Justice Minister Introduces Bill to Protect Animal Rights
By Sharda Vaidyanath
May 31, 2005

OTTAWA - The Liberal government may soon affirm the value of family pets and other animals to society with the toughest penalties yet for wilful neglect and intentional cruelty to animals.

On May 16th, Justice Minister Irwin Cotler re-introduced the long awaited bill C–50 (formerly known as C-22) in the House of Commons “to reflect views of Canadians” on cruelty to animals. The legislation is intended to “modernize” Canada’s legal protection of animals by increasing penalties and no longer classifying animal cruelty as mere property crime.

“These amendments send a strong message that animal cruelty is about violence, and that is completely unacceptable,” said Cotler in a press release.

The amendment will include an increase on the current maximum fine of $2,000 for summary convictions up to $10,000. For the more serious indictable offences there will be no cap on fines.

The animal abuser will also be ordered to pay restitution to the animal welfare organization that cares for the abused animals.

Spokespersons for advocacy groups, animal rescue network groups and Humane societies generally agree that most abuse relating to animals is due to a lack of education, or prompted by financial and family woes or stress and anger, which is then redirected towards animals. .

“There’s a very strong connection between violence towards people and violence towards animals,” says Shelagh MacDonald, Program director for the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies. Psychologists and criminologists have largely recognized that many serial killers and murders began by abusing or torturing animals.

MacDonald says that the conviction rate for animal abusers remains extremely low.

“It is not easy to lay animal cruelty charges in this country and it is not easy to be successful,” She says.

Socially accepted practices such as de-clawing cats—which is increasingly perceive as cruelty—will be left out of the legislation, says Louise Hindle, coordinator of the cat rescue network. Factory farm practices such as over-crowded stalls and battery cages are also not covered by the legislation.

“We are fighting an uphill battle in the animal food production system,” says Stephanie Brown, Toronto spokesperson for the Canadian coalition for Farm Animals.

This is the fifth try in Parliament for an upgraded animal protection law since 1999. Animal advocacy groups complain of enormous frustration and needless wait for legislation they say is, “absolutely a good bill” and desperately needed.

“What’s the holdup? The only thing left to do is to pass it,” says Brown.

Sections of the criminal code which define what constitutes cruelty to animals would remain unchanged. The new legislation, if passed, will not affect Aboriginal hunting and fishing rights or the lawful use of animals for research.