Thank you, Mr. Chairman and committee members, for fitting consideration of Bill S-203 into your busy agenda.
This is a very straightforward bill. It amends the sections of the Criminal Code that deal with cruelty to animals to increase the maximum penalties that a court may impose for the offences set out there. In doing this, the bill responds to the most serious deficiency in our criminal law for the protection of animals by providing enforcement officers, prosecutors, and courts with access to penalties up to levels the offences warrant and Canadians expect, which act as substantial deterrents to those who would commit these terrible acts of animal cruelty.
Under the existing Criminal Code, all animal cruelty offences, with one exception, are punishable only on summary conviction. The maximum penalties that may be ordered by a court are limited to a fine of $2,000 and/or six months' imprisonment. The one exception relates to killing, poisoning, or maiming cattle, which is an indictable offence punishable by imprisonment of up to five years.
There is a broad consensus that these penalties are not adequate. They do not reflect the seriousness with which Canadians view these crimes today, and they do not present an effective deterrent. This is what Bill S-203 addresses. It seeks to fix the most serious deficiencies in the law as it stands now.
There is significant support for this bill from various and varied stakeholders. There is also opposition from some animal rights lobby groups, some humane societies, and some individuals, but I believe I can safely say that no one is opposed to what is in this bill. Any opposition relates to what is not in this bill, and as you are all aware, this bill does not prevent those who desire to create a more ambitious and comprehensive regime from pursuing their goals.
I will very briefly describe the provisions of the bill and the changes they would effect.
First, each of the offences would become a hybrid offence, allowing for the prosecutor to decide, on the basis of the seriousness and the circumstances of that particular case, whether to proceed by way of indictment or summary conviction.
Right now, only injuring or endangering cattle can proceed by way of indictment. All the other animal cruelty offences are at the exact opposite end of the spectrum. They may be prosecuted only under summary conviction, which in our system, as you are well aware, is generally reserved for less serious offences. This in itself sends the wrong message. Bill S-203 would correct this and make all of the animal cruelty offences hybrid ones.
The bill does not create any new offences. I repeat, this bill does not create any new offences. That was an important principle during the drafting of the bill. The goal was to keep things as simple and straightforward as possible.
You may then be surprised to see a new proposed section 445.1 in this bill and to note that the language of proposed sections 445.1 and 446 does not precisely recreate the existing language in section 446. This reflects the fact that in setting out the new penalties, the bill distinguishes between situations in which animals are injured intentionally or recklessly, and situations in which they are injured by neglect. As you know, our criminal law and justice system generally makes a distinction between acts that are done intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly and situations of negligence. This is reflected in the penalty structure proposed in Bill S-203.
In brief, for those offences involving intention or recklessness and also for the offence of causing pain, suffering, or injury by failing to provide reasonable care, the maximum penalty would be increased to five years' imprisonment on indictment, or 18 months' imprisonment and/or a fine of $10,000 on summary conviction.
For other animal cruelty offences, the bill would raise the maximum penalty to two years' imprisonment on indictment. Where the prosecution elects to proceed by summary conviction, the maximum fine would be increased to $5,000 from the current $2,000 and the maximum imprisonment would remain at six months.
These penalties are drawn from those set out in previous bills prepared by the Department of Justice. They were based on a comprehensive comparative examination of animal cruelty statutes in other jurisdictions as well as a comparative analysis of similar types of offences under the Criminal Code conducted by the Department of Justice.
Under subsection 446(5) of the Criminal Code, a court today is authorized to make an order prohibiting an accused from owning or having custody and control of an animal or a bird for a period of up to a maximum of two years. This two-year limit as been recognized as inadequate. Bill S-203 would take away the cap, and in fact it provides that in the case of a second or subsequent offence any order made by a court must be for a minimum of five years. This is the proposed new paragraph 447.1(1)(a), which I mentioned earlier.
Finally, the bill contains a new provision authorizing the court to order the accused to pay reasonable compensation to a person or organization. This most often arises with animal welfare agencies who cared for the animals that were injured. That is proposed new paragraph 447.1(1)(b).
I have one final point before I conclude. Aboriginal rights, under section 35 of the Constitution, protecting traditional hunting, fishing, and trapping methods are unaffected by this bill. Indeed, aboriginal members of the Senate participated in the development of this bill, and they worked to ensure that the bill meets aboriginal concerns.
