Animals in Quebec will be considered "sentient beings" instead of property under a bill tabled in the national assembly Friday.

Animals have biological needs, said Agriculture Minister Pierre Paradis, whose legislation includes fines of up to $250,000 for those who are cruel to animals as well as jail time for repeat offenders.

Paradis said the bill will put Quebec more in line with Manitoba, Ontario and British Columbia, which he noted have the strongest animal-welfare laws in the country.

The legislation states that "animals are not things. They are sentient beings and have biological needs."

Applies to domestic and farm animals

Paradis said the act pertains to all domesticated and farm animals and certain wild animals.

Farmers also need to take better care of their animals, Paradis said, and ensure they are "treated with dignity as much as possible" from the moment they are born to the day they die.

Even goldfish don't escape the proposed rules.

"If you have a goldfish you have to take care of it," he said. "Don't get a goldfish if you don't want to take care of it."

The bill gives inspectors the power to demand to see an animal if they have "reasonable cause" to suspect the pet is being mistreated.

They can also obtain a warrant from a judge to enter a home and seize animals.

First-time offenders face fines as low as $250 and as high as $250,000.

Paradis says the fines can double and triple for repeat offenders. Judges will have the discretion to sentence serial violators of the proposed law to jail for up to 18 months.