterrent for those who can afford to pay them. The judge also acknowledged the considerable pain that the bears experienced before they died and that a fine alone would not be an appropriate response to these offences. He reminded the offender that “hunting is a privilege” that should only be permitted for “responsible, trustworthy and law-abiding citizens”.

The maximum penalties for each of the offences – killing a black bear outside of open season and killing a black bear less than two years old – are a $100,000 fine and up to one year in jail. Read the story here.

Record animal cruelty sentence makes the case for Violence Link collaboration

In September 2023, the longest sentence ever in Canada for animal abuse was handed down in a Calgary courtroom. Humane Canada launched its Articles & Opinions feature to delve into the stories behind the headlines and in this launch article, the award winning Holly Lake takes a look at the sentence and makes the case for Violence Link collaboration. Discover the untold story here.

Recognition of animal sentience and animal abuse as a crime of violence

On November 25, 2021, the Alberta Court of Appeal recognized that animals are sentient beings and that animal cruelty is a crime of violence! This ground-breaking decision is proof that times are changing. Animals are highly vulnerable to mistreatment and are incapable of communicating their suffering. Sentences for animal cruelty must reflect these realities. This decision resolutely rejects the idea that ‘provocation’ due to ordinary animal behaviour can be a justifying factor. Neither is the accused’s cultural norms or background nor the fact that the animal was able to make a full recovery.  Included among aggravating factors in the sentencing decision was abuse that is motivated by a desire to assert control or exact revenge on another person, which has definite Violence Link connotations. The case summary is available on our Case Law Database here.

Training for law enforcement

Former CVLC Co-Chair, Louise Lathey, Outreach Specialist in Violence Prevention, BC SPCA deserves special recognition for her passion and persistence in providing information and statistics on the Violence Link which has been included in a domestic violence training course for police in BC.  The BC Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General have jointly launched an online course that will enable officers to better identify the risk of intimate partner violence (IPV) by including abusive behaviors towards animals in investigations.  The BC Summary of Intimate Partner Violence Risk Factors (SIPVR) has included animal abuse in several different sections which indicates that this type of abuse is something to look for when conducting IPV investigations.  We look forward to hearing more about this training program that will help bridge the gap between IPV and the impact it can have on animals and hope that it is the first of many more similar police training programs to come across Canada! 

Interview on Violence Link 

On July 9th, 2021, the Toronto Star published an article titled “How Accommodating Pets in Domestic Violence Shelters is Helping Save Lives” and discussed the Violence Link between intimate partner violence (IPV) and companion animal abuse. Studies from the University of Windsor found that 56% of the women surveyed said that concern for their pets delayed their leaving due to the lack of animal-friendly shelters. Humane Canada was also interviewed to explain the role of the Canadian legal system in protecting victims of IPV and animal abuse, as well as, highlight our efforts to support the education of law enforcement officials, prosecutors, and judges about the Violence Link. Hannah Brown, former manager of the Criminal Justice System Reform Program, says “We say to police officers, if you go into a domestic violence situation, look for signs of animal abuse because evidence shows they likely coexist, and to flip that around if you are responding to an animal abuse case, look for signs of domestic violence and child abuse.”

Investing in enforcement – Edmonton

Canada officially has its first Animal Cruelty Investigation Unit (ACIU) in the province of Alberta. Constables Ted Dyck and Ilka Cunningham, members of CVLC Steering Committee, are credited with achieving this milestone for animal welfare. Both Constables have been fighting for an animal cruelty dedicated force since 2017. It was clear to them that there was a direct correlation between cases of animal abuse and cases of human abuse and with the support of Staff Sergeant Anna Sinclair, the dedicated ACIU is now a reality.  The new unit will be comprised of the two Edmonton Police Service constables and a number of animal cruelty liaisons with the city, precisely the type of cross-sectoral collaboration that is encouraged. Congratulations on the first official Animal Cruelty Investigation Unit!     

Violence Link Training in Calgary

Data gathered by Constable Dennis Smithson has shown a high correlation between animal abuse and domestic violence in Calgary. A sample of cases over a period of 18 months revealed that 93% of offenders charged criminally with intentional animal abuse were also domestic abusers and 85% were involved in an average of 3 to 4 other criminal offences. By providing training on the Violence Link, Calgary police officers are able to intervene earlier before offenders escalate to more serious offences, recognize victims of violence, and have the tools needed to find ways to further protect communities. By following the animal, first responders are able to find a door into so many other offenders and concerns.  The training program, delivered by Brad Nichols at Calgary Humane Society and Calgary Police Services together, includes a section to explain what signs to look for at an animal abuse call.  

This project was funded through the donations of the members of Women for Humane Canada, the leadership giving circle at Humane Canada.

Funding — Erika T. Machtinger Ph.D., CWB®

A special thank you to The Summerlee Foundation for providing funding for the Legal Keystone Report.