Mr. Chairman, that is my very brief overview of this bill. It is a short bill, but I believe it will go a long way to help address a serious problem with the Criminal Code as it now stands. A series of attempts by different governments over the past 10-plus years have failed to pass Parliament. If that situation continues into the future, the modest amendments in Bill S-203, if adopted, will allow the courts to punish offenders as the offences warrant and will work to protect the animals until such time as a new and more sophisticated regime is enacted.
Mr. Chairman, I would like to end by quoting Donald Piragoff, senior assistant deputy minister, Department of Justice, who testified before the Senate legal and constitutional affairs committee. After describing the provisions of the bill, which was Bill S-213 then and is now Bill S-203, he continued, and I quote, “Together they constitute a significant improvement to the current law regarding sentencing and one with which all Canadians would agree.”
Thank you for your attention.
As I was saying, the program I was referring to is composed of the guidelines, policies, and assessment standards of the Canadian Council on Animal Care. The CCAC policy statement, entitled “Ethics of Animal Investigation”, provides for the use of animals in research, teaching, and testing only if it promises to contribute to the understanding of fundamental biological principles or to the development of knowledge that can reasonably be expected to benefit humans or animals. Researchers must use the most humane methods on the smallest number of appropriate animals required to obtain valid information.
CCAC standards are adhered to by every Canadian university that is engaged in animal-based research. Indeed, compliance with these standards is an absolute requirement of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research which support the great majority of federally funded research involving animals undertaken in our universities. AUCC member universities have themselves extended that requirement to include all of their animal-based research regardless of the source of funding. The CCAC standard is held in such high esteem in Canada and internationally that federal research departments and private sector companies and laboratories involved in animal-based research and testing have determined that it is in their interests to participate voluntarily in the assessment program, and on the international scene, other countries have emulated the program.
My colleague Dr. Tasker is very well placed to respond to questions about both the use of animals in medical research and the Canadian system of oversight that governs university researchers. As a former chair and member of the executive of CCAC, he is very familiar with its policies and guidelines. In addition, he has been a federally funded medical researcher for over 20 years.
As one example of his work, he and colleagues at the University of Prince Edward Island conducted research involving the use of laboratory rats that led to the creation of a unique animal model that helps scientists understand the progressive changes in brain development and function that lead to epileptic seizures and other forms of human brain dysfunction.
AUCC supports the intent of amendments to the Criminal Code to ensure that animals are properly protected from negligence or intentional cruelty. We note, however, that past efforts at amending this area of the Code have been the subject of considerable controversy.
In particular, AUCC has been concerned about the inclusion in some previous bills of vague and undefined terminology that was open to subjective interpretation. We were also concerned about the uncertain impact of previous proposals to move the cruelty to animal offences from part 11 of the code, “Wilful and Forbidden Acts in Respect of Certain Property”, to a newly created part 5.1 of the code, “Cruelty to Animals”.
If implemented, such changes could have led to unfounded allegations of misconduct against universities and university researchers, and frivolous and unwarranted private prosecutions under the Criminal Code by individuals and organizations for whom no use of animals in research is acceptable. These prosecutions could result in significant financial costs and serious damage to the reputation of universities and to individual faculty members who are conducting important animal-based teaching and research in a highly ethical and responsible manner.
Bill is sensitive to the concerns we have expressed. The bill represents a carefully tailored and reasoned solution that achieves the important goal of better protecting animals from negligence and abuse through the enactment of significant and appropriate increases in the penalties applicable to such offences while avoiding possible unintended consequences for university research.
AUCC endorses the considered approach of this bill, and we respectfully urge the committee members to support its passage.
Thank you again, Mr. Chairman, for providing us with the opportunity to convey the views of AUCC and its members on this important matter. Dr. Tasker and I would be pleased to respond to your questions and to those of the members of the committee.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
I'd also like to thank the committee for the opportunity to address Bill S-203, which was first introduced as Bill S-24 by Senator Bryden in February 2005.
I'm here today to represent a national coalition of animal-based communities that provide Canadians with food, clothing, and advances in medical research. Our 16-member coalition recognizes that our use of animals for human benefit is a privilege, and our constituents are committed to ensuring that animals are humanely treated and responsibly used.
We also believe that all animals deserve protection under the law. We have consistently endorsed in principle the effort to modernize the animal cruelty provisions in the Criminal Code, ever since amendments to the law were first proposed in 1998. Our active involvement in this debate has been limited to ensuring that any changes to the law do not threaten the rights or the interests of those who legally use animals in a responsible manner.
