Provincial Animal Welfare Legislation

AuthorLesli Bisgould
ProfessionAdjunct Professor, Faculty of Law
The question is not Can they re ason? Nor, Can they talk? but, Can
they suffe r?
— Jeremy Bentha m
In much of Canada, there are agencies off‌icial ly authorized to protect
animals and prevent cruelty. Some provinces have limited legislation
which est ablishes hum ane societie s or societies for the prevention of
cruelty to animals (SPCAs) and delineates their authority in respect of
animals who are aba ndoned or in distress, and in respect of offences
related to animal welf are. Others have broader legislation addressing
these matters and al so touching on a variety of other health, safety,
and welfare issues. S ome jurisdictions h ave hardly any such legislat ion,
and Quebec has none whatsoever. This chapter provides an overview
of those agencies and that legislation. The legislation is discussed more
specif‌ically as releva nt in the chapters below.
Animal welfare agencies such as humane societies and SPCAs (terms
used interchangeably below) are among the oldest social institutions
in the country. In Canada, as in Br itain, they emerged in the nine-
teenth century to protect disempowered people and animals alike. The
Toronto Humane Society was established in 1887 to protect animals
and children from cruel treatment, the family domain being a mat-
ter of relatively private concern at the time.1 For its f‌irst two decades,
the main function of the Nova Scotia SPCA, incorporated in 1877, was
providing marr iage counselling and legal aid for estranged couples and
“harassed spouse s.” In 1906, provincial social serv ices assumed the care
of children, however after the Halifax explosion in 1917, the SPCA as-
sisted hundreds of injured and orpha ned children, and as late as 1932 it
was investigating and reporting incidents of cruelty to child ren.2 Simi-
larly, the Winnipeg Humane Society was initially the Society for the
Prevention of Cruelty to Women, Children, and Animal s. It retained
that broad focus from 1894 until 1911.3
The link connecting support for vulnerable pers ons and animals
was broken by the development of government departments or govern-
ment funded social agencies for the former, while animal s were left
to the continued authority of the humane societies. These latter or-
ganizations, while often cre ated by legislation and acting pursuant to
statutory powers, are not government agencies. They generally receive
some government funding, but they depend largely on public dona-
tions, fundraising initiatives, and volunteer contributions to pursue
their work .
Humane societies occupy an awkward position in the realm of
animal protection. They are expected to provide the solution to hu-
man-anima l problems but their power is constrained by their limited
funding and statutory authority. Moreover, the lack of societal agree-
ment as to what the core of these problems really is inclines to inhibit
their effectiveness. Throughout their lengthy hi stories, humane soci-
eties have struggled i nternally with conf‌licting views about what the
protection of animals and the prevention of cruelty mean, and whether
they should be proactive agencies focused on reforming or eradicating
the sources of animal suffering, or more reactive agencies limited to
“clean(ing) up after them.”4
This has been the c ase even from the outset. In the 1920s, the Vic-
toria branch of the British Columbia SPCA fought over opposition to
vivisection and those who sought to abolish it were forced out.5 The
1 John Kelso, Early History of the Hu mane and Children’s Aid Movement in Ontar io
(Toronto: William Briggs, 1911); Charlotte Montgomery, Blood Relations: A ni-
mals, Humans , and Politics (Toronto: Between the Lin es, 2000) at 45.
2 History of the Nova Scotia SPCA, on line: www.spcan story.html.
3 History of the Winnipeg Huma ne Society, online: www.winnipeghu manesociety.
ca/hi story-of-the-win nipeg-humane-soc iety.
4 Montgomery, above note 1 at 47–54.
5 Ibid at 44.

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