Animal bill critics too quick to attack years of hard work
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.