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 Animals  Canada Project #9826

Animal Cruelty Legislation

by Humane Canada
Animal Cruelty Legislation
Animal Cruelty Legislation
Animal Cruelty Legislation
Animal Cruelty Legislation

Animal Welfare and Justice stakeholders, Canadian Parliamentarians and the Minister of Justice have acknowledged that the current state of animal protection legislation is lacking and that a more comprehensive view to protecting animals and vulnerable people is needed. However, two decades of experience shows that updating the Criminal Code in this regard is time consuming, difficult and a lightning rod for opposition. While a comprehensive update is desirable and necessary, Humane Canada and its partners propose a pragmatic and measured effort to make better use of the existing law with key, targeted updates to improve the state of the law in the near term.

Understanding the challenges of modernizing the Criminal Code, Humane Canada has undertaken a series of actions to support the administration of justice in this area by addressing non-legislative barriers to investigation and prosecution of animal-related offences, namely the creation of the National Centre for the Prosecution of Animal Cruelty (NCPAC) and the Canadian Violence Link Coalition. NCPAC brings together a forum of  Crown Attorneys who engage in training, share specialized information, and houses a database of case law that assists prosecutors in using the existing provisions of the Code effectively.

The Canadian Violence Link Coalition is a network s supported by a series of conferences that brings law enforcement, social services, academia, government and animal welfare professionals together to better understand and act on the linkages between cruelty to animals and violence against vulnerable people.  Recent studies in Canada confirm the high rate of co-existence of animal maltreatment and gender-based violence and the co-relation od animal abuse to the more severe forms of human abuse – both physical and sexual:

  • 89% of participants report their abusers engaged in animal abuse;
  • 65% report their abuser used physical harm to their animals to control, coerce or punish them;
  • 14.5% report their abuser killed their animals;
  • 56% of women who flee violence report delaying leaving their abusers due to concerns about the family pet;
  • 1/3 of those who do flee report returning to either check on the family pet or to move back in with the abuser because of the pet;
  • 82% of bestiality cases involve the sexual abuse of a child.

However, our social system and our criminal justice system still struggle to integrate these two forms of violence into a single response, which would result in a more effective and cost-effective way to prevent and reduce crime.


Changes to the Criminal Code should clarify provisions and provide more concrete protections. Ideally, a broader dialogue with the humane sector, law enforcement officials, Crown Prosecutors and social service providers can provide detailed guidance on pragmatic near-term measures that promote evidence-based decision-making and the sound administration of justice including but not limited to the following:

  1. Review of the Criminal Code animal cruelty provisions and more specifically addressing animal sentience, modernizing the neglect offence, rationalizing penalties and allowing for the disposition of seized animals.
  2. Increase the effectiveness of the Criminal Code in recognizing the links between crimes against people and crimes against animals by including animals as victims in Section 2 and adding animal cruelty as an aggravating feature of other offences.
  3. Identifying resources to enable training for enforcement, crown and judiciary on animal crimes and the links to human crimes.
  4. Reviewing and appropriately updating data collection systems to ensure there is adequate data on animal crimes and violent crimes including a requirement for cross reporting between child protection and animal protection agencies.
  5. Recognition of the direct links between animal crimes and interpersonal violence and the inclusion of animal protection experts in consultations and the development of strategies to prevent and address gender-based violence.
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The woman at the heart of Canada’s largest animal neglect case, was sentenced this month receiving a lifetime ban on owning animals in Alberta. She pled guilty to 4 four counts of causing an animal to be in distress under the Alberta Animal Protection Act - even though she was charged with 13 provincial offences and 1 criminal offence.

Sadly this was not her first offence……

In 2007, 36 dogs were seized from her care in Fort McMurray, Alberta.

In 2010 she was convicted of non-criminal neglect under the Saskatchewan’s Animal Protection Act after 83 dogs were seized from her property in Foam Lake, Saskatchewan. She was handed a 10 year ban from owning more than two dogs in Saskatchewan. That ban expires in 2020.

Ms. Irving then moved to Milk River, Alberta where in 2014, 201 dogs were seized in Canada’s largest animal neglect case in history.  The animals were found dehydrated, starving and chained in the yard. 

This case is a clear example of the impact of weak federal animal cruelty legislation. Unfortunately, without a federal Criminal Code conviction Ms. Irving will not have a criminal record that follows her across the country or a nation wide lifetime ban on owning, caring for or living with an animal. In other words, there is nothing stopping her from moving to another province and starting all over again.

The issue at stake is that the Criminal Code is outdated with regards to the crime of neglect. The term “willful neglect” dates back to the 1800s and requires proof that someone deliberately neglected an animal. As a result, Prosecutors will often charge offenders under provincial legislation which has been adequately updated in the last 20 years as the likelihood of conviction is higher.

