McNeil government presses pause on controversial animal protection bill

The Nova Scotia government is temporarily shelving changes to Nova Scotia's Animal Protection Act after facing a backlash from pet owners and dog breeders who complained Bill 27 went too far.

Bill 27 faced intense criticism from dog owners, breeders during law amendments committee

More than a dozen people showed up to Nova Scotia's law amendments committee Monday to complain that a bill designed to better protect animals goes too far. (Eleni Alina/Shutterstock)

The McNeil government has temporarily halted a bill it promoted as better protection for family pets and farm animals after intense criticism from dog owners and breeders.

More than a dozen people lined up to speak before the legislature's law amendments committee Monday, with most calling the proposed law too far-reaching and suggesting it could lead to an abuse of power by SPCA inspectors.

"We are not a police state," said Kaitlyn Fraser, a breeder and owner of 10 Australian shepherds. "This is Canada!"

The clause most under fire in Bill 27 seems to give SPCA inspectors free rein to show up and inspect kennels and barns without the need for evidence that the animals being cared for are being abused or mistreated.

Section 20 states "an inspector or peace officer may at any reasonable hour of the day or night, enter and inspect any premises, other than a private dwelling place."

The bill also states that inspectors or peace officers can ask a "person in a private dwelling place to produce any animal on the premises, including from within the private dwelling place, for examination."

Dog owner Cindy Baker said the bill proposes to give an inspector more power than a police officer.

"It strips us of our rights as private property owners simply because we own an animal."

Dog owner Cindy Baker (left) says she doesn't like the idea of an SPCA inspector showing up on her doorstep without warning. (CBC/Jean Laroche )

Baker also worried about being asked to hand over her dog for inspection while the dog was in her home.

"As a woman who is home a lot by myself, the thought of having an inspector come to my home, come onto my property without warning and without probable cause of an animal being in distress, makes me uneasy," she said.

Lendra Barker, the Atlantic Canadian director for the Canadian Kennel Club, also objected to giving the SPCA more power.

"We're going down the road of Big Brother," she said. "We're all in favour of people being charged if the animal is not taken care of, but we're giving too much power to a body that has no third party [overseeing their work]."  

The SPCA's chief provincial inspector refuted some of the criticism levelled at Bill 27 and tried to ease fears.

The province's Animal Protection Act hasn't been updated in four years. (Chris Ensing/CBC)

 Jo-Anne Landsburg said her 16 special constables would only act on a complaint and would not simply drop by to inspect a breeding facility or home.

"We must have reasonable and probable grounds that an offence has been committed," she told the committee. "We don't go onto your property and say, 'Let me see your dog.'"

Landsburg also addressed the fear some expressed that inspectors would seize animals simply because they had the power.

"I've listened to some people here and they say they're living in fear that we're going to come and take their animals — my goodness, that's not the case."

She said dog owners would have recourse to plead their case to the animal cruelty appeal board if their animal ever was seized.

Jo-Anne Landsburg of the SPCA tried to reassure pet owners and breeders that inspectors won't be sent to kennels or homes without a good reason. (Jean Laroche/CBC)

The Animal Protection Act was last amended in 2014.

When Agriculture Minister Keith Colwell spoke about the bill last Friday, he highlighted what he felt were the proposed law's strengths, including outlawing a number of practices.

"This legislation will ban cosmetic surgery, unless medically necessary and carried out by a veterinarian," he said. "This includes tail docking, ear cropping, debarking and declawing."

Law amendments committee member, Liberal Ben Jessome, announced the government would be putting the bill on ice because it needs some time to digest what the committee heard Monday.

About the Author

Jean Laroche

Reporter

Jean Laroche has been a CBC reporter for 32 years. He's been covering Nova Scotia politics since 1995 and has been at Province House longer than any sitting member.