An­i­mal bill crit­ics too quick to at­tack years of hard work

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - EDITORIAL -

The long-awaited An­i­mal Wel­fare Act passed sec­ond read­ing in the P.E.I. Leg­is­la­ture Fri­day amid con­sid­er­able de­bate by all MLAs. It was rare for any bill to get such close and con­struc­tive scru­tiny dur­ing sec­ond read­ing. Sev­eral amend­ments were passed and it now waits third and fi­nal read­ing.

For many Is­lan­ders, our pri­mary con­cern is with com­pan­ion an­i­mals and house­hold pets. But the act also cov­ers the im­por­tant groups of agri­cul­tural sec­tor an­i­mals, and wild an­i­mals which are hunted and trapped for meat and fur.

The act has the back­ing of the P.E.I. Hu­mane So­ci­ety and the At­lantic Vet­eri­nary Col­lege – both of which were in­volved in draft­ing the bill. The bill could prop­erly be termed the Wheat­ley Act as it’s in­tro­duc­tion was to deal with the fall­out of the in­fa­mous case in­volv­ing Bud Wheat­ley, the owner of an online pet shop and so-called puppy mill. He was even­tu­ally sen­tenced to five months in jail for an­i­mal cru­elty some five years ago af­ter 90 an­i­mals were seized from his prop­erty.

One would think this new leg­is­la­tion has broad sup­port but that’s not the case. On the eve of pas­sage, the bill has come un­der crit­i­cism from spokes­peo­ple with con­sid­er­able stand­ing in the an­i­mal rights field. The ques­tion is, why did these crit­ics wait so long to raise such wide-rang­ing and se­ri­ous con­cerns?

It’s been five years since work on the bill be­gan to re­place two dated pieces of leg­is­la­tion. The bill was left on the floor of the House dur­ing last fall’s ab­bre­vi­ated ses­sion, dis­ap­point­ing Wendy MacIn­tyre, pres­i­dent of the P.E.I. Hu­mane So­ci­ety, who said her group has been help­ing gov­ern­ment on the bill since 2009.

Also on board is Dr. Alice Crook, the highly re­spected co-or­di­na­tor of the Sir James Dunn An­i­mal Wel­fare Cen­tre at the AVC. Ms. Crook, who has worked for years to toughen an­i­mal wel­fare leg­is­la­tion fed­er­ally and provin­cially, is loath to de­claw cats un­less ab­so­lutely nec­es­sary.

Agri­cul­ture Min­is­ter Alan McIsaac also gave the bill his ring­ing endorsement Fri­day, as­sur­ing Is­lan­ders that acts of an­i­mal cru­elty and ne­glect will not be tol­er­ated. So, in what should be a mo­ment of great sat­is­fac­tion, sup­port­ers are un­der at­tack for a bill deemed woe­fully in­ad­e­quate. The most di­rect crit­i­cism comes from Camille Labchuk, a for­mer Is­lan­der and Toronto lawyer, who is di­rec­tor of Le­gal Ad­vo­cacy, An­i­mal Jus­tice (Canada).

In a re­cent opin­ion piece to this news­pa­per, she didn’t mince words, de­mand­ing that MLAs de­lay the bill un­til amend­ments are made. Per­haps in re­sponse to that ar­ti­cle, but also as a salute to Ms. Crook and Ms. MacIn­tyre, MLAs took a keen in­ter­est in the bill Fri­day to get ques­tions an­swered, facts read into the record and yes, to get some amend­ments passed.

Ms. Labchuk sup­ports a one-size-fits-all ar­gu­ment, that places as much im­por­tance on a mink or rac­coon as a dog or cat. One of the amend­ments Fri­day did ad­dress her is­sue with the phrase “ex­treme dis­tress.” She said it was an ab­surdly high stan­dard which may stop in­spec­tors from seiz­ing an­i­mals if their dis­tress is not “ex­treme” enough to be deemed illegal. She also sug­gests that of­fers to help draft the bill were ig­nored.

Ms. Labchuk ap­pears to see things as a black or white is­sue — that farm an­i­mals should be raised free range, liv­ing out­doors in a pas­toral set­ting while en­gag­ing in nat­u­ral and en­joy­able be­hav­iours for their en­tire lives.

The most un­fair at­tack of all from Ms. Labchuk is to sug­gest that the bill makes life worse for an­i­mals which rely on us for pro­tec­tion - that five years of work by oth­ers was a waste of time.

It's un­for­tu­nate that an­i­mal rights sup­port­ers who all have the same goal – greater pro­tec­tion for an­i­mals — are so far apart on this bill. Af­ter all, the leg­is­la­tion — five years in the mak­ing — was first in­tro­duced last fall, more than eight full months ago.

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