As you know, numerous attempts to pass legislative amendments to the animal cruelty provisions have failed. The criticisms raised in the past primarily focused on amendments that were shown to pose serious legal and practical concerns for those Canadians engaged in lawful activities involving animals. Many of those concerns were resolved with each consecutive bill. Some concerns remain, however, and disagreement persists over further changes that would help clarify the intent and the application of a very different law from the one that exists today. As a result, more than eight years have passed, and the legislation remains unchanged.
The purpose of our presentation today is to provide you with our perspective on Bill S-203 and to outline our reasoning for endorsing this bill. The bill proposes three amendments to the current animal cruelty provisions. All are penalty enhancements to the current sentencing provisions and respond to an identified concern with the present law. These enhancements are also identical to those proposed in every bill that has been introduced over the past eight years.
While there remain strong disagreements with other aspects of previous legislative amendments, there is overwhelming agreement among all parties that the low maximum penalties for cruelty are inadequate both to denounce the animal cruelty as unacceptable and to punish deliberate acts of cruelty when they do occur. In this regard, our coalition shares the same view as others who are presenting before you. We have consistently supported the proposed increase in penalties for those who abuse animals. This is in keeping with the view of all concerned Canadians, whether they're pet owners, professional associations, legitimate animal protection agencies, judges, or government.
We endorse Bill S-203 for the following reasons.
First, it broadens the offences for animal cruelty by creating two levels of charges that would apply to all animals and that may be used selectively by prosecutors to better reflect the seriousness of the crime. Second, it increases the sentencing penalties that may be imposed by substantially increasing maximum fines and jail time. It also removes the current limitation on animal possession that can be applied against offenders; this includes lifetime bans for repeat offenders. And the bill includes a new provision that would allow the court to order offenders to pay compensation to agencies or individuals who provide care for the animals involved.
Our coalition is in full agreement with Justice Canada officials who believe this bill is straightforward and a significant improvement to the current law. According to testimony given November 9, 2006, by the senior assistant deputy minister for the Department of Justice to the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs: “The purpose of this bill seems straightforward. It is designed to amend the sections of the Criminal Code of Canada dealing with cruelty to animals to increase the penalties for the offences found there.” He went on to say that the three amendments together constitute a significant improvement to the current law regarding sentencing, one with which all Canadians would agree.
Our coalition also agrees with the Senate and Department of Justice officials that this bill does not preclude the future introduction of further amendments to the Criminal Code by the federal government.
We also concur with their assessment that passage of the bill would immediately address the issue of penalty enhancement, an issue that has been allowed to continue for more than eight years of debate. Given the long history and controversy behind attempted amendments to the law, it is the view of our coalition that incremental improvements are preferred to no improvements at all. Moreover, we believe that poorly written laws are no substitute for inadequacies in the current law.
We recognize that there is opposition to this bill because of what it does not do. It is fair to say that all parties would agree that Bill S-203 is less ambitious than its predecessors; however, based on the evidence at our disposal, I would say some of this opposition is built on a false understanding of the existing provisions. This view is shared by a former Ontario cruelty investigator, as outlined in an additional piece of evidence that the clerk has given to you today.
A common and repeated argument is that the current law does not apply to unowned animals such as stray and wild animals. This is untrue, as our attached evidence shows. Furthermore, this view is not shared by Justice Canada officials, as evidenced in their testimony to the Senate committee. During questioning it was clearly explained that the most frequently charged offence--in paragraph 446(1)(a)--of causing unnecessary pain, suffering, or injury to an animal is not limited to kept or owned animals.
Based on this interpretation, it would appear that the fault lies more in the application of the law than in the law itself. And by this we mean that there is every reason for successful prosecutions against cruelty to wild and stray animals when the proper charge is laid.
A lack of successful prosecutions is another reason that is cited for more expansive amendments than are covered under this bill. However, it should also be acknowledged that many of those cases may not have succeeded not because the courts would not address them, but because of a weakness in the evidence.
Statistics seem to indicate that charges and successful prosecutions are increasing, even under the current law. For example, the Province of Ontario relies more heavily on the Criminal Code than most other provinces that have their own provincial statutes. In 2004, 695 charges were laid by the Ontario SPCA--a record number, according to their annual report, and a sixfold increase over 2000. The OSPCA cites annual conviction rates ranging between 80% and 90%.
