Skip to content

When it comes to animal rights, report finds Canada's legal system needs improvement

A new report from Humane Canada shows gaps remain when it comes to how animals are recognized in the law.
Animal sentience is legally recognized in more than 30 countries and by the European Union. In Canada, the only province that recognizes animals as sentient beings and not as "things" is Quebec, according to a new report from Humane Canada.

“All animals have a life worth living,” says Toolika Rastogi, the senior manager of policy and research at Humane Canada.

The organization’s vision is to have a society that not only embraces its responsibility for animals but also has legal accountability for them. (Humane Canada is a federation of SPCAs and human societies across the country.)

Their latest legal framework — titled The Legal Keystone Report — looks at 12 different indicators. Those indicators range from the the way laws are enforced and the way crime statistics for animal abuse are gathered and tracked to ethical questions like how animals are recognized in the law.

The report's findings concluded: 

  1. In Canadian legislation, animal sentience is almost entirely unrecognized.
  2. A standardized animal welfare legislation across federal and provincial governments is needed for consistency.
  3. Policies for prosecution of animal welfare offences are absent and most provinces lack a formally-recognized Crown prosecutor who specializes in animal abuse.
  4. Across provinces, definition of offences, powers, and obligations can be inconsistent. Therefore, consistent and comprehensive approaches are needed in provincial legislation. 
  5. Except for bestiality cases tracked in the national sex offender registry, other crime reporting systems don't incorporate cases of animal cruelty, or specifically identify them.
  6. Violence link is the relationship between violence toward humans, and violence toward animals, which should be addressed together. Few Canadian laws have started to address the violence link, but more provinces need to do so.
  7. Violence link training is being delivered to justice stakeholders through police organizations, non-governmental organizations, and provincial Crown association initiatives.
  8. The development of violence link training programs is crucial but so is the participation of justice stakeholders. 
  9. At the provincial level, there is little information about public allocation of funds for animal protection enforcement.
  10. Of the charges laid in animal abuse cases, there is little information on the number of cases where prosecution was pursued.
  11. Canada lacks an animal welfare advisory body that can support ethical decision-making that reflects Canadian values.
  12. Canada lacks a central body to coordinate on animal welfare issues, or ensure animal welfare and interests are considered.

Through its analysis, Humane Canada found that only one indicator ranked well, or was headed in the right direction: training of justice stakeholders, specifically in their knowledge of the violence link.

The violence link is the connection between interpersonal violence and violence against animals. 

“Many report that their animals are also impacted by that violence, so whether they are also being threatened or they are being harmed to essentially be used for coercion purposes by the perpetrator,” says Rastogi.

She also notes that one in two domestic abuse victims delayed leaving their abusive partners, and one in three women who are impacted by intimate partner violence considered returning to the violent situation for their animals.

“It's a really important area of violence affecting all family members, whether the human or animal family members. Everybody is at risk in those kinds of violence situations,” she says.

There are some indicators that couldn’t be assessed due to a lack of information, she adds.

“There's a need to prioritize this area more strongly. In areas that we care about where we want to ensure that we're doing a good job, we're tracking information,” says Rastogi.

“And where if there isn't that interest or drive to ensure that something is working, then resources aren't typically put into measuring. So, a lack of information in that context means it's not being prioritized.”

A path to a more humane Canada

When the world shut down in 2020, many Canadians sought companion animals to get through the isolation periods. In fact, three million pets joined Canadian homes.

In B.C., people were more likely to get a dog than a cat.

Rastogi attributes the interest in animal rights to the pandemic pet boom.

“That really increased and resulted in people being a little bit more sensitive to how important animals are in our families and in our lives. They're members of our families, and members of our community,” she says.

As Humane Canada continues the research project, exploring more than 40 indicators, Rastogi hopes that it will help people see where Canada could be improving on in regard to becoming a more humane Canadian society.

“There's a great need for further work and in terms of becoming a humane country in terms of our legal system, being reflective of a humane Canada.”