Animal Welfare Act insufficient
New legislation depends on public to ensure animals protected
Last week the Guardian printed a misleading and inaccurate editorial accusing Animal Justice of failing to raise concerns regarding the Animal Welfare Act until the eve of it passing. In fact Animal Justice – Canada’s only national animal law organization – has followed this issue since 2010, and voiced its concerns repeatedly to the government, and media, since 2012.
It’s impossible to cover all these concerns here. They include missed opportunities to protect animals that are already law in other jurisdictions, like outlawing abandonment, tethering, hoarding, selling animals in pet stores, circuses, zoos, exotic species, or unlicensed kennels.
This Act could’ve introduced an abuse registry, recognizing the link between animal abuse and domestic violence. It could’ve made inspections mandatory, finally addressing the puppy mill problem.
Instead, it’s inexplicably excluded fish, marine mammals and non-captive wildlife from any provincial protection whatsoever. That’s in stark contrast to Canadian Veterinary Medical Association recommendations to afford all animals protection from abuse under the law, including wildlife.
Ontario, home of Marineland, just banned keeping orcas in captivity, while Nova Scotia’s Senator Moore recently introduced a bill to ban captive cetaceans nationwide. This Act takes P.E.I. in the opposite direction, not only allowing captive marine mammals, but leaving them without protection.
The biggest problem is the Act’s structure, which relies on complaints from the public. This process is full of loopholes, beginning with section 3, identifying how an animal must be treated. It’s replete with ambiguous terms like adequate care, reasonable protection, and significant impairment over time. It’d be difficult for any member of the public to know what this means.
If the complaint involves what the Act calls a “commercial” animal, that animal has dramatically curtailed protection under s.3. These are the animals used by various industries for profit, from horses, to cows, to mink - and they get far less protection than pets. Here, inspectors would turn instead to what the Act calls a “standard, code of conduct, criteria, practice or procedure.” However, the Act doesn’t identify what they are.
If the Act does eventually adopt standards, they’ll likely be what’s known as codes of practice. These are developed by NFACC, a nongovernmental self-appointed group of industry representatives, plus partners who must agree to accept their values. Some provinces use them as guidelines; others don’t even recognize them. Until now, P.E.I. has been only one of two provinces to require compliance with these codes. This new Act eliminates that.
If they were adopted, is someone expected to compare them to their own notion of abuse before deciding to make a complaint? If so, everyone should read them. They’re at http://www.nfacc.ca/codes-ofpractice. They deal with activities like swinging piglets against a hard surface, electrocuting foxes, macerating live chicks, gassing mink, and other methods of slaughter. If the suspected abuse were close to something identified in these codes, the codes would serve as a defence and the complaint could be dismissed.
Even without codes, it’s still not an offence if the suspected abuse is a “generally accepted practice.” This term has never been defined.
Even if it’s not generally accepted, it’s still not an offence if the suspected abuse is what the Act calls “reasonable,” which isn’t defined either.
Each of these hurdles takes animals further away from the protection of s.3, allowing a complaint to be dismissed.
And how would anyone even see abuse? Most of these animals live and die out of public sight, on trucks, in slaughterhouses, or in the province’s 12 mink farms, three fox farms, eight broiler chicken farms, 180 dairy farms and 19 hog farms identified by the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries.
This Act isn’t proactive - a flaw of animal protection legislation in every province. Inspectors are under no obligation to act; in practice, that means it’s up to individuals to make a complaint if they see abuse. This places an enormous burden on the public.
The Act’s increased penalties are welcome, but they’re only relevant if someone actually sees abuse, doesn’t feel uncomfortable making a complaint, the complaint survives these hurdles, an officer chooses to lay charges, and the abuser is convicted.
These are just some of this Act’s problems, and the government has dismissed them all. Last week the Minister indicated that he doesn’t understand the criticisms. It’s unclear if the Minister doesn’t understand the issues themselves, or doesn’t understand why anyone wouldn’t simply welcome this Act unquestioningly.
Meanwhile, the Animal Welfare Act leaves it up to the public to ensure that animals are protected.