In our view, Bill S-203 would assist animal protection agencies by reducing their need to lay charges, since it offers much stronger deterrents plus stronger restrictions against repeat offenders.
In the meantime, sentencing judges across the country are frequently reported in the media as wanting to be able to deliver more severe punishments for the cases that come before them. As recently as March 2007, officials with the Ontario SPCA told the media that penalties for animal cruelty are too lenient and deserve a sober second look. The OSPCA's livestock inspector was quoted as saying, “We would like judges to have the flexibility to impose whatever sentence they feel is appropriate.” This is something that Bill S-203 would do.
The sentencing amendments proposed in the bill would help protect animals by acting as a stronger deterrent to those who would engage in intentional animal cruelty or wilful neglect. They would also provide enforcement agencies, prosecutors, and the courts with significantly enhanced tools to treat such crimes with the seriousness they deserve, and they would remove the current disparity between indictable offences for livestock and lesser summary offences for other types of animals, such as pets.
The Canadian public, when calling for changes to the Criminal Code provisions, have clearly indicated that their highest priority is to increase penalties. The constituents represented through our coalition have also consistently supported the need for legislation that would help to reduce animal cruelty and increase penalties for anyone who abuses animals.
It is our view that Bill S-203 provides the opportunity to deliver a long-awaited and widely demanded improvement to the current law. It is for this reason above all that our coalition endorses this bill.
The coalition appreciates the opportunity to appear once again before this committee and explain our support for a reasonable solution to a long-standing expectation.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Good afternoon, members of the standing committee. My name is John Drake. I'm this year's president of the Canadian Veterinary Medicine Association. That's the organization that represents Canada's 10,000 veterinarians. I'm also in a mixed-animal practice in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island.
Preventing animal cruelty and animal abuse is a top priority for the CVMA. To properly deal with these reprehensible crimes, and also to prevent and reduce related domestic and family violence, Canada needs effective and up-to-date animal cruelty legislation in the Criminal Code.
As you know, Canada's current animal cruelty legislation dates back to 1892. Bill S-203, which we've discussed already today, changes very little of what is deficient in this antiquated legislation. The key weaknesses in the Criminal Code dealing with animal cruelty are, one, inadequate penalties; two, different provisions for different species and no definition of an animal; three, treating animals as property; four, the use of the term “wilful neglect” as burden of proof for animal cruelty conviction; five, absence of provisions for dealing with brutal or vicious killings; and six, insufficient measures regarding animal fighting and training animals for fighting.
Bill S-203, unfortunately, focuses mainly on increasing penalties. While that's commendable, it is not enough to critically address the flaws in the current legislation that make enforcement very difficult. Less than 1% of animal cruelty complaints result in a guilty verdict. Increased penalties do little to act as a deterrent when the chances of conviction are so utterly remote. Bill S-203 falls far short in changing these outdated sections of the Criminal Code.
Let me give you an example. Many Canadians would be outraged if they realized the ex-NFL star Michael Vick, who was recently sentenced to a 23-month jail term on a federal dogfighting conspiracy charge in the United States, would not likely face similar charges in Canada for this kind of horrific activity. That is because the wording in the Criminal Code makes it an offence to encourage, aid, or assist at the fighting of animals or birds, with the evidence being that the accused was present at the fighting. Vick was successfully prosecuted in the U.S. even though he was not present at the fighting. If this case had occurred in Canada, under the current legislation or under Bill S-203, it's very likely he would not have been convicted.
In 2008, the way our society values and regards all animals has shifted dramatically from 116 years ago. Canadians no longer view animals simply as property, and they expect that those who abuse animals should be convicted first, punished appropriately, and have the privilege of animal ownership severely restricted. The human–animal bond is incredibly strong, and many companion animals are regarded as true family members. It just makes sense that our animal cruelty laws should reflect these fundamental changes.
The CVMA has always been a strong advocate for remedying the weaknesses in the Criminal Code regarding animal cruelty. We strongly believe that Bill , the private member's bill sponsored by , the most recent version of several earlier proposed bills, is a carefully crafted piece of legislation based on almost a decade of broad public and parliamentary consultation. Bill C-373 corrects the current deficiencies in the Criminal Code and it strikes an excellent balance between protection of animals and protection of lawful practices such as fishing, farming, hunting, trapping, and scientific research.
