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Bill C-246 Will Close Animal Cruelty Loopholes

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AP Images for Humane Society International

Since 1999, the federal Liberals have made numerous attempts to pass a much-needed update to the antiquated and inadequate animal cruelty provisions in the Criminal Code of Canada. There was Bill C-17, resurrected as Bill C-15 and then re-introduced as Bill C-15B, followed by Bill C-10, Bill C-10B, Bill C-22, Bill C-50, Bill C-274, Bill C-277 and, finally, Bill C-610. While the House of Commons has passed new animal cruelty legislation three times, those bills either got caught up in prorogues or were blocked by the Senate before they made it past the finish line.

But the winds of change are sweeping through Canada, giving us a renewed sense of possibility and hope about what we can accomplish together. As so many have said since the federal election in October, "Canada is back!" And Canada wants change for animals. The Canadian people have been signing animal welfare petitions for decades now, demanding that the values of fairness and justice that we're known for are applied to the protection of animals and the punishment of animal abusers.

It's extremely difficult to prosecute cases of neglect and dog fighting because of how the laws are written.

We may just get our wish. On February 26, Liberal MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith introduced a private member's bill that aims to close the loopholes in the current animal cruelty provisions. More often than not, it is these loopholes that allow chronic hoarders, repeat abusers, puppy mill operators and dog fighting perpetrators to get off with a slap on the wrist.

Canada is widely considered to be a progressive, civilized country with plenty of laws on the books to protect its citizens from various forms of violence, disorderly conduct and theft. But it has a dismal record when it comes to protecting animals from cruelty, abuse and neglect. Due to outdated language, the current animal cruelty sections of the Criminal Code offer greater protection for cattle and other working animals and much less protection for wild or stray animals. It's extremely difficult to prosecute cases of neglect and dog fighting because of how the laws are written.

For example, the phrase "willful neglect" in Section 446 of the Criminal Code requires proof that the accused intended to harm or kill his or her animal(s). Even in cases where dozens of animals have been starved to death -- which requires a long period of severe neglect -- judges conclude that the accused didn't actually intend for the animals to suffer or die. This is why so many abusers are found not guilty. On top of this, a recent appeal from a decision of the British Columbia Court of Appeal seriously weakened the Criminal Code offence of bestiality. Instead of ensuring that all sexual abuse of animals remains illegal, the Court of Appeal ruled that only the penetration of animals is an offence.

So why does this new bill, the Modernizing Animal Protections Act, hold such promise? The heart of it -- where CFHS sees real potential for change -- is the proposed creation of a new offence for individuals who cause unnecessary pain, suffering, or injury to an animal through gross negligence of the animal's welfare. The bill also closes the loopholes related to animal fighting by making it illegal to train, breed or convey animals for the purpose of fighting, as well as making it illegal to profit from dog fighting. And Bill C-246 aims to update section 160 of the Criminal Code to ensure that all forms of sexual abuse of animals remain illegal.

There is a strong and sustained will on the part of the Canadian people to see that justice be done for animals in this country. If we all work together and raise our voices in support of this bill, the change that animals need will be possible. Go here to contact your MP and tell them to support Bill C-246, the Modernizing Animal Protections Act.

This blog has been updated.

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