The modernized offence that aligns with every other section in the Criminal Code is “gross negligence” which requires proof that there was a marked departure from a reasonable standard of care and an animal has unnecessarily suffered. In the April Irving case, there’s an abundance of evidence that she deviated from the standard practice of caring for dogs.

Without Criminal Code charges, the result is a patchwork of laws, repeat offenders and animal suffering. This is why Humane Canada is pressing for changes to the Criminal Code to ensure cases like these don’t fall through the cracks.

Canada must also address the issue of tracking those convicted of abusing animals. By tracking these crimes and the offenders who commit them we give police forces a powerful tool to protect the most vulnerable in our society whether animal or human.  Humane Canada has been working with police forces in Canada to assess the current reporting and tracking systems to determine how to integrate animal cruelty considerations into them.  Together we can make our communities safer.

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December 3rd is Giving Tuesday and Global Giving is giving us a chance to increase our impact by providing up to $500,000.00 in matching dollars to participating organizations based on their fundraising total for the day.  How much we earn depends on how much our donors give to help us in our projects.

We recently launched a cross Canada survey about the priorities for animal welfare and the top 3 were picked:

1. Support the re-introduction of Bill S-214 (ban on cosmetic testing on animals)

2. Create an all-party Animal Welfare Law Review Committee to review all existing animal welfare protections and how they can be enhanced to improve the quality of life of animals in Canada

3. Provide funding to strengthen Canada's legal system's response to anmal cruelty through training for enforcement officers, Crown Prosecutors and judges on animal crimes.

2019 was one of the most successful years in recent times on the legislative front and we want to keep that momentum going.  We are already working with the Minister of Justice’s office around the next steps for the criminal code and we have been asked to consult with Australia on a bill outlawing the captivity of whales and dolphins.

Your support is making meaningful change happen not only here but around the world and we hope we can continue to count on that support.  Please consider making a gift on Giving Tuesday to take advantage of matching funds from Global Giving.

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We have a new federal government in Canada that is at work to develop priorities for the next four years. During the election period, we shared Humane Canada's election platform with candidates to help inform them about the important animal welfare issues in our country. Now we need to let our Members of Parliament (MP) know that their constituents expect animal welfare to be a priority. 

Please take a moment to tell us your top three animal welfare priorities. We'll share your priorities with our newly elected MPs and the Federal Government.  

Humane Canada successfully works across party lines to advance animal welfare legislation. We will continue to build on the critical advances we made earlier this year. Please tell us what issues are most important to you, and we'll make sure to ask the new federal government for the most urgent changes first.

Take part in the survey here


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Humane Canada created the following recommendations as a guide to action that can be taken to create a more humane Canada.  With a federal election underway in Canada we are working to ensure that the next government has these issues on their radar and that we will have a plan for action once the government is elected.

Instrumental to creating a humane Canada is federal legislation that protects animals from cruelty and provides a framework to ensure animals are treated humanely and with respect. In many areas, our laws are significantly out of date, and lag behind the international community. When Canadians are polled on these issues, there is overwhelming support for taking action to treat animals more humanely. Support for treating animals humanely is particularly strong among millennials and younger Canadians.


  • Establish federal leadership on animal welfare by overseeing coordination of all animal-related laws, including the Criminal Code, federal requirements for transport and slaughter, Food and Drugs Act, Fisheries Act, Species at Risk Act, other federal environmental laws, and provincial and territorial laws. Convene an all-party parliamentary Animal Welfare Legislation Review Committee to review all existing animal protections and how they can be coordinated and enhanced to improve the quality of life of animals. The committee would deliver its recommendations to Parliament, and propose national animal protection legislation to implement the committee’s recommendations.
  • Provide funding dollars to strengthen the Criminal Justice System’s response to animal cruelty through training for enforcement officers, crown prosecutors and the judiciary on animal crimes and the direct links to improve community safety and reduce societal violence and vulnerability.
  • Support the re-introduction of Bill S-214 (ban on cosmetic testing on animals) as a government bill.
  • Ensure that all emergency management and response includes animals.
  • Ensure ongoing democratic discourse, public consultation and debate regarding the ethics of use of animals is integrated in the legal system, by creating an advisory body to the federal government with representation of provinces, territories, animal welfare non-governmental organizations, industry, scientists, veterinarians, indigenous organizations.
  • Create a ministry or interdepartmental group (including, for example, Departments of Agriculture, Justice, Public Safety, Science) as the central hub of animal welfare in federal government.
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Organization Information

Humane Canada

Location: Ottawa, ON - Canada
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @humanecanada
Project Leader:
Barbara Cartwright
Ottawa, ON Canada
$6,678 raised of $9,000 goal
166 donations
$2,322 to go
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