With me this afternoon is Dr. Alice Crook, coordinator of the Sir James Dunn Animal Welfare Centre at the Atlantic Veterinary College and a member of CVMA's animal welfare committee. I will now ask Dr. Crook to present CVMA's position and fully explain our reasons for opposing Bill S-203.
Yes, Mr. Chair, I was intending to go through and hit the highlights. I realize there isn't time to cover it all.
I'll give you a little bit about my background. In addition to being at the Atlantic Veterinary College now, with the Sir James Dunn Animal Welfare Centre, my background is in veterinary anesthesia at the Ontario Veterinary College and the Atlantic Veterinary College, and as a practitioner in Ontario and P.E.I.
As Dr. Drake said, the CVMA for a long time has been actively supporting efforts to amend the Criminal Code regarding cruelty to animals. With many other groups, we provided input into the justice department's consultation paper on crimes against animals, circulated in 1999.
I mention this because I believe Mr. Bryden mentioned that the bill was kind of thrown together. But I think there was extensive Canadian-wide consultation and support for the different versions. And as I think most of you know, in 2003 the bill was very widely supported, including by veterinarians, animal use groups, and the Canadian Council on Animal Care. I think it was Mr. Comartin who said that the contents of Bill C-373 have been passed twice by the House. So I think the former versions do have broad support.
Turning to page 5 of my brief, I was going to talk a little bit about animal abuse as part of the larger picture of violence in our society, which as veterinarians we take very seriously. I am not going to go into that in detail, but I encourage you to visit the CVMA website, which has information on animal abuse and the links with human violence.
The CVMA believes that amendments to the Criminal Code are essential to improve the ability to successfully prosecute offenders, thereby assisting humane societies and law enforcement agencies to deal more effectively with cases of animal abuse and hopefully help interrupt cycles of violence, of which cruelty to animals is one component.
We also went into the particular problem areas that we think are not addressed. Dr. Drake mentioned those already, so I think I will skip right over those and go to page 7, to the area of traditional uses of animals.
This is something that is coming up. People are mentioning the concern that Bill C-373 would raise too many questions and that the former versions raise too many questions.
Actually--sorry, I don't want to confuse you, but I'm trying to condense everything here--I'd like to first mention wilful neglect.
One of our main concerns is that wilful neglect is not addressed in Bill S-203. We recognize that there is a dire need to increase penalties, and we fully support that. We don't have any problem with the levels of penalties that Bill C-203 proposes, but we do recognize that the vast majority of cases do not achieve successful prosecution.
A previous speaker mentioned the OSPCA having 80% to 90% success rates, but that's totally out of line with other reports I've seen. Our concern is that most cases of animal abuse are not successfully prosecuted. Wilful neglect is very much a problem area. The requirement to show proof that a person intended to neglect their animals makes it extremely difficult to prosecute cases of neglect, even in cases where dozens of animals have been starved to death.
I want to mention the example of Queen v. Russell, the Weyburn, Saskatchewan, case in which a number of calves died of starvation and malnutrition. In his decision of June 2000, the judge said there was no doubt that the accused were responsible, over a period of months, for cattle that were “clearly inadequately cared for with the result that some died of starvation....without doubt by a lack of adequate feed and care”. It's also mentioned in the transcript that there was evidence by experienced stock raisers that the practices being followed by the Russells were not accepted animal husbandry. The judge said there was no doubt that these animals were not receiving adequate feeding and care, but he ultimately dismissed the charges on the basis that the accused “didn't actually wilfully intend the cattle to die”.
So that's the problem with wilful neglect.
Now I'll go back to the traditional uses of animals. I'm guessing I have about four minutes left.
The main opposition to Bill and earlier versions comes from concerns that the proposed amendments will have a negative impact on legitimate activities that involve animals, such as hunting, farming, and medical or scientific research.
The following excerpts are from the justice department's aid to interpretation of the bill from April 2007:
||The amendments [in the legislation] will not alter or criminalize any activity which is otherwise regulated or authorized by federal or provincial legislation or applicable codes of practice, such as normal agricultural practices, hunting, fishing, trapping, ritual slaughter, animal research, or food production.
So people carrying out these activities would not be subject to prosecution unless they are wilfully doing cruel things to animals, well outside of standard practices.
The only way that animal rights activists could attempt to bring charges against law-abiding anglers, hunters, trappers, farmers, and animal researchers would be through private prosecution. But the legislation makes animal crimes hybrid offences, as we've already established, and these are subject to a screening process that requires a much greater involvement of the crown prosecutors at the very early stages in private prosecution. These screening processes, which take place before an accused person is even notified, would prevent frivolous prosecutions from proceeding.
