COLUMN: Animal protection far from adequate
B.C.’s claim of having the toughest animal cruelty laws in the country after responding to the alarming cull of sled dogs in Whistler might be accurate, but it’s not much to brag about considering the inept laws protecting animals in this country and most others.
With the exception of legislation earlier this year banning Bitrex or denatonium benzoate from antifreeze, little has been done to change our laws protecting animals since the mid-1800s.
And one has to wonder: Would the province have bothered if the world wasn’t watching, or if the mass killings weren’t related to the 2010 Winter Olympics?
I doubt it.
A government task force, created in response to the discovery of the slaughter, issued 10 recommendations to toughen B.C. animal laws.
Premier Christy Clark immediately endorsed all the recommendations, which include increasing the maximum penalty in animal cruelty cases to a $75,000 fine, 24 months in jail, or both. It also provided the B.C. SPCA with $100,000 to assist with the investigation, possibly the largest single investigation the organization has ever had to complete.
But those recommendations are useless considering the small percentage of people accused of abusing, neglecting or unlawfully killing animals who are ever charged because the Crown lacks the tools needed to properly prosecute them.
The fine could be $1 million, but will never be a deterrent because the chance of prosecution is slim.
There is another failure in the task force’s recommendations in that it still allows for the killing of sled dogs, once again suggesting the province simply reacted to global outrage in hopes that these meagre new rules will satisfy that outrage.
In the sled-dog industry here in B.C., as long as those dogs are considered a commodity, simply a vehicle used for businesses to make money, they will never see legitimate protection from government.
As far as bureaucracy and the Criminal Code are concerned, animals have the same rights as a car or a set of tools.
The B.C. SPCA, however, is working hard to change that, but it needs more help.
Last year alone in Nanaimo, it investigated several animal atrocities, including a man who beat a kitten, neglected horses and several cases of abused and neglected dogs, including several left in vehicles on extremely hot days.
Throughout B.C. in 2010, the SPCA rescued 33,762 animals from bad situations and conducted 7,147 cruelty investigations. It only submitted 78 charges of cruelty and neglect to Crown counsel. The animals may not be able to speak, but the numbers speak for them and more needs to be done.
But the task force members were on tricky ground. To outright ban sled dogs in this province would open the door to a whole new world of animal rights that animal activists would love to see, but society may not yet be ready for.
If that ban went through, B.C. must also be ready to ban horse racing, rodeos and any other activity using animals that might be considered inhumane or where animals are perceived to be unwilling participants in a money-makng business.
To make the recommendations effective, legislation must be passed to give the B.C. SPCA, which does not normally receive government funding, the tools and resources it needs to give teeth to these new fines and jail sentences.
I hope this tragic event really does open people’s eyes to the brutality toward animals not only in the case of the dead sled dogs, but in the thousands of animal abuse cases the B.C. SPCA investigates every year, and that government protects the rights of animals with all of its available resources.
But this may be a long shot. Sadly, one only has to look at our own justice system to see how people treat people and see that animals are a long, long way off from getting the protection they deserve.