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What is considered animal cruelty under the law?

Unfortunately, most people have heard of at least one incident of animal cruelty in the last few months.

Whether it is puppy mills, dog races, animals being abused by individuals or groups or through abandonment or neglect, there are many ways in which animal cruelty can be displayed. Yet, what is the legal definition of animal cruelty?

The current law and animal cruelty

Animal cruelty is addressed under the Criminal Code of Canada. Currently, there are several sections in the code that forbid animal cruelty which include:

  • S. 444 which deals with injuring or endangering cattle;
  • S. 445 (1) which talks about injuring or endangering other animals, by which is meant domesticated animals like dogs, cats and birds;
  • S. 445.01 (1) which deals with killing or injuring certain animals, by which is meant animals used in law enforcement or a military animal;
  • S. 445. 1(1) which deals with causing unnecessary suffering to an animal or bird; and
  • S. 446(1) which deals with causing injury or damage to an animal or bird.

The penalties for breaking the above criminal laws range from paying a fine of no more than $10,000 to up to five years in prison, depending on the severity of the animal abuse.

There are also provincial laws that deal with animal cruelty. For example, British Columbia has the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act. The act prescribes the standard of care that owners or caretakers of animals have to exercise and what to do if an animal is in distress. The act also allows for punishments of either a fine of up to $75,000 or imprisonment for up to two years, or both. Most other provincial animal protection acts also allow for penalties against animal abusers.

Though there are laws in place against animal cruelty, critics argue that the law doesn’t go far enough in protecting animals from harm, because the brutality and viciousness with which some animals are handled, injured or killed is not addressed by the law. For example, there are no federal criminal laws against puppy mills or dog fighting. These must be addressed by provincial legislation.

Proposed changes to animal cruelty laws under the criminal code

On February 26, 2016, Member of Parliament Nathan Erskine-Smith introduced a private member’s bill entitled “The Modernizing Animals Protection Act”, also known as bill C-246.

Bill C-246 was defeated on October 5, 2016. The bill proposed:

  • To close legal loopholes related animal fighting, bestiality, animal neglect and animal cruelty, making it easier to charge and convict puppy mill operators, animal fighting rings, sex offenders who engage in bestiality and animal abusers who beat, neglect or kill their animals;
  • To increase sentences for repeat animal abusers and create a mandatory lifetime ban on owning animals after the second conviction;
  • Move offences against animals out of the property section and into a new dedicated section called "Offences against animals";
  • Ban the import of shark fins, cat and dog fur into Canada;
  • Create a new offence to address the brutal or vicious killing of animals.

The bill has only passed its first reading as of early 2016. If the bill had been passed by Parliament and received Royal Assent, then it would have seen stiffer penalties for animal abusers, especially ones that are particularly brutal towards animals and/or repeat offenders.

If you know or suspect an animal is being abused, report it to your local animal welfare society.

Read more:

Criminal Code of Canada Cattle and Other Animals

Animal Cruelty