TORONTO — Horrific incidents of animal cruelty that have essentially gone unpunished or resulted only in slaps on the wrist demonstrate the weakness of federal legislation enacted one year ago, animal-rights activists say.
In one notorious case, a New Brunswick man was acquitted in February of charges for killing five pomeranians he didn’t want with a hammer.
Since the animals were considered his property, the court decided he had the right to dispose of them as he saw fit, although he was ordered to pay $50 for injuring a dog that survived the hammer blow.
“Most Canadians do not view animals the same way that people did in the Victorian era,” said Melissa Tkachyk, with the World Society for the Protection of Animals.
“They do not agree that killing an animal with a hammer is the same as vandalizing a person’s car.”
In another case, an Ontario man dropped a kitten from a fifth floor balcony, then ran her over with his car. Charges were dropped because the kitten was considered marital property in a domestic dispute and his wife couldn’t testify against him.
Critics complain that Bill S-203, which received Royal Assent last April 17, has done little to protect animals and say such incidents underline a crying need to put teeth into the law.
The legislation enacted last year, essentially the same as property-offences law enacted in 1892, beefed up penalties for animal cruelty.
However, it contains no standards of care for how animals are fed or housed and securing a convictions is difficult because of the need to prove “wilful intent” to cause suffering to an animal.
Simply proving an animal suffered is almost impossible.
Liberal MP Mark Holland called the updated law “placebo” policy.
“Those that are committing animal-abuse offences are essentially able to do so with impunity,” Holland said.
“I’ve just been really exhausted with talking to SPCA officers who go into homes and situations where they see animals that have been tortured and abused and can do nothing.”
Holland has introduced a private member’s bill that would create a separate offence for killing an animal without lawful excuse regardless of whether it could be proven the animal suffered.
Across Canada, fewer than one-quarter of one per cent of charges under the animal-cruelty provisions of the code result in convictions.
“You might as well not even have the legislation,” said Sean Kelly, chairman of the investigations committee for the Nova Scotia SPCA, who called the law useless.
He said he had heard of only a single conviction under the Criminal Code, and that one involved an extreme case of a man who abused 129 animals.
“When it comes to companion animals, it’s just not heard of,” Kelly said.
In another case last June, an Ontario man abandoned a two-year-old dog on a bush road after blinding her with a gunshot to the head but was acquitted of intent to unlawfully injure a dog.
Last month, a Nova Scotia woman was fined $5 for drowning a pair of newborn kittens in a bucket of water.
“The Criminal Code should recognize that animals experience pain and suffering,” Tkachyk said.
“Animals are sentient — it’s time to reflect this basic fact in our legislation that is supposed to protect them.”
Ontario politician Mike Colle, who pushed the province to beef up its animal-welfare act last month, called the federal legislation a “paper tiger” that didn’t give humane officials or inspectors better tools.
The legislation does not even outlaw breeding, training or selling animals to fight each other, he said.