Commonly asked questions about the amendments
These questions are posed relevant to Bill C-229, but would also apply to all the bills proposed in the House of Commons to amend the animal cruelty sections of the Criminal Code since 1999.
- I am an avid hunter and also enjoy fishing. Will this legislation make hunting and fishing an animal cruelty offence?
- Will boiling a live lobster be considered an animal cruelty offence?
- Will removing animals from the property section give animals rights and elevate them to human status?
- Is it true that it is not currently an offence to kill a stray animal?
- Why are animal welfare groups so concerned with the wording of “wilful neglect” in the current legislation?*
- Shouldn’t industry groups such as farmers and slaughterhouses be exempt from animal cruelty laws?
- When was the current legislation enacted? Why is there a need for new legislation anyway?
- I have heard that amendments to the current animal cruelty legislation contained in Bill C-229 will result in animal rights activists carrying out private prosecutions against hunters, anglers, farmers, and other animal users.
- What animals are currently protected under animal cruelty legislation?
1. I am an avid hunter and also enjoy fishing. Will this legislation make hunting and fishing an animal cruelty offence?
No, it will not. This bill would make it an offence to kill any animal “without lawful excuse.” Activities such as hunting, fishing, trapping, farming and scientific research are all lawful activities. Therefore, they fall clearly under the term “lawful excuse”. It is important to remember that this bill addresses intentional, reckless or criminally negligent cruelty and suffering inflicted on animals; it does not make lawful activities criminal.
2. Will boiling a live lobster be considered an animal cruelty offence?
No, Bill C-229 defines an animal as “a vertebrate, other than a human being,” and lobsters are not vertebrates. Science has not shown that invertebrates (except cephalopods) feel pain.
3. Will removing animals from the property section give animals rights and elevate them to human status?
No. Instead, creating a new section in the Criminal Code for animal cruelty offences would ensure that the law reflects the principle upon which it was built – the capacity of an animal to feel pain and the need for a prohibition against the infliction of unnecessary pain and suffering. As such, moving animal cruelty offences out of the property section of the Criminal Code would better reflect modern Canadian values. Additionally, under the current law, justice officials often fail to treat animal cruelty offences with appropriate severity as such offences are viewed merely as property crimes instead of violence against a sentient, living being.
It should be noted that moving animal cruelty offences out of the property section does NOT impact on the ownership of animals in society. Animals will continue to be purchased and sold and, therefore, owned. In fact, Bill C-229 continues to refer to owners of animals.
Finally, removing cruelty to animals from the property section does not remove any of the common law defenses available and applicable to animal users. Section 8(3) of the Criminal Code states that the common law defenses of “legal justification”, “lawful excuse” and others apply to the entire Criminal Code.
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4. Is it true that it is not currently an offence to kill a stray animal?
Correct. Current animal cruelty legislation offers virtually less protection for wild or stray animals than for owned animals. Contrastingly, Bill C-229 applies to all vertebrates equally whether they are owned or not.
5. Why are animal welfare groups so concerned with the wording of “wilful neglect” in the current legislation?
Under current legislation, crimes of neglect are extremely difficult to punish appropriately. The wording of the current neglect offence uses the term “wilful neglect”, which requires proof of a person’s intent. The requirement to prove that a person intended to neglect his or her animals makes it extremely difficult to successfully prosecute. For example, a Saskatchewan farmer allowed more than 30 of his sheep to starve to death and his other animals were emaciated. However, despite repeated interventions by the SPCA, the judge found him not guilty of willful neglect as he did not feel that the farmer intended to starve his animals.
Bill C-227 introduces the term ‘negligent’ instead and defines it as “departing markedly from the standard of care that a reasonable person would use.” Removing the requirement of intent would enable judges to more readily prosecute those accused of seriously neglecting their animals and inflicting unnecessary suffering.
6. Shouldn’t industry groups such as farmers and slaughterhouses be exempt from animal cruelty laws?
No. Just as police officers and hockey players are not exempt from criminal assault laws, animal users should not be exempt from cruelty laws. No particular group of people should be exempt from the Criminal Code. Industry groups are still responsible for using a reasonable standard of care when handling animals and ensuring that no “unnecessary suffering” occurs.
“Lawful excuse” permits the pursuit of lawful activities such as hunting, fishing, trapping and farming. The current legislation has not been used to prosecute standard industry practices and there is nothing in the proposed legislation that would change that.
It is important to note that the concept of “unnecessary suffering” inherently permits causing substantial pain to animals as a defense if it was necessary to do so to achieve a lawful purpose, as confirmed by the Supreme Court case of R. v. Menard.
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7. When was the current legislation enacted? Why is there a need for new legislation anyway?
The current animal cruelty legislation was originally enacted in 1892, with only minimal revisions to date. It is shameful that in a country as progressive as Canada we allow violent, brutal animal cruelty cases to be inadequately addressed by a piece of legislation that has not seen a significant revision since its inception 117 years ago.
There are some serious deficiencies with the archaic language of the current legislation that prevent abusive acts towards animals from being prosecuted. The current law considers animals as property; offers less protection for stray or wild animals; applies differently to different types of animals; makes it very difficult to prosecute cases of animal neglect; and does not make it an offence to kill animals brutally or viciously. Because animal cruelty crimes are currently property offences no different than vandalism to your car, the courts don’t treat them seriously enough.
8. I have heard that amendments to the current animal cruelty legislation contained in Bill C-229 will result in animal rights activists carrying out private prosecutions against hunters, anglers, farmers, and other animal users.
This is an unfortunate misconception. The fact is, animal rights groups do not have the authority to bring criminal prosecutions the way humane societies and SPCAs do, in conjunction with the police. The only way animal rights groups can bring charges is as private prosecutions and private prosecutions in Canada must be scrutinized by a Crown Prosecutor and a Provincial Court Judge. It is the responsibility of the Crown Prosecutor and Judge to prevent frivolous prosecutions from proceeding, to ensure that charges only proceed when it is in the best interests of society, and only when the case has a reasonable chance of being successful. It should be noted that this process all occurs before an accused person is even notified, so he or she would not incur any legal costs. Additionally, it is an offence to bring forward frivolous prosecutions.
9. What animals are currently protected under animal cruelty legislation?
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Current animal cruelty legislation contains no definition of an animal. It refers to different animals and protects them differently. For example, the current law contains a separate section and separate offences for cattle, and also refers to dogs, birds and “other animals.” Bill C-229 defines an animal as “a vertebrate, other than a human being” and applies to all animals equally. Current legislation offers less protection for strays or wildlife than for owned animals.