The Quebec National Assembly is currently reviewing proposed legislation that aims to bolster animal-welfare laws in the province.
Under bill 54 animals will no longer be treated as property, but rather as sentient beings with biological needs. In Western philosophy, sentience is the ability to feel sensations such as pain.
Quebec Agriculture Minister Pierre Paradis supports the legislation stating: “Quebec is about 20 years behind the rest of the civilized world [in this matter].” Quebec has long been known as home to puppy mills, as well as fur and veal farms.
The proposed bill, which covers all domestic and farm animals and some wild species, will allow courts to fine animal abusers up to $250,000 and to send repeat offenders to jail for up to 18 months.
Most Canadian provinces already have laws in place that may put an animal abuser in jail. Earlier this year, a Calgary man was sentenced to 22 months in prison, three years’ probation, and a lifetime ban on owning pets for slowly starving a dog and a cat. The animals were found dead with their mouths taped shut.
Currently, under Quebec’s Animal Health Protection Act, a person who jeopardizes an animal’s safety or well-being by subjecting it to abuse or ill treatment may be liable for a fine of $250 to $2,450. No prison term is contemplated.
The new legislation will bring Quebec in line with other provinces such as Ontario and British Columbia where animal-welfare laws are strong. If the bill passes, inspectors will have the power to demand to see an animal if they have “reasonable cause” the animal is abused. They can also get a warrant to enter homes and seize animals.
Under the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, no person shall cause an animal to be in distress. Every individual who contravenes this is liable on conviction to a fine of not more than $60,000 or to imprisonment for a term of not more than two years, or both.
A person who contravenes B.C.’s Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act is liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding $75,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 2 years, or both.
The new legislation in Quebec may also affect kosher and halal butchering techniques. It has been suggested that some halal slaughtering methods may offend the proposed legislation if they involve slow death. Again, if animals are to be treated as sentient beings, slow death will very likely constitute cruelty.
Bill 54 is currently going through hearings within the Quebec provincial legislature. If passed, it will significantly change the standard of care required for owning and handling animals.