Quebec drafts new rules to protect dozens of species under its animal welfare law

The Quebec government is moving to expand the scope of its animal welfare legislation, to offer increased protection to species ranging from horses and mink to ostriches and wild turkeys.

Horses, mink, ostriches, wild turkeys among animals and birds to be protected

Horses are included in the proposed animal welfare legislation which covers everything from ostriches to some species of fish. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

The Quebec government is moving to expand the scope of its animal welfare legislation to offer increased protection to species ranging from horses and mink to ostriches and wild turkeys.

The draft regulations published this week would require fox and mink farms and stables with 15 or more horses to meet the same welfare standards as dog- and cat-breeding operations.

Under the proposed rules, owners of these farms and stables would have to obtain a permit from the Agriculture Ministry and submit to regular inspections.

The proposed regulations also outline care standards that would apply to dozens of other species, including bison, deer, boar, ostriches, wild turkeys and some species of fish.

People raising these animals would not need a permit, but they would have to respect rules concerning cleanliness, living space, safety, and access to food and water.

Animals like this Arctic fox, raised on a fur farm in Saint-Jude, Que., will be given more protection if the province's new regulations are adopted. (submitted by Jo-Anne McArthur/SPCA)

They would also have to follow procedures to isolate animals that are sick or giving birth.

In an impact analysis published along with the rules, the Agriculture Ministry said it is moving to strengthen its 2015 legislation based on growing public concern over animal welfare.

"In a general manner, citizens and animal protection associations constantly express their worries in regard to the well-being and safety of animals,'' the document reads.

"This is reflected in particular by a large number of complaints on the subject of animal welfare to the department, as well as initiatives by animal protection groups.''

Thousands of animal welfare calls

The department received 5,610 calls from citizens on its animal welfare hotline between April 2017 and February 2018, according to the document. It received an average of 205 complaints a year regarding horses between 2013 and 2016.

The proposed rules would affect an estimated 1,200 businesses, with compliance costing a total of up to $3.3 million in the first year and dropping to $300,000 thereafter.

Yohan Dallaire-Boily, an Agriculture Ministry spokesperson, said the new permit system would allow inspectors to better track stables and fur farms to ensure the rules are respected.

Furthermore, he said, the general welfare standards would help other species by giving inspectors more authority to demand improvements from negligent owners.

"Before this week, there wasn't much in the law that gave us the power to change much,'' he said.

"Now that the bison, for example, is added, even if we don't inspect or have a permit, we have more ability to force things to change if we find a breeding operation that isn't in respectable condition.''

Doesn't go far enough: Montreal SPCA

Sophie Gaillard of the Montreal SPCA says the legislation could go further. (submitted by Sophie Gaillard)

The Montreal SPCA's director of animal advocacy said that while the proposed rules are a step in the right direction, they don't go far enough.

"The biggest weakness is that it still excludes many species, for example, all farm animals and even some pets,'' such as pot-bellied pigs, Sophie Gaillard said in a phone interview.

Gaillard said she's also disappointed that the government didn't move to ban around-the-clock chaining of dogs, place limits on the number of animals that can be used for breeding or include stronger provisions to protect psychological well-being.

Dallaire-Boily said the new rules wouldn't apply to farm animals, such as dairy cattle or laying hens, because they are covered under other legislation.

The draft regulation is currently under study and is open for comments until Feb. 22.