The highest law of the land that addresses cruelty to animals in Canada is the Criminal Code. This law addresses such things as causing intentional and unnecessary pain and suffering to an animal, willfully neglecting an animal or killing an owned animal without a lawful excuse for doing so. The current maximum penalty for animal cruelty offences under the Criminal Code is $2,000 and/or 6 months imprisonment and two years prohibition on animal ownership. Some provinces, such as Alberta, that have more up-to-date provincial animal protection acts rarely use the Criminal Code. Others, where the provincial act is weak, will use the Criminal Code more often.
This section of the Criminal Code was originally enacted in 1892 with some minor revisions in 1956. There is a dire need to increase the penalties, as well as modify the out-of-date language that leaves some gaping loopholes. A bill, most recently named C-373, to amend the animal cruelty section has been before Parliament in various forms since 1998 but has not yet received the support of both the House and the Senate. The proposed reforms have two primary objectives - to modernize and consolidate the existing maximum penalties and provide new sentencing tools to enhance the effectiveness of the law in this area. The amendments move animals out of the property section of the Criminal Code and provide tougher punishments for killing or harming an animal, or for failing to provide adequate care. The CVMA supports re-introduction of legislation that includes amendments in C-373. For more information on the proposed Criminal Code amendments, please see the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies website