An­i­mal Wel­fare Act in­suf­fi­cient

New leg­is­la­tion de­pends on public to en­sure an­i­mals pro­tected

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - EDITORIAL - El­iz­a­beth Scho­a­les is At­lantic Canada rep­re­sen­ta­tive, An­i­mal Jus­tice; www.an­i­maljus­tice.ca

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.

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