Hearings on Quebec's proposed bill expanding the rights of animals to classify them as sentient beings with biological needs begin this morning at the National Assembly.

QUE Animals Protection

Agriculture Minister Pierre Paradis announced the creation of the animal welfare bill in 2014 and is looking to have it passed this fall. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

The legislation, which would also allow for animal abusers to be sentenced to jail time, was heralded by animal-rights advocates such as Quebec's Order of Veterinarians as an important step forward.

"Quebec is about 20 years behind the rest of the civilized world [in this matter]," said Quebec Agriculture Minister Pierre Paradis.

The province has long been criticized for being a home to puppy mills. Undercover videos of fur and veal farms in the past year or so have shown deplorable living conditions for the animals.

In 2014, the San Francisco-based Animal Legal Defense Fund put Quebec on its list of the best places to be an animal abuser.

Kosher, halal butchering still a question

Paradis said he expects to hear concerns about kosher and halal slaughtering techniques during the three weeks of hearings.

He said that, as far as he knows, kosher slaughters would not break the law — but some halal slaughtering techniques would.

"Slow death is not acceptable under the new legislation. That will have an impact on those who don't find the equilibrium between religious beliefs and respect for animals," Paradis said.

Anyone convicted of the incoming animal-cruelty laws could face fines and jail time. Repeat offenders could be subject to fines of $750,000 and 18 months in jail.