Why aren’t more animal cruelty offenders jailed in Canada?

Canada strengthened its federal animal cruelty laws in 2008 but it continues to be a problem. iStock.
Canada strengthened its federal animal cruelty laws in 2008 but it continues to be a problem. iStock.

Fresh on the heels of news that yet another puppy mill operation has been shut down in British Columbia, the provincial government has announced that it would enforce new regulations on dog and cat breeders.

See: Stronger animal cruelty laws are needed to deal with puppy mills

This move by the B.C. government is touted as “enhancing protection of animals by targeting irresponsible commercial breeders of dogs and cats.”

It’s also being praised by organizations like Animal Justice, an organization that advocates for the humane treatment of animals and who often intervenes in animal abuse cases, because the laws on commercial breeders are currently lax and stronger provincial regulations would help improve protections for animals bred for commercial purposes.

While it’s great that the B.C. government is doing something about puppy mills, is it enough to simply strengthen provincial regulations for commercial breeders? After all, puppy mills are not illegal in Canada, which is one of the problems in trying to prosecute animal cruelty offenders.

Though Canada strengthened its federal animal cruelty laws in 2008 to increase sentences for people who abuse animals, animal cruelty continues to be a problem.

For example, the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty for Animals is currently planning on euthanizing 21 pit bulls that were rescued from an alleged dogfighting ring last October.

Dogs who are used in these rings are often abused in the most vicious ways in order to encourage them to tear each other to shreds.

The most infamous American case of dogfighting is the Michael Vick case, in which the former quarterback was convicted on federal charges related to dogfighting and brought public attention to the issue of vicious abuse against dogs.

All 50 U.S. states now consider dogfighting to be a felony offence, punishable by jail time. Contrast that with Canada where training animals to fight other animals is still legal.

That is not to say Canadian law is completely ineffective in punishing animal cruelty offenders. Recently an Amherstburg, Ont., man was given a sentence of two years in jail (the maximum possible is five years) for taping a dog’s neck, legs and snout with electrical tape and abandoning him in a field.

However, would he have received this type of sentence if the case hadn’t gotten a lot of media attention and if animal rights activists had not fought so hard to have a tough sentence imposed on him?

There was even a petition, signed by almost 67,000 people, asking the court to give the offender a proper sentence for the horrors inflicted on the little dog that nearly died.

While some animal cruelty offenders are jailed due to media attention, the majority are not, because there are no criminal offences to deal with particularly violent and brutal crimes against animals, and as a consequence these crimes are extremely difficult to prosecute.

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