The protection of standard practices is actually made more explicit in Bill than in current legislation or in Bill S-203, because Bill C-373 includes the phrases “wilfully or recklessly” and “without lawful excuse” in the section regarding the killing, injuring, or poisoning of an animal. In addition, proposed sections 182.5 and 182.6 have been included in Bill C-373 to explicitly confirm common law defence and aboriginal rights.
In conclusion, we all agree that it's essential to increase the penalties for animal cruelty. The CVMA firmly believes, however, that increased penalties will make little difference if the new legislation does not also address the fundamental flaws in the current legislation that make enforcement difficult or impossible.
We respectfully submit that it does not make good jurisprudential sense to re-enact legislation largely unchanged that is over 100 years old. Therefore, we urge the standing committee to reject the amendments in Bill S-203 as inadequate.
Alternative legislation that has been carefully crafted and reviewed is proposed in Bill. It addresses the flaws in the current legislation and also increases penalties. The CVMA recommends that the standing committee support reintroduction of the amendments embodied in the widely supported former Bill C-50, the current version of which is Bill C-373. We believe such legislation would provide significant new protection for animals much more effectively than Bill S-203 and would not jeopardize accepted and recognized practices in the use of animals.
Veterinary practitioners are often the first professionals to examine an abused animal. It is part of our responsibility as veterinarians to protect that animal from further abuse. Effective legislation is an important tool to help all those who deal with the abuse of animals, including humane societies and law enforcement agencies. It is also very important to acknowledge the overwhelming evidence of a direct link between abuse of animals and violence towards people, especially other members of the family. Legislation that deals more effectively with cruelty to animals may help play a role in breaking the cycles of violence in our communities.
The Canadian Veterinary Medical Association has actively supported efforts to amend the Criminal Code regarding cruelty to animals since 1998. We appreciate the opportunity to provide input on Bill S-203. The CVMA believes that the proposed Bill S-203 does not adequately address the urgent need to provide better protection for animals against cruelty. Instead, the CVMA supports Bill C-373, which is a reintroduction of the bill last known as Bill C-50.
History of CVMA involvement with animal cruelty legislation
The CVMA has been actively supporting efforts to amend the Criminal Code regarding cruelty to animals since 1998. At that time, along with many other groups, the CVMA provided input to the justice department’s Consultation Paper on Crimes Against Animals, which was circulated in September 1998 as a result of an extensive national consultation on the issue of cruelty to animals and associated domestic violence in Canada.
The CVMA carefully studied Bill C-17, the animal cruelty legislation introduced by then Justice Minister Anne McLellan in December 1999 following the consultation process. After thorough consideration, the CVMA decided to support the animal cruelty legislation, and has supported subsequent legislation, including the amendments that have been made at the House and Senate committee stages to strengthen and fine-tune it. In particular, CVMA expressed support for the legislation in a submission and oral presentation to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights on October 31, 2001; in a written submission to the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, December, 2002; and in a submission and oral presentation to the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, December 6, 2006.
The CVMA support for these amendments is based on several premises. Offences against animals should not be treated primarily as property offences, which has led to inadequate sanctions and a lack of deterrence for those committing animal abuse. The revised law should remove the onerous burden for the crown to prove wilful neglect, which has been one of the main barriers to successful prosecution in cases of animal neglect. The provisions on animal abuse should be simplified and consolidated, and all animals should be protected from all types of abuse identified under the Criminal Code, rather than different types of animals being treated differently, or not protected at all. Because these premises are not addressed in Bill S-203, CVMA cannot support this legislation.
Animal abuse as part of the larger picture of violence in our society
Animal abuse is an important social issue affecting animals, families, and communities. Animal welfare organizations, law enforcement agencies, and domestic violence and child welfare agencies are working together more and more in recognition of “the Link”, the indisputable tie between animal abuse and violence towards people. Researchers have recognized and documented that violence towards animals is both a component and a symptom of child, spousal, and elder abuse, as well as an indicator of the potential for increasing violence and dangerousness in offenders. For example, in a Canadian study (S. McIntosh, 2004) 56% of pet-owning women seeking refuge in women’s shelters in Calgary reported that their abuser had threatened or had harmed their pet. Of those women with children and pets, 65% believed the children were aware of the abuse and impacted by it.
