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Animal protection laws have a bite

By: Leslie Ballentine, Farming and food commentator

There is often confusion among the public on Canada’s laws governing the treatment of animals. That is understandable since animal protection is a mix of federal, provincial, and even municipal laws.  Added to the mix, in the case of farm animals, are the varying animal care requirements instituted by the farm and food community in recent years.

When it comes to animal protection, regulation is primarily a provincial matter, leaving it to each province or territory to decide how involved they want to be. The one consistency is the Criminal Code of Canada- which applies to all of Canada and all types of animals- plus the Meat Inspection Act and Health of Animals Act. The latter two are enforced by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency in each province. These three Acts focus on different aspects of the humane care of farm animals. 

The use of the Criminal Code has declined over recent years as provinces have gradually strengthened their own legislation on animal treatment.   And unlike provincial legislation the Criminal Code is not able to set regulations that would govern specific treatment of animals.  This is all well explained in a 2011 overview of current laws and regulations authored by Canada’s Farm Animal Councils, available on-line at:

One misconception is that farm animals are exempt from the law. In fact, all provinces have a law prohibiting anyone from causing or permitting an animal to be in distress as does the federal Criminal Code.  This prohibition applies to all domesticated animals whether pets or farm animals and in many jurisdictions applies to wild and feral animals too. Provincial laws also contain exemptions for generally accepted practices of animal husbandry and humane slaughter. So for example, branding cattle (a generally accepted practice) is not an offence, but starving them is. 

In most provinces the Society for the Protection of Animals (SPCA) is the agency responsible for enforcing animal protection legislation. In other provinces this authority rests with government agencies and in all provinces and territories police officers have the authority. Each province, under their respective provincial act, provides the named agency the right of investigation, inspection, and enforcement, under specified rules of conduct. In certain provinces, animal owners have avenues to appeal charges that they feel have been unfairly or inappropriately laid. 

Penalties for offences continue to vary widely in Canada. That is due in large part to the fact that provinces are only recently amending outdated legislation to reflect higher penalties for animal cruelty and neglect.  These can exceed penalties for similar crimes against humans in some jurisdictions and reach as high as $100,000 in fines and five years imprisonment. However, as amendments work their way through the legislative process it is anticipated that there will be less variation in penalties between provinces and with the recently updated Criminal Code. 

But the law can be a blunt instrument and just as with other enforcement agencies such as Children’s Services or Public Health, charges laid under animal protection laws may be used as a last resort. 

When animal cruelty occurs, the authorized agencies tend to work swiftly. However, it can sometimes be more effective, and better for the animals, to correct situations before animal protection laws are broken.

In many provinces, SPCA’s or named agencies work hand-in-hand with animal specialists to resolve animal care cases by working with animal owners. For example, provincial farm animal councils have established formalized systems and services to address reported cases of farm animal mistreatment or neglect.  While the farm animal councils do not have any legal authority they can and do have an influence on farm animal situtations before they become a case that needs intervention by enforcement agencies. As such, these services augment the law. 

Regardless of the kind of animal involved it is up to each of us to report incidents of animal abuse or neglect. The animals depend on us for that.

Until the Next Blog


Posted by OFAC on August 29th, 2011 :: Filed under Animal care,Animal cruelty,Misconceptions,Regulations
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One Response to “Animal protection laws have a bite”

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