Monday, January 14, 2008

Animal cruelty law a joke

The Edmonton Sun - January 9, 2008


Aside from horrifying Canadians, the shocking case of the pet cat microwaved to death in an alleged Camrose burglary has once again exposed to the world our shameful animal cruelty laws.

The legislation hasn't changed in more than a century, since the Criminal Code was introduced in 1892. And despite valiant attempts by people like Ontario Liberal MP Mark Holland, whose private member's bill would reform the law, there are those who are content with half measures.

Consider the piece of futility that's Liberal Senator John Bryden's private member's bill. It would increase the penalties for animal abuse but would otherwise leave the antiquated 1892 legislation alone.

Bryden's bill would up the penalty for cruelty to animals to a maximum of five years in jail and unlimited fines for people convicted of indictable offences and a maximum of 18 months in jail and a $10,000 fine for summary, or less serious crimes.

But simply tacking harsher penalties on 19th-century legislation dotted with loopholes that hamper prosecutions does little to protect abused animals and underscores the absurdities of politics.

Over the course of a decade, the Liberals introduced various versions of an animal cruelty law but they all bit the dust because of election calls, prorogation of Parliament and political fence-sitting.

"Canada is so far behind other developed countries, you can't believe it," says Shelagh MacDonald, program director of the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies (CFHS).

"If you look at what other countries are doing with their animal cruelty legislation, (ours) is a joke."

The CFHS supports Holland's bill, which was generally supported by animal protection organizations and animal use groups when it was first introduced several years ago, says MacDonald.

Holland's proposed legislation, Bill C-373, would make it illegal to kill any animal without a lawful excuse. Only owned animals - not wildlife - are protected under current federal law. The bill would also increase penalties.

But Bryden's pathetic political baby, Bill S-203, is further along in the parliamentary process and is unfortunately supported by the Tories.

"We're very worried at this point. It will be an extremely sad day if S-203 passes," says MacDonald.

She adds it's ironic that Stephen Harper, whose family fosters cats, isn't behind Holland's bill. "He's fostering cats that most likely came from stray animals and yet he's supporting a bill that won't offer any protection to those stray animals."

The present century-old law makes it extremely difficult to prosecute crimes of neglect because it requires proof of intent, says MacDonald.

There have been numerous cases where dozens of animals have been starved to death over a long period of time and judges ruled that the farmers didn't intend to starve them, she points out.

Debate over the issue has reached absurd levels. In a position paper last year, for instance, the Canadian Sportfishing Industry Association said Holland's bill would have a "chilling" effect on anglers and hunters. It even suggested that a grandfather taking his grandchildren fishing could face criminal prosecution.

What nonsense. Under Holland's bill, people would only be prosecuted for killing animals without a lawful excuse. His bill clearly protects legitimate animal use activities like angling, hunting, farming and scientific research.

If Parliament passes Bryden's half measure of a bill, defenceless animals lose out.

Think about that the next time someone tortures a cat.

For more information on Bill C-373, please visit:

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