Northwest Territories MLAs have passed new legislation that protects dogs from abuse, but the new law has an exemption that some say could be used as a loophole.
A bill to update the Dog Act received assent on Friday, after it passed third reading in the territorial legislature.
The new legislation, which introduces tougher penalties for people who abuse or neglect dogs, replaces the previous Dog Act, which was based on laws dating to the 1950s.
Unlike animal legislation in southern Canada, the N.W.T.'s old Dog Act focused on dealing with sled dogs, which have been used for transportation in the North.
An earlier proposal by MLAs would have exempted owners from penalty if they caused distress to dogs while carrying out "traditional practices" such as dog-sledding and hunting.
That proposal sparked an outcry from animal-protection activists and others who said the term was vague and difficult to interpret.
The legislation was since changed so that the exemption applies "if the distress is caused by a treatment, process or condition that occurs in the course of an accepted activity."
The act defines accepted activities to include the use of dogs to help with hunting, trapping, and protecting people from wildlife.
An accepted activity must not cause a dog undue suffering, the legislation adds.
Yellowknife Frame Lake MLA Wendy Bisaro said Friday that while the new legislation is "far improved from what we had before," she still had concerns about the exemption.
"I don't feel that part of the bill is necessary," Bisaro said in the legislature.
Not a loophole, says minister
Municipal and Community Affairs Minister Robert McLeod said he does not believe the exemption will present a loophole for people accused of abusing their dogs.
"I don't believe it's a loophole," McLeod told CBC News.
"If a guy goes up before a judge for cruelty to animals … where you leave 10 dogs outside starving to death, I don't think he can use traditional practice as a loophole, because it's not our traditional practice to leave dogs tied up outside and starving to death."
McLeod added that longtime northerners who have used their dogs for traditional practices like sledding and hunting are among those who best look after their dogs.
Under the old Dog Act, those found guilty of a first offence were fined $25. The penalties for a first offence are now $2,500 or a three-month jail term or both.
Those found guilty of subsequent violations of the new Dog Act will be fined $10,000, handed a six-month jail term, or both.