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Animal protection laws criticized

Casey Lessard
Northern News Services
Published Monday, July 23, 2012

For the fifth year in a row, Nunavut is being criticized for being a place where "animal abusers get off easy" under the weakest animal protection regime in Canada. And the government has no plans to change that.

"Status quo for now," said Ralph Ruediger, director of community development with the Department of Community and Government Services, which is responsible for the Dog Act.

"There are no plans to change the current legislation."

In its fifth annual report, the only one of its kind in Canada, the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF), an American charity based in San Francisco, Calif., ranked Nunavut the lowest. Northwest Territories and Prince Edward Island are also in the bottom tier. Manitoba, Ontario and Nova Scotia are at the top due to strict animal protection laws.

"The Nunavut government isn't making animal protection a priority," said Sophie Gaillard, ALDF's Canadian spokesperson. "I think this report highlights the territory really needs to catch up with other provinces and territories."

Nunavut ranks worst, according to the report, for several reasons: animal protection laws are weak; fines and sentences are low; the laws only protect dogs; abusers are not restricted from owing animals in the future; and the territory has inadequate standards of care.

Gaillard has some recommendations for how Nunavut could do better.

"The legislation only applies to dogs, so one important thing would be to broaden the coverage of the legislation to other species," she said.

She says a second recommendation would be more specific about the standards of basic care: not just that a dog needs food and water, but including information about the type of shelter or space a dog needs, or vet or medical care.

A third area for improvement would be to increase penalties for offenders. Currently, the maximum punishment available is a $25 fine or 30 days in prison.

If Nunavut wants to improve its laws, it could follow the example of British Columbia, which enacted stiffer penalties, with animal abusers now facing up to two years imprisonment and a $75,000 fine, according to the ALDF.

The report does not look at legislation on hunting or trapping, Gaillard said. The limitation of having only one veterinarian in the entire territory is also not taken into consideration, as the report looks strictly at the laws, and not the situation on the ground, she said.

"But for example, leaving an injured or ill animal suffering is not OK, even if there are no vets around," she said.

Despite ranking last, Nunavut has some laws that ALDF would like other jurisdictions to adopt. For example, animal abuse laws apply to anyone caught abusing a dog. In Quebec, only owners can be punished in such cases. Punishing offenders with jail time is another way Nunavut distinguishes itself from places like Quebec, she said.

The Criminal Code of Canada provides some protections for animals against abuse, but these apply only in serious cases since parties found guilty would have a criminal record.

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