Whether providing expert advice to the local humane authorities, visiting neglected farm animals, or treating an animal victim of violence, veterinarians are on the front lines of dealing with abuse. Animal abuse includes physical abuse (non-accidental injury), sexual abuse, emotional abuse, neglect, and staging animal fights. Veterinary practitioners are often the first professionals to examine an abused animal, are well trained in proper animal husbandry, and well equipped to recognized substandard care. Both to protect the animal and because the abuse may be a sentinel for other violence that is occurring within or outside the family, it is crucial that veterinarians deal effectively with instances of suspected animal maltreatment. The CVMA position statement on abuse (Appendix I) recognizes that veterinarians are in a position to observe occasions of animal abuse and have a moral obligation to report suspected cases1. For more information on animal abuse and the links with other violence, please see the CVMA website on animal abuse at http://canadianveterinarians.net/animal-abuse.aspx.
1The CVMA recognizes that any legal obligation to report abuse, or provisions of immunity from prosecution for veterinarians, is the jurisdiction of the provinces. As part of its initiative to address abuse, the CVMA encourages provincial veterinary medical associations to lobby their provincial governments to develop legislation to make mandatory the reporting of animal abuse by veterinarians, and to provide immunity to those who do so using their professional judgment and in good faith, as is the case for other health professionals.
The CVMA believes that amendments to the Criminal Code to strengthen animal cruelty legislation are essential to improve the ability to successfully prosecute offenders, thereby assisting humane societies and law enforcement agencies to deal more effectively with cases of animal abuse and, in turn, to help interrupt the cycles of human violence, of which cruelty to animals is one component.
Shortcomings of S-203
The sections of the Criminal Code dealing with animal cruelty, 444-447, were originally enacted in 1892, with some minor revisions in 1956. There is a dire need to increase penalties, as well as modify the out-of-date language that leaves some gaping loopholes, making it difficult, or impossible, to achieve successful prosecutions. However, other than including provisions for increased penalties, S-203 contains the same wording for offences as the current Criminal Code legislation. Thus, many of the problems with the current legislation are retained in Bill S-203, as outlined below.
[Information about Bill C-373 is included for comparison.]
1. Different protection for different animals
Bill S-203 maintains the outdated and confusing language of the original legislation, written in 1892. As well, S-203 protects different types of animals differently. Cattle are covered in a different section (444) from “dogs, birds or animals that are not cattle” (445).
2. Property section
S-203 maintains the animal cruelty provisions in the property section of the Criminal Code. This does not reflect current societal views that cruelty against animals is a crime in its own right, not merely a crime against property; nor does it recognize the important role that animals play in our lives, as companions, as service animals (e.g., seeing-eye dogs for the blind), and for many, as a much-loved member of the family. As veterinarians, we see the strength of the human-animal bond all the time and recognize that the relationship that owners have with their animals greatly exceeds the animal’s status as property.
Further, the CVMA believes that all animals should be afforded protection from abuse under law, regardless of their status as property. The basis for offering this protection is that all animals can experience pain, fear, and the aversion to painful stimuli. By maintaining the animal cruelty provisions in the property section, the law would seem to ignore unowned animals, whether they are feral or stray domestic species or wild animals or birds.
The CVMA believes that treating animal offences as property offences has resulted in inadequate sanctions and a lack of deterrence for those committing animal abuse.
[Bill C-373 moves cruelty to animals to a separate section of the Criminal Code, Part V.1: Cruelty to animals.]
3. Wilful neglect
S-203 maintains the wording of the current offence of wilful neglect. The requirement to show proof that a person intended to neglect their animals makes it extremely difficult to prosecute cases of neglect, even in horrendous cases where dozens of animals have been starved to death.
Example: Queen v. Russell, Weyburn, Saskatchewan, a case in which a number of calves died of starvation and malnutrition. In his decision (June 2000), the judge said there was no doubt that the accused were responsible for cattle, over a period of months, which were “clearly inadequately cared for with the result that some died of starvation…. without doubt by a lack of adequate feed and care”. The judge dismissed the charges, however, on the basis that the accused “didn’t actually wilfully intend the cattle to die”.
[Bill C-373 would replace ‘wilful neglect’ with ‘negligently failing to provide suitable and adequate…care’, and defines ‘negligently’ as “departing markedly from the standard of care that a reasonable person would use” (182.3.2).]
