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This morning someone sent me an email linking an article from SFGate: "Oakland: Neighbors honored for taping dog beating". It's about a guy who secretly video taped his neighbour beating his dog which resulted in the animal abuser getting a jail sentence of four years and, perhaps more importantly, a new home for Blueberry, the canine victim.

Finally, on Feb. 19, 2010, they got it: a high-quality video of their neighbor, Charles Black, striking Blueberry repeatedly with an ax handle raised high over his head. In the film, the dog emits harrowing squeals and cries as it cowers against the blows.

It's encouraging to think that somewhere on this continent, there are tough enough animal abuse laws which actually result in abusers going to jail. In Ontario, this scenario would likely have played out quite differently. The abuser would have claimed that he was simply disciplining the dog with no real intention of causing the dog unnecessary suffering and he would have been released (in order to successfully prosecute an animal abuse case here, there must be proof of intent to cause unnecessary suffering). The dog, on the other hand, because it looks somewhat like one of the banned breeds in Ontario, would have been confiscated and then put down.

Here in Ontario, when it comes to dog legislation, we don't just blame the victim, we sometimes kill the victim.

The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) put out a report in 2008 comparing Canada's animal cruelty with those of several other countries. We don't rate so well.

Canadians were outraged when NFL Star Michael Vick was found guilty of several dog fighting related charges. In Canada Michael Vick could not have been charged because it is not an offence to train animals to fight each other, it is only an offence to encourage, aid or assist in the fighting of dogs. In Canada dog fight perpetrators have to be caught red-handed in order to be charged. For example, in 2005 the RCMP and the British Columbia SPCA raided a property and found a dog fighting ring and other paraphernalia used for training dogs to fight. A total of 25 scar and wound inflicted dogs were confiscated that day and later had to be returned to their owner because under Canada's animal cruelty provisions a crime had not occurred. In fact, there have been no convictions of any individual involved with dog fighting in BC.

The IFAW report asks 10 questions when comparing cruelty legislation between the different countries.

For example, Question 1 is "Does the legislation protect animals from neglect?".

The Criminal Code of Canada uses the term "willful neglect" which requires neglect to be a product of predetermined action. In all other countries reviewed, the animal cruelty legislation makes clear reference and provisions for cases of neglect. The "willfulness" of the perpetrator is kept out of the wording, so that intent or motive does not need to be present for the courts to punish crimes of neglectn against animals.

There aren't many animal abusers who will admit to intent when they can just say, "I didn't mean to be cruel," and like the ex-owner of this dog here or of these animals here, that's of course what they almost always do say. If you're a glutton for punishment, there are more cases listed here by the World Society for the Protection of Animals, where the abusers went unpunished.

Even in the recent slaughter of the huskies in B.C., it's anyone's guess whether or not any charges will be laid especially when the prevailing attitude of one of the people on the task force investigating the killings is one of disregard for the dogs. From The Star, Sled dog slaughter task force meets to review mass killing:

"In over 20 years of practise, I probably have euthanized hundreds of animals, and, of course, in an acceptable and humane way," Lake said. "These are not pet dogs we are dealing with, and so the method of euthanasia in a veterinary office is not the only humane method of euthanasia. I think that's an important thing to say."

(I wonder what's on Dr. Lake's list of "humane" methods of euthanasia.)

Compare our law to Malaysia's. From the IFAW report:

In Malaysia, the issue of neglect is legislatively addressed in s.44(1)(d) of the Animal Act which bars any person from either wantonly or unreasonably doing or committing an act that causes any pain or suffering or, as an owner, permits unnecessary pain or suffering to an animal. The willingness on the part of the offender to commit the offence is not necessary in cases of neglect. Under the legislation it is only required that the individual unreasonably committed an act that caused the unnecessary pain and suffering of an animal.

Malaysia has better animal cruelty laws than Canada. Malaysia. So do Great Britain, Switzerland, New Zealand, Austria, Norway, Croatia and most of the other countries in the IFAW survey.

The disconnect between how much Canadians love their pets and how little our laws protect our pets is puzzling. The outrage expressed whenever stories of animal abuse are reported in the news is huge but it never seems to translate into effective legislation. Are there just too many bloodsport enthusiasts who are worried that more enforceable laws against cruelty will hinder their enjoyment when they're out hunting? Are factory farmers worried that better protection for animals means they will have to treat their livestock more humanely? Who exactly is preventing stronger legislation from moving forward? Or is it just that not enough of our lawmakers care?

Mark Holland, MP for Ajax-Pickering has been a supporter of more effective animal cruelty legislation for years now. His private member's bill, C-229, would be a big step in the right direction, effectively closing many of the loopholes used by animal abusers to get off scot-free.

