Pet Ownership In Canada: Remains Of The Law
As we highlighted in our post Chattel and Pets, What is Chattel?, pet ownership in Canada is subjected to the concept of chattel. This means, our pets are, according to our laws, merely movable pieces of property.
In other words, laws in Canada are not in favour of animals when it comes to rights. Since pets are chattel, the Canadian laws do not properly protect them as they should.
As a consequence, pet ownership in Canada involves the lack of legal recourse for pets and pet owners. Rightful ownership, animal neglect and funding for basic living needs are lacking and do not focus in protecting pets as living beings, but as property.
This is a tough ship to turn. Chattel is wider than the average house cat or dog – it includes pigs, cows, chickens and every living thing that falls into the food supply chain.
As the Canadian legal system classifies animals as property, their rights do not go beyond to the rights of possession. This also include the rights of use and the enjoyment of property to the exclusion of humans. There are small changes here and there, more punishment for animal abuse and the like, but we have a long way to go.
According to the Constitution of Canada, jurisdiction over animals falls under the federal government and the separate provinces. So, what can we do to protect our pets in this discouraging panorama?
Pet Ownership in Canada
When it comes to the prevention and punishment of animal suffering, the federal government has created offences under the Criminal Code. They also have jurisdiction when it comes to the importation of animals. Looking at provincial governing, provinces have jurisdiction when it comes to regulating property laws.
Because remember, in the eyes of the law your pet is just property.
Looking at animal cruelty, provisions were enacted back in 1892, giving working animals such as cattle more protection than others. It’s also important to remember that generally pets under human care have more rights than pets that aren’t.
When it comes to crimes of neglect, those who mistreat or do arm against wild or feral animal usually do not pay for their crimes. The reason why? It is difficult to prove their misdemeanor, looking at the term ‘wilful neglect.’
However, you can end up in prison for up to five years or get a fine of up to $10,000 if you are proven to have deliberately killed, injured, maimed, wounded or poisoned an animal.
Chattel, Pets and Food Banks
Under the concept of chattel, the pet wellbeing have a secondary focus when it comes to food banks in Canada.
When the COVID-19 pandemic first erupted, many volunteer-run human food banks lost volunteers and donations despite seeing a sharp increase in demand.
As a result, people food banks (not mandated or funded to provide pet food) either stopped accepting pet food and supplies as donations because they only had enough volunteers to distribute human food; or they would continue accepting donations but there was no consistency regarding its distribution. This means that donations of pet food were merely gathered, opened up and poured all into one big bag to distribute. This creates nourishment and change of food challenges for the pets, possible vet bills and all around discomfort. Pets, after all, are not the client of the people food banks.
Needless to say, this is a big problem for pet owners relying on human food banks. And an extra challenge for Animal Food Banks who are not funded and had to respond to the increase in need and demand.
Government assistance and grants specifically for people food banks cannot be received by animal food banks because in the eyes of the law, pets are just property, and are not provisioned for in the support of basic needs for low-income pet guardians. Policy change needs to happen in order for food banks to provide consistent help to animals and for animal food banks to ensure they receive funding to help with their essential work.
Reforming the Laws in Favour of Animals
In Canada, the government has attempted to reform the laws dating back to 1999. Back then, then Justice Minister Anne McLellan tabled Bill C-17 which was focused on animal cruelty, however that bill died as a result of a snap election in 2000.
As the years went on, more animal cruelty bills popped up, but were unsuccessful. In 2009, Bill C-229 established the support of animal protection groups and majority of animal use industries.
This bill would transform many of the animal cruelty offences that hadn’t changed since 1892. If passed, it would have updated wording related to animal cruelty to make it easier to identify misconduct, making animal cruelty no longer a property offence.
Bill C-229, its progressions and Pet Ownership in Canada
Sadly, this bill is still being studied. Hopefully, when approved, this bill will give all animals equal rights. In other words, it will not mind their species whether if they are under the human ownership and protection.
It will replace ‘wilful neglect’ with ‘negligent’ and new provisions will establish penalties for the killing of an animal in a vicious way. Same, it will take care of training animals for fighting; receiving money for animal fights and giving protection to law enforcement animals that have no special rights.
Bill C-229 will give protection to animals used in farming, hunting, research and even fishing. Now, efforts are underway to establish the status of animals as sentient, instead of property.
Sentient is described as being able to perceive or feel things – which animals obviously can.
Another step in the right direction took place in 2016 with Bill C-246. It was called the Modernizing Animal Protection Act. This bill supported major animal welfare organizations across the country and if passed, it would amend legislation in the Criminal Code and Fisheries Act.
This Act focuses in banning the importation of cat and dog fur, shark fins and more. It also strengthens the vital language in laws against animal cruelty.
However, this Act was also defeated at the second reading and was opposed by hunter organizations. Despite this, millions of Canadians stood up and shows their support for improving protection laws for animals.
Pet Ownership and Animals Rights in British Columbia
When it comes to a family separation, you might consider your pet a member of the family. However, the law does not, and this has caused many problems for pet owners over the years.
If you’re experiencing a separation or divorce, remember that your pet is chattel and you will need to determine who is the owner after the separation takes place. In short, who you pet ends up with is entirely up to property laws and how a judge or court interprets them based on the ownership evidence you can provide.
Because courts don’t have jurisdiction to create custody or access orders for pets, these cases receive the same treatment as disputes related to personal property.
While you have to treat your pet humanely, the legal system does not require pets to be treated like children. For such a reason, courts are highly unlikely to come to a joint sharing agreement or to consider interim application for a pet’s possession.
It all comes down to who the courts deem as the owner of the property (pet) and if the court finds it is a shared ownship, the court can only order the party who keeps the pet to pay the other party half of what the pet’s valued at.
This simply means that BC Courts cannot make custody or access orders as they would for a child for a pet. It is up to the parties involved to reach an agreement or negotiation regarding access to their pets.
Exotic Animals and Farm Animals
Fortunately, British Columbia has some of the strictest legislation and rules in Canada when it comes to keeping exotic animals. The B.C. Wildlife Act’s Controlled Alien Species (CAS) Regulation highlights animals that pose risks to public health and safety.
This means animals such as tigers or monkeys are not pets in the province. Although, roadside attractions that are non-prohibited exotic animals such as zebras and kangaroos, are still allowed.
It is important that people continue to advocate for exotic animals,. Only this will ensure stricter bylaws related to ownership and exhibition of these animals.
As for farm animals, Canadians can turn to the National Farm Animal Care Council which is the leading organization for farm animal welfare in the country.
They are responsible for protocols related to care and handling of these animals and their Codes of Practice serve as national guidelines for animal care requirements and recommended protocols.
Local Laws and Pet Ownership in Canada
Despite this, farmers in B.C. do not have to follow the codes, instead the codes lay out what is acceptable practices and are exempt from B.C.’s Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act (PCA Act).
To further improve the rights of farm animals, these Codes of Practice must become mandatory.
Under the PCA Act, if a person is responsible for the distress of an animal, that is an offence. Despite this, the act says that causing distress is not cause of confinement if the person makes it under the generally accepted practices of animal management, such as animal production for food.
The ideologies related to animals being chattel are complex and the issues cannot be fixed overnight.
However, you can help by spreading the voice. Continue to advocate for the rights of all animals by highlighting the need for higher standards; and more enforcement of laws to promote the welfare of animals. Those who consider that pets and animals in general are more than just property.
Updated: Jan 20, 2023
Originally Published: April 15 2021