Animal welfare laws a measure of how we respect rights of humans and the environment: Humane Canada

Report suggests Canada needs to step up on meeting animal protection indicators

Animal welfare laws a measure of how we respect rights of humans and the environment: Humane Canada
Toolika Rastogi, Humane Canada

How well we recognize and protect the rights of animals through our legal system is an essential measure of how we respect and protect the rights of humans and the environment, says a new report from Humane Canada.

“This is part of a larger project that will try to answer the question ‘What does a humane country look like?’” says Toolika Rastogi, senior manager of policy and research at Humane Canada, leading the project.

The research report assesses findings across 12 different indicators. These range from how laws are enforced and how crime statistics for animal abuse are gathered and tracked to ethical questions such as how the law recognizes animal welfare.

The report’s release comes at a time of “unprecedented” legislative activity for animals in Ottawa, with three different bills addressing animal protection introduced in the past six weeks.

They are S-241, The Jane Goodall Act; C-247, An Act to Prohibit Fur Farming; and S-5, Strengthening Environmental Protection for a Healthier Canada Act, which addresses toxicity testing in animals.

Rastogi says only one of the indicators is ranked as “good,” while the remaining 11 show gaps where work is absent, insufficient, or not even enough data available to assess.

This study is the first measurement report from the “Indicators of a Humane Canada” project, benchmarking more than 40 indicators to provide a pathway for integrating animal welfare into our legal system, social policies, and individual behaviours. It features contributions from more than 80 of Canada’s top animal welfare thinkers, including Crown Prosecutors, law enforcement, veterinarians, and independent academics.

Humane Canada is the federation of SPCAs and humane societies with a mandate to advance the welfare of animals with a national voice.

Rastogi adds that while the report has uncovered some serious problems in Canada’s animal welfare system, it also provides opportunities “to develop a practical roadmap to a more humane Canada – one that is safer for animals, for people, and the environment.”

She says the one indicator that received a “good” rating and trending in the right direction relates to the level of participation of Crown prosecutors, judges and police staff in training programs that look at animal abuse and the “violence link” towards humans.

Specifically, such training reaches the greatest number of justice system participants through programs delivered by police organizations. The Humane Canada report details the hundreds of legal system members who have received such training.

The National Centre for the Prosecution of Animal Cruelty and the Canadian Violence Link Coalition offer prosecutors this training. The latter organization also provides training more broadly to any affected sectors, including training at the group’s biennial conference.

“But much, much more training is needed to reach everybody,” says Rastogi, pointing out the strong correlation between a perpetrator harming humans and harming animals.

The importance of this training is reflected, the report says, through a private member’s motion in the Ontario parliament that would make such training mandatory for all enforcement officers.

“In order to make sure that we’re proactively addressing the risks that arise in those violent situations, we need people to be aware of the linkage and we need the system to be looking at both sides of the issue.”

However, of the other indicators of how well the legal system deals with animal violence, four may exist in theory, but much more is needed. These include:

  • Laws that recognize animal sentience (Only the Quebec Civil Code explicitly recognizes this)
  • Provinces with clear policies that direct the prosecution of animal cases, including resource counsel who specialize in animal law
  • Consistent definitions of offences, powers of obligations within provincial animal legislation
  • Laws addressing animal abuse and violent offences toward humans in a coordinated fashion

Other indicators of a human legal system for animals are noticeably absent, Rastogi says. These are:

  • No existing crime reporting and tracking systems integrate animal abuse
  • No clear set of roles and responsibilities for animal enforcement that are consistent and harmonized across provinces
  • No federal animal welfare advisory body that includes animal welfare NGOs, Indigenous organizations, animal welfare scientists, bioethicists and veterinarians
  • No federal government body for coordination on animal welfare issues, such as a ministry or an interdepartmental working group

Two other indicators don’t even have sufficient data, or that data is missing, Rastogi says. These include knowledge of budgets for animal abuse (including revenue, expenses and gaps), the number of animal abuse charges laid, and how many of these charges have resulted in successful prosecution.

“These are two areas that need to be addressed,” Rastogi says, as they indicate the effectiveness of laws to protect animals and the success rate. “This is something that we should be tracking the way we do with so many other offences,” she says. “Right now, that’s not happening.”

Rastogi also points out that while there have been improvements in animal protection laws, other countries are more advanced. For example, more than 30 countries have laws that recognize animal sentience, with the United Kingdom recently passing a law that acknowledges sentience and puts in place requirements to address that.

“Even to start admitting that the legal system should protect animals because they can experience positive and negative feelings and should be protected.”

While Rastogi says there is much work to improve animal welfare through laws. She hopes the Humane Canada report and subsequent reports will provide “very concrete steps that we can take right now to improve that legal framework.”

Looking to the decade ahead, Rastogi says one of the changes she’s specifically like to see is more coordination at the federal level on animal welfare issues, including the possibility that a ministry, or group of ministries, be responsible for this file.

“Right now, there are bits and pieces in different ministries such as agriculture and environment and climate, but they aren’t actively coordinating on animal welfare issues.”

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