Here are some differences between C-229 and the existing bill, Bill S-203 which was passed in 2008 and considered by many to be a placebo for animal cruelty concerns:

• Bill S-203 leaves in place the dysfunctional term "willful neglect" requiring the court to prove motive for neglecting animals. For example, a farmer who starved his sheep despite repeated warnings was found not guilty because the court couldn't prove he intended to starve them. Bill C-229 instead uses the term "negligent" which is defined as "departing markedly from the standard of care that a reasonable person would use."

• Bill S-203 leaves in place wording that allows people to kill animals brutally and viciously if the animal dies immediately. For example, someone who ties an animal to a train track can get off by arguing that the animal died quickly and didn't suffer. Bill C-229 makes it an offence to kill an animal with brutal and or vicious intent, whether or not the animal dies immediately.

You can read the complete list of differences here.

Presently, it seems Bill C-229 is still sitting in line as it has been since 2006 waiting to be read in Parliament.

From Holland's website:

Holland has tried on several occasions to get the Harper government to take his bill and expedite it through all legislative stages. In 2009, following a horrific animal cruelty case in New Brunswick, he reached out to NB Tory MP Keith Ashfield, after hearing reports that the MP, who currently serves as Minister of National Revenue, expressed an interest in Holland’s bill. Ashfield never responded to several calls made by Holland.

Assuaging concerns of partisanship, Holland stated in his letter that this “issue doesn’t fall into an ideological category. The cause for reforming our animal cruelty laws unites voters of both our parties, indeed all Canadians. It’s a real motherhood and apple pie issue.”

You can keep up-to-date on this issue by joining the Facebook group Stop animal cruelty in Canada with effective legislation.

4 Comments to “Canada still lagging behind in animal cruelty laws”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Unfortunately, the only way to support a Facebook group is to join Facebook, something I absolutely will not do (Zuckerberg is powerful enough without my private info in his database).

    However, there are links way down at the bottom of the article that lead to the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies site, which leads, in turn to , which is a very useful site on the issue.

    If you care about our fellow creatures, do something now!

  2. Lynn says:

    I wanted to send this link too: I've watched this case for a long time and was hoping this guy would get what was coming to him. I wish it had been a more severe punishment, but at least he was convicted.

    What do we do? I think if we could stop classifying pets as "property," it would be a great start. Is that too great a leap from where we are now?

  3. Fred says:

    Hi Lynn, I remember this story. So part of this guy's sentence is 400 Hours of community service to be performed at the Humane Society or any agency that is dedicated to working with canines. Unless he's under constant observation, in which case that would detract from someone else's work, it seems this would just present him with endless opportunities for more abuse.

  4. Lynn, IMHO removing animals from the category of property gives legislators a wide-open door to restricting or removing that right altogether. If animals fall into a gray area, it's easy to eliminate them through legislation.
    At least in common law (not in the Charter, thanks to the federal Liberals and NDP) we have some right to property.

    As we've seen in Ontario under the McGuinty Lie-berals, your right to own lawful property can be perverted, you become a second-class citizen and your property can be destroyed at whim. By the government.

    I support Mr. Holland's bill and I suggest that anyone who supports it should put pen to paper - not e-mail, it's too easily ignored/trashed based on keywords - and write every MP in federal Parliament to encourage them to support and vote in favour of Mr. Holland's bill. Yes, there's a lot of them, but do a form letter and send it to each. If I remember correctly, you needn't put postage on a letter to an MP but that should be checked.

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A request

The reason for this blog is to help get specific dogs adopted from TAS but equally important is to try to normalize the idea of shelter dogs being just as good and just as desirable as any other dogs including those which are regularly merchandised by backyard breeders, puppy millers and those few remaining pet store owners who still feel a need to sell live animals. The single greatest stigma shelter animals still face is the belief that shelter animals are substandard animals. Anyone who has had enough experience with shelter animals knows this is untrue but the general public hasn't had the same experiences you've had. They see a nice dog photo in a glossy magazine and too many of them would never think of associating that dog with a dog from a shelter. After all, no one abandons perfectly good dogs, right? Unfortunately, as we all know, perfectly good dogs are abandoned all the time.

The public still too often associates shelter dogs with images of beat up, sick, dirty, severely traumatized animals and while we definitely sometimes see victims such as these, they are certainly not the majority and, regardless, even the most abused animals can very often be saved and made whole again.

Pound Dogs sometimes discusses the sad histories some of the dogs have suffered. For the most part, though, it tries to present the dogs not as victims but as great potential family members. The goal is to raise the profiles of animals in adoption centers so that a potential pet owner sees them as the best choice, not just as the charity choice.

So, here's the favour I'm asking. Whenever you see a dog picture on these pages you think is decent enough, I'd like you to consider sharing it on Facebook or any other social media sites you're using (I know many of you do this already and thank you for that). And when you share it, please mention that the dog in the photo is a shelter dog like so many other shelter dogs waiting for a home. If we can get even five percent of the pet buying public to see shelter dogs differently, to see how beautiful they are and how wonderful they are, and to consider shelter dogs as their first choice for a new family member, we can end the suffering of homeless pets in this country.