4. Killing an animal
S-203 maintains the wording of the current law under which it is an offence to kill an owned animal without lawful excuse. There are no provisions that apply to the killing of wild or stray animals.
[C-373 would make it an offence to kill any animal without lawful excuse (182.2.1.c). Examples of lawful excuse including hunting, fishing, farming, euthanasia, scientific research.]
5. Brutal and vicious
S-203 does not address brutally or viciously killing an animal as a form of violence. Society recognizes that particularly violent, heinous treatment of animals should be a criminal offence, whether or not the animal dies immediately. For example, several years ago two men were charged with beating their dog with a baseball bat but were not convicted because the dog died on the first blow.
[Bill C-373 introduces the offence of “killing an animal brutally or viciously, whether or not the animal dies immediately” (182.2.1.b).]
6. Fighting and training
S-203 does not make it an offence to train animals to fight other animals, nor to receive money for the fighting of animals. Society has a stake in addressing these issues, in part because these activities are commonly associated with organized crime.
[Bill C-373 would make it an offence to train an animal to fight, or to receive money for animal fighting and training (182.1.e-h).]
For further comparison of the current Criminal Code (cruelty to animals) with Bills S-203 and C-373, please see appendix I).
Traditional uses of animals
The main opposition to Bill C-373 and earlier versions comes from concerns that the proposed amendment will have a negative impact on legitimate activities that involve animals, such as hunting, farming, or medical and scientific research. These are regulated activities subject to specific rules and regulations and codes of practice. These are specific words and phrases in both the current Criminal Code legislation and in Bill C-373 that permit lawful activities such as farming, hunting, fishing, sealing, or scientific research to be carried out according to standard accepted practices.
The following excerpts are from the justice department’s “Aid to Interpretation of the Bill” (April 2000): “The amendments [in the legislation] will not alter or criminalize any activity which is otherwise regulated or authorized by federal or provincial legislation or applicable codes of practice, such as normal agricultural practices, hunting, fishing, trapping, ritual slaughter, animal research, or food production… The killing of animals in legitimate industries and activities is generally either authorized by law or pursuant to applicable codes of conduct which promote the most safe and humane methods reasonably designed to minimize stress and pain on the animal. … This would include common standards for the slaughter of animals for food, killing of wildlife for a variety of reasons, and euthanasia methods.”
Thus, people carrying out these activities would not be subject to prosecution, unless they are wilfully doing cruel things to animals well outside of standard practices. As well, the legislation makes animal crimes hybrid offences; these offences are subject to a screening process that exists to weed out frivolous prosecutions. The only way that animal rights activists could attempt to bring charges against law-abiding anglers, hunters, trappers, farmers, and animal researchers would be through private prosecutions. The screening process requires a much greater involvement of the crown prosecutor at the very early stages in private prosecutions of hybrid offences, as opposed to summary conviction offences. These screening processes--which take place before an accused person is even notified--would prevent frivolous prosecutions from proceeding. (Under the current Criminal Code, animal offences are summary conviction offences, except for crimes against cattle.)
The protection of standard practices is actually made more explicit in C-373 than in current legislation or in S-203. C-373 includes the phrases “wilfully or recklessly” and “without lawful excuse” in 182.2 regarding the killing, injuring, or poisoning of an animal. As well, sections 182.5 and 182.6 have been included in C-373 to explicitly confirm common law defences and aboriginal rights.
We all agree that it is essential to increase the penalties for animal cruelty. The CVMA firmly believes, however, that increased penalties will make little difference if the new legislation does not also address the fundamental flaws in the current legislation that make enforcement difficult, or impossible. We respectfully submit that it does not make good jurisprudential sense to re-enact legislation, largely unchanged, that is over 100 years old. Therefore we urge the Standing Committee to reject amendments in Bill S-203 as inadequate. Alternative legislation is proposed in C-373 that addresses the flaws of the current legislation and also increases penalties. The CVMA recommends that the standing committee support reintroduction of the amendments embodied in the widely supported former Bill C-50 (current version C-373). The CVMA believes such legislation would provide significant new protection for animals--much more effectively than S-203--while in no way jeopardizing recognized and accepted practices in the treatment and use of animals.
The Chair: I should remind the committee members that the clock has run out. It is 5:30 p.m. There is no opportunity for questioning unless the members desire to stay longer, but the presentations have been made and they're on the record.
What is the desire of the committee?