Federal animal cruelty laws were originally enacted in the Canadian Criminal Code in 1892. Provinces are empowered to create regulations and give municipalities’ the power to enact by-laws. Federal animal cruelty laws in Canada were originally enacted in the Canadian Criminal Code in 1892. The current federal legislation under sections 444 to 447 of the Criminal Code of Canada includes both indictable and summary charges for animal cruelty. Upon conviction of an indictable offence, individuals are liable to imprisonment for a term of not more than two years. If convicted of a summary charge, individuals are liable to a fine not exceeding five thousand dollars or to imprisonment for a term of not more than six months or both.
Provinces also have the ability to enact and prosecute animal cruelty through anti-cruelty regulations. Regulations have the power of law, but do not result in a criminal record. While each province has tailored their legislation to fit the needs of their area, many of them have the similar provisions. Many provinces make it a regulatory offence to cause an animal to be in distress; distress can result from as depriving animals basic needs including food, water and hygienic shelter, pain or and/or neglect. Ontario and Manitoba have very similar animal cruelty legislation but differ on penalties for violations of the provisions with Ontario having slightly higher fines and imprisonment sentences depending on the violation.
In Western Canada, Alberta places a large importance on welfare of livestock while Saskatchewan and British Columbia provide legislation that more closely mimics the legislation of Ontario and Manitoba. Current animal cruelty legislation in Quebec does not include jail sentences but proposed amendments could see a change in the near future that would alter the penalties to more closely resemble penalties in the legislation of surrounding provinces.
Many of the Maritime Provinces have similar provisions throughout their legislation although New Brunswick is notably missing a provision that makes it an offence to cause pain to an animal which in many provinces has been accounted for under the umbrella of causing “distress” to an animal.
Finally, the Northern Provinces and territories, including Yukon, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut have significantly different legislation from the rest of the country. The Nunavut Dog Act provides protection only for dogs and has fines that are significantly lower than southern provinces. The Northwest Territories have two pieces of animal legislation. Both provide very little in the way of broad animal protection and are primarily concerned with regulating animal importation and agricultural practices. The province of Yukon has the most stringent penalties for animal cruelty in the northern Canada and also contains provisions that protect a broader selection of companion animals.
Many municipalities have enacted by-laws that deal primarily with animal control and regulations for companion animals. Like their federal and provincial counter parts, municipal by-laws largely ignore wildlife animals and provide no penalties for their mistreatment. However, many cities have enacted by-laws that dictate broad responsibilities of care for domestic animals. Some progressive municipalities have considered regulations that recognize that the stray and abandon pet problems stem from purchase of animals that have not been sterilized or animals that have been raised in an unhealthy way.
Canadian case law regarding animal cruelty is sparse. It can be difficult to prosecute animal cruelty cases under the current legislation, especially given the “willful” mens rea requirement present in the majority of the provisions. From case law, it has been determined that in animal cruelty cases in which charges are laid under the criminal code, there is a rebuttable presumption that if the prosecution can prove that:
1. Failure to exercise reasonable care
2. Pain and suffering or injury
3. Causation of pain and suffering, then the perpetrator will have been deemed to have acted willfully
R v Menard (1978), 43 C.C.C. (2d) 458 (Que. C.A.) has been called the “most authoritative” criminal law case in Canadian case law. Written by future Canadian Supreme Court Chief Justice, Lamer J. overturned a decision from the lower courts and reinstated the original conviction. However, what makes this case particularly important is Lamer’s remarks on the human animal relationship.
American and Canadian anti-cruelty laws are inherently different due to the nature of the their respective constitutions. In the United States, individual states legislate their own criminal laws, which amounts to 50 separate criminal code systems. The federal government can also legislate certain criminal laws, but only in so far as the Constitution allows. There are no American federal laws that deal directly with animal cruelty. However, the federal government of the United States is empowered to enact laws outside of the criminal law power and has enacted legislation in its other capacities. The Animal Welfare Act (“AWA”), enacted in 1966, is not itself broad anti-cruelty law, but instead deals with specific activities that effect specific animals like protection of animals used in research and animals used in exhibition. The United States Federal government has also enacted the Humane Slaughter Act, which provides limited guidelines for slaughter of agricultural animals.
The Model Penal Code provides suggestions for state criminal laws. States can choose to follow the Model Penal Code but in most cases the state will combine their own common law with the model penal code to develop a unique criminal code in every state. The mens rea standards of “purposefully or recklessly” provided in the Model Penal Code are broader than the mens rea standards provided in Canadian Criminal laws. At the American municipal level, governing bodies are empowered to create anti-cruelty/standard of care legislation that can mirror the state criminal legislation.