Politics

Liberal government tables bill to toughen laws on bestiality, animal cruelty

Federal Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould tabled legislation today that would strengthen laws around animal cruelty and bestiality.

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Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould has tabled a new bill to tackle animal cruelty and bestiality. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Federal Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould tabled legislation today that would strengthen laws around animal cruelty and bestiality.

At a news conference Thursday, the minister said the bill aims to protect vulnerable children and animals from "terrible" acts, while not interfering with legitimate breeding, veterinarian, agricultural or hunting practices.

Bill C-84 responds, in part, to a 2016 Supreme Court of Canada decision that ruled a convicted sexual offender, identified only as D.L.W. to protect his victims, was not guilty of bestiality following charges stemming from sexual activity involving one of his stepdaughters and the family dog.

In a 6-1 decision, a majority of the justices ruled that the Criminal Code provisions around bestiality did not adequately define which sexual acts with animals are prohibited. In his ruling, Justice Thomas Cromwell urged Parliament to revisit the definition.

Bill C-84 changes the wording in the Criminal Code to clarify that it involves any contact for a sexual purpose between a person and an animal.

Wilson-Raybould said the government had "fairly extensive" consultations with a variety of stakeholders to respond to the court ruling and to craft the new legislation on animal fighting.

"It took some time," she said.

A Justice Department summary of the proposed changes says the amendments will protect animals from violence and cruelty and will increase protections for children and other vulnerable individuals who may be "compelled by another person to commit or witness sexual acts with animals."

The legislation also expands protections for animals, including activities related to animal fighting.

The bill would prohibit:

  • Promoting, arranging, assisting, taking part in or receiving money for the fighting or baiting of animals.
  • Breeding, training or transporting an animal to fight another animal.
  • Building or maintaining any arena for animal fighting. Current prohibitions are limited to building or maintaining a cockpit, which is a place used for cockfighting.

"Bill C-84 represents a common ground approach to ensuring the protection of children and animals from cruelty and abuse," reads the Justice Department document.

New law too narrow

Wilson-Raybould could not say how prevalent the practice of animal fighting is.

"It does exist, and where it does exist we want to have laws in place to prevent it," she said.

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Camille Labchuk, a lawyer and executive director of Animal Justice, said the new law took too long to bring in, and it is too narrow in scope.

"Disappointingly, the new legislation only contains very minor measures related to bestiality and animal fighting. These provisions are welcome, but they should have been introduced as part of a larger package of desperately needed animal cruelty reforms," she said in a release. 

"Animal Justice will seek amendments to Bill C-84, as it does not currently give judges the ability to ban bestiality offenders from owning animals in the future — something that is standard for other animal cruelty offences under the Criminal Code."

In December 2017, Conservative MP Michelle Rempel tabled a private member's bill to amend the Criminal Code to define bestiality as "any contact by a person, for a sexual purpose, with an animal." 

The existing definition of bestiality in the Criminal Code is understood to focus on penetration as the essential element involving a person and animal.

Liberal MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith proposed legislation to ban the import of shark fins and the sale of cat and dog fur in Canada. It also attempted to amend Criminal Code provisions related to animal abuse, negligence, fighting and bestiality, but it was defeated in the House of Commons.

In the Criminal Code, offences against animals have not changed substantially since 1892, except for some increased penalties.

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