When it comes to laws that protect animals and pets, Canada gets a zero mark.
In 2020, an international organization called World Animal Protection awarded the country a D, placing it in a group that includes Tanzania, Peru and the United States.
The reason for such a sad position comes down to the “divisive power” of the Canadian administration, according to Marcelo Rodriguez Ferrere, a candidate in law who is completing his thesis on the next program when he received the Izaak Walton Killam Memorial Scholarship last year.
Most animal welfare is left to the states with their “mishmash” of integrated agencies, with little “poor” federal laws that establish the standard of protection, says Rodriguez Ferrere .
“There are very few laws that apply at the federal level – there are very few provisions in the Criminal Code that deal with animal cruelty, and that’s it.”
The province has laws bordering on “freedom codes” for the agricultural industry that rely on self-reporting rather than legal protection, and a weak Animal Welfare Act for domestic animals.
Companion animals, such as dogs and cats, are a different kind of animal, he said. Civil societies have little authority to enforce animal welfare in agriculture, and agricultural laws do not cover companion animals.
“We need to eliminate these divisions, but that’s a big change in thinking.”
Alberta is cheaper than most provinces, he said. But even though there are civil societies that are very strong, there is no funding. Much of the authority in Alberta falls to the civil society organizations of Edmonton and Calgary, but their peace officers are funded mostly by donations, and very little comes from the government.
“Of course that’s a part of the criminal law that we’ve dedicated to love, and that’s a real problem.”
As a result, the Edmonton Humane Society announced it would end enforcement of the Alberta Animal Welfare Act in 2019. That move prompted the city’s police to create an animal cruelty task force run by both officers worked hard to prevent cruelty to animals and domestic animals.
“But that’s a very strong response,” says Rodriguez Ferrere. “If it were other areas of criminal law – traffic enforcement or domestic violence, say – there would be a lot of outcry.”
But the gap in the implementation of animal welfare laws goes beyond concern for animals, he said, and points to the need for general law enforcement.
“Even if you don’t care about the animals in front of your mind, it starts to erode the trust we have in the legal system and the Constitution,” he said. A link between animal cruelty and human cruelty has also been found.
Rodriguez Ferrere draws parallels between Canada and his native New Zealand, which relies heavily on its SPCA to enforce animal welfare laws, with just 70 inspectors for a country of five million people and hundreds of millions of animals.
The solution, says Rodriguez Ferrere, is more funding from local and provincial governments and greater public awareness of the problem.
“We need to see more resources directed towards this and a shift in thinking. Animals are in a special and vulnerable place in society, and we need to be serious about protecting them.”