The British Columbia government introduced changes to the province's animal cruelty legislation Wednesday that will give the province the toughest laws in Canada, following the slaughter of as many as 100 sled dogs last year.

Agriculture Minister Don McRae said the amendments to the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act increase fines for animal cruelty convictions to a maximum of $75,000 and allow jail terms of up to two years, up from the current maximums of $10,000 and six months.

The amendments are a result of the cull of sled dogs near Whistler in April 2010 that caused worldwide outrage and prompted the province to appoint a task force.

In addition to the tougher penalties, the task force also recommended mandatory standards for sled-dog operators and increased funding for the SPCA.

"The amendments in this act provides for greater deterrence of future crimes through higher penalties," said McRae when he introduced the amendments in the legislature. "I'm pleased B.C. will now have the toughest animal cruelty penalties in the country."

SPCA support

He said the amendments also include extending the statute of limitations for offences under the act to three years from six months and holding owners, companies and others responsible for animals more accountable for the welfare of the animals.

The amendment also gives government more ability to regulate specific activities relating to the use, care and protection of animals, including sled dogs and service animals such as dogs and horses used by police, McRae said.

A team of investigators from the SPCA is still probing the sled-dog cull, and finished Tuesday digging up the mass grave near Whistler.

The killings only came to light when the provincial Worker's Compensation Board awarded a worker who killed the animals compensation for post-traumatic stress.

SPCA spokesman Craig Daniell said in a statement that his organization has not yet seen the amendments, but supports initiatives that increase penalties for animal abuse.