A proposed update to Canada’s animal cruelty legislation has stirred controversy between supporters of the bill and those concerned over its effects on traditional animal practices.
Liberal MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith brought the bill forward in February.
“I’ve always cared about animal welfare,” he says. “My mother instilled in me a deep respect and compassion for animals,” he says.
The act will ban the importation of shark fins, the use of dog and cat fur and require all fur products to be properly labelled. It also adds new provisions to the Criminal Code around animal abuse specifically, the definition of bestiality, animal fighting and creating a gross negligence offence.
Many animal rights groups have endorsed and put their support behind the bill including Animal Justice, a Canadian animal law group that met with Smith early on in the preparation of the bill and whose political arm helped him campaign in the last election.
Camille Labchuck, executive director of Animal Justice, a law group specializing in animal laws says the bill is “a much needed update to the Criminal Code.”
“In our view, it is a national tragedy that Canada has such weak animal cruelty legislation,” she says
“The current penalties that are in place are fine, but the problem is with prosecution and ensuring that the laws we have are strong enough so that prosecutors can get convictions and so that they’ll lay charges and prosecute in the first place.”
The proposed changes to the code will move offences against animals from the section that deals with offences against property to a separate section for offences against animals and adds a clause against recklessly harming an animal.
The bill hasn’t been without its critics. Conservative MP Robert Sopuck says the bill is more about animal rights than animal cruelty. “Animal welfare is all about how we treat animals,” he says.
“Animal rights is another concept altogether where there are a number of groups who want to move so that animals are given almost the same rights as human beings have.”
“In our view, it is a national tragedy that Canada has such weak animal cruelty legislation,” — Camille Labchuck, executive director of Animal Justice.
The lack of exemptions in the act for traditional animal uses such as farming, hunting and fishing have also concerned groups like the Ontario Federation of Hunters and Anglers (OFAH) and the Ontario Federation of Agriculture.
Greg Farrant, OFAH’s manager of government affairs and policy says that the bill in its current form “removes the protections for legal and lawful activities provided for under the Criminal Code currently.”
OFAH’s concern is that it will affect hunting, fishing and farming.
Farrant says his organization has no concern with the majority of the bill, but the issue lies in animal use.
“Legitimate animal cruelty issues that are in this bill such as shark finning, bestiality, illegal puppy mills and textiles we have no problem with,” says Farrant.
Erskine-Smith says he has heard critics’ issues with the bill. He plans to make changes in committee.
His proposed changes will deal with the property section of the bill and the language around brutal and vicious killing.
Erskine-Smith maintains the bill wasn’t designed to change farming and/or hunting practices.
“If this were to go to committee, we would have lawyers testify and they would say categorically that these changes would not affect hunting, fishing and farming.”
The vote to send the bill to committee is on Oct.5.
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