Canada

Crimes or misdemeanours

Activists are calling on Ottawa to hurry up and get tough on animal cruelty

Susan McClelland December 3 2001
Canada

Crimes or misdemeanours

Activists are calling on Ottawa to hurry up and get tough on animal cruelty

Susan McClelland December 3 2001

Crimes or misdemeanours

Canada

Activists are calling on Ottawa to hurry up and get tough on animal cruelty

Rose and Ralph Misener slipped in and out of the Ontario Court of Justice in Newmarket last month unnoticed. But demonstrators outside the building made sure the elderly couple’s presence was felt anyway. Talking into a bullhorn, a representative for the International Fund for Animal Welfare described the alleged atrocities at the Miseners’ puppy-mill operation. “Stop Rose Misener,” the group then chanted. “Strong laws now.” When the Miseners’ facilities were raided in the summer, as many as 230 dogs were found living in what Ontario animal welfare officials described as deplorable conditions. Some were even discovered in wooden crates in a field, with no roof over their heads to protect them from the elements.

The Miseners face five counts of cruelty to animals. Yet it isn’t the first time they have been embroiled in a court battle. The couple have a rap sheet, going back to 1964, of animal cruelty complaints and convictions, including one that resulted in the maximum prison sentence of six months. But their legal entanglements never stopped them from continuing to do business—and animal welfare groups are outraged. They blame Canadas lax animal cruelty laws, and they’re urging the federal government to quickly pass Bill C-15B, which will amend the Criminal Code and increase penalties for abuse. “We have seen many cases of repeat offenders,” says Vicky Earle, CEO of the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. “It’s obvious the current law is not a deterrent.” Changes are long overdue. The animal cruelty section of the Criminal Code hasn’t been substantially amended since 1892. C-15B, an omnibus bill introduced in March by Minister of Justice Anne McLellan, increases penalties to include a maximum prison term of five years. It will also allow judges to ban offenders from ever owning an animal again,

and order them to pay for the care of the animals they abused (animal rescue charities now shoulder most of the costs). “C15B tells judges that animal cruelty is an important crime that needs to be taken seriously,” says Lesli Bisgould, a Torontobased animal rights lawyer.

But C-15B isn’t law yet—and a lot could still happen before Dec. 6, when the standing committee on justice and human rights makes its final recommendations on the bill to the House of Commons. This fall, the committee heard a number of concerns, particularly from the agriculture, ffr and medical research industries. Among other things, spokesmen opposed the bill’s provision to move animal cruelty laws from the property section of the Criminal Code to the morals section.

Currently, with animals de.« fined as property, people I who act with “legal justifi| cation”—such as a farmer I using standard techniques 1 to slaughter cattle—are ex-

cluded from prosecution. With the changes, that may no longer be the case, says Alan Herscovici, executive vice-president of the Fur Council of Canada. “It could open the door to a lot of nuisance prosecutions against industry,” he argues.

Some MPs on the justice committee say the wording of C-15B protects industries using normal business methods from legal action. “Industry wants an all-out exemption and we just don’t exempt people from the Criminal Code,” says Liberal MP John Maloney. “If a farmer doesn’t feed or water his animals, that is not normal husbandry practices.” And there is one thing on which everyone agrees: stiffer penalties are necessary. “People who create horrible pain for animals need to be effectively prosecuted,” says Stephen Owen, parliamentary secretary to the minister of justice. Animal welfare groups hope that, with the help of C-l 5B, the courts will be able to do just that.

Susan McClelland

Should people convicted of animal cruelty face stiffer penalties? www.macleans.ca