Federal Anti-cruelty Laws

AuthorLesli Bisgould
ProfessionAdjunct Professor, Faculty of Law
cha Pter 3
feder Al
Anti-Cruelty l Aws
Man is the cr uellest anim al.
— Friedr ich Nietzsc he
The wide variety of human use s for animals create s legal issues in many
subject areas. Federal, provincial, a nd municipal governments can
legislate in f‌ields including agriculture, research, hunting, f‌i shing, trap-
ping and other killing of w ildlife, migratory birds, wildlife in captivity,
import and export of ani mals, endangered species, companion animals
in housing, licensing and other municipal concerns regarding compan-
ion animals, veterin ary medicine, dangerous ani mals, and liability for
damage done by animals. The degree of regulation varies considerably
according to animal us e. In the context of agriculture, extensive legi sla-
tion governs the industr y, both federally and provincially. By contrast,
the use of animal s in research, teachi ng, and testing has no federal
oversight and within the provinces it is hardly regulated at al l.
Generally applicable, and not necessari ly conf‌ined to any specif‌ic
subject area, are the anti-cr uelty laws set out on the federal level in the
Criminal Code (often referred to as “the Code”).1 These are “animated
by the general purposes of the criminal law, which are to promote a
peaceful and safe society a nd to prevent and punish acts which harm or
threaten to harm society and which tend to undermine social values.”2
1 Criminal Code of Canad a, RSC 1985, c C-46.
2 Joanne Klineb erg, “Cruelty to Animal s and the Criminal Code of Canada” in
Lesli Bisgould, e d, An Introduction to Animals and the L aw (Toronto: Law Society
Anim Als And the lAw58
Criminal law seeks to promote treatment of animal s which “ref‌lects
the values that people expect from their relations with each other, such
as compassion and respect .”3 The Code “encapsulates the fundamental
moral code of our society” and “sets down the minimum standard of
permissible beh aviour in respect of animals th rough a series of crim inal
of fe nc e s.”4 These offences recogn ize that animals have an interest in
being exposed to a s little pain and suffering as possible, however they
allow for animals to be subjugated and made to suf fer for human ends.5
Criminal Code provisions in re spect of animals have been amend-
ed several times since their inception in 1892, but their essence has
changed very little. In the manner in which they seek to protect inher-
ently conf‌licting interest s those of animal s not to suffer, and those
of people to cause such suffering they occupy somewhat unusual
territory in the criminal law, and as a result, t he provisions and their
interpretation are unique in several ways. In recent years, the federal
government has acknowledged a need for modernizat ion, and since
1999, there have been thirteen bills introduced in attempt to do so. To
date, these have failed w ith the exception of amendments in respect of
sentencing. In the committee debates and public disc ussions surround-
ing the various bills, the changing public perspective di scussed in the
previous chapter is clearly evident alt hough it has not yet manifested in
any remark able legislat ive way.
This chapter is in four part s: Part A examines the development of
federal anti-cruelty l aws in the criminal law of Canad a. Part B describes
current provisions and Part C discusses issues related to their interpret-
ation. Part D reviews the efforts to amend those provisions since 1999.
a. develoPment of antI-crUelty laWs
In the
crImInal code
Canada‘s f‌irst federal anti-cr uelty laws were enacted in 1869.6 The es-
sence of these provisions was adopted when the original Criminal Code
was enacted thir teen years later, and they ref‌lect the customs, values,
of Upper Canad a, Continuing Legal Education , 3 October 2007) Tab 1 at 1-2
[Klineberg]. Klinebe rg is Counsel, Crimin al Law Policy Section, federal D epart-
ment of Justice.
3 Ibid.
4 Ibid at 1-1.
5 Ibid at 1-2 .
6 An Act Respecting Cruelty to Animals, SC 1869, c 27, also referred to a s 32–33
Vict c 27.
Federal Anti- cruelty Laws 59
and knowledge of the time. From the outset, a concern for animals’
well-being was set out, but a review of the historical record indicates
that that concern ha s always been highly qualif‌ied and secondary to
the interests of the people who owned and had a f‌i nancial interest in
them. Anti-cruelty prov isions were enacted in the part of the Code ad-
dressed to propert y offences, Title VI, Offences Against Rights of Property
and Rights Arising out of Contracts, and Offences Connected with Trade.7
The f‌irst part of Title VI had a strong emphasi s on theft, of which
animal theft was a signif‌icant portion. Crankshaw discussed Canada’s
efforts in its new legisl ation to address the problems that had troubled
the Royal Commissioners in Br itain. Despite Locke’s best efforts, one
persistent problem was the precise ma nner in which to allocate prop-
erty in different kinds of animals so a s to clarify the ci rcumstances in
which three categories of ani mals ferae n aturae would be the subjects of
larceny: those in captivity, those who had escaped from captivity and
those who were captured “in the enjoyment of their natural liberty.”
These were codif‌ied in section 304 of the Code, entitled “Animals C a-
pable of Being Stolen.”8
Certain offences related to h arming or threatening to harm cattle
or other animals were par t of a series of mischief offences, which in-
cluded causing injury to buildi ngs, landmarks, tree s, and other real or
personal property. Cattle was a general term which encompassed other
economically valuable domesticated livestock such as horse s, mules,
ass, swine, sheep, goats, and any other ani mals of the bovine specie s.
Harm to these a nimals was treated differently than t he same harm or
threat of harm to other animals, with a cle ar emphasis on the pro-
tection of the most valuable resources: attempting to injure or poison
cattle, or threatening to do so, were indictable offences, while actually
injuring animals other than cattle t hat were kept for a lawful purpose
was a summar y conviction offence.9
The cruelty to animal s laws set out in sections 512 to 514 were also
summary conviction offences. There were three parts to section 512
which corresponded directly to t he three different goals of the legisla-
tion that were identif‌ied in Chapter 2: to protect animals’ interest in
not suffering, to protect people’s interests in causing suffering, and to
protect people from the nuisance and harm to huma n morality caused
7 James Cran kshaw, The Criminal Code of Cana da (Montreal: Whiteford &
Theoret, Law Publi shers, 1894) at 266–72.
8 Ibid. The current theft provi sions in the Criminal Code still cont ain a section
specif‌ica lly addressed to the the ft of wild living creatu res in captivity and a fter
they have esc aped captivity: see s 322(5).
9 Crankshaw, above note 7 at 447–48, ss 500 –2.

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