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Michael Vick would walk in Canada

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The ongoing case of NFL… superstar Michael Vick’s involvement in a dogfighting ring leaves no question how Canadians feel about this violent activity. The continued press coverage and public outrage are a clear signal to lawmakers that dogfighting in any form should not be tolerated in this country.

Yet under the current Criminal Code, it is. And the federal government is supporting a bill that will allow dogfighting to continue.

Canada’s 115-year-old animal cruelty provisions of the Criminal Code currently only make it an offence to encourage, aid or assist in the fighting of dogs. But the reality is, it’s nearly impossible for police or SPCA… inspectors to catch involved individuals red-handed, in the middle of an organized dogfight.

More often, law enforcement officials track the obvious signs of a dogfighting operation, not unlike what was found in Michael Vick’s case: large number of pit-bull or similar type dogs, likely bearing scars; training equipment; and a paper trail that records bets for these events. Such evidence paints a pretty clear picture of what’s going on – but it’s not illegal in Canada.

In the wake of the Michael Vick case and other high-profile animal cruelty cases coast to coast, much has been written about our country’s dismal animal cruelty laws, and some recent initiatives to update the federal animal cruelty provisions of the Criminal Code.

There are currently two bills proposing changes to this law. One is a Private Member’s bill introduced by Ajax-Pickering MP Mark Holland, Bill C-373. It increases the penalties, and closes some gaping loopholes that have allowed too many animal abusers to escape prosecution in the last 115 years. Mark Holland’s Bill C-373 also increases penalties, provides added protection for law enforcement animals and, perhaps most importantly in this context, makes it an offence to train animals to fight other animals, and to receive funds from these “events.”

The second bill before Parliament is a private Senator’s bill called Bill S-213. It has already passed through the Senate and has passed second reading in the House of Commons. The House’s Justice committee is poised to study the bill this fall.

Simply put, all that Bill S-213 does is increase the admittedly pitiful penalties of the current law. It will maintain all the problems of the 115-year old law. And it will continue to mean that unless people like Michael Vick get caught WHILE… their dogs are actually fighting, they can’t be charged under the criminal code. And those who support this gruesome back-alley industry with their bets will continue to go unpunished.

But here’s the kicker: four years ago, all the parties in the House of Commons as well as dozens of animal use industry groups (representing farmers, wildlife groups and the scientific community) had supported a bill identical to Mark Holland’s. Only opposition from the Senate held it back until it died on the order paper.

Yet now, Canada’s New Government is choosing instead to support Bill S-213, despite surveys that clearly show widespread support for the provisions of Mark Holland’s bill… not to mention, the overwhelming opposition to dogfighting.

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