Animal Welfare Legislation in Canada

Canada’s animal welfare standards are rudimentary. We rely heavily on outdated Codes of Practice that are voluntary and lack verification or enforcement standards. The codes are “minimum standards” that do little to ensure the welfare of farm animals.

Many commodity organizations (the Canadian Pork Council, for example) have developed their own guidelines, however these demand only voluntary compliance. And while some commodity organizations have taken initiative to develop an audit process (the Chicken Farmers of Canada and Canada Pork Council, for example), this is not enough.

There is a general lack of government attention to animal welfare. Animal welfare receives scant consideration within the Canadian government’s “Growing Forward” agricultural policy framework. Canada compares poorly to other countries such as New Zealand and Australia, which have created national committees with a balanced membership of all stakeholders, to advise government on animal welfare policy.

Current Canadian Regulations:

  • Health of Animals Act (Part 12)

    The Health of Animals Act does not address current transport distances and conditions. Animal welfare groups recommend the Canadian government adopt standards that meet or exceed OIE standards. Specifically, Canada needs to improve on feed, water, and rest standards.

  • Meat Inspection Act

    The meat inspection act deals with federally inspected slaughter facilities.

  • Criminal Code, Cruelty to Animals Provisions (see chapter C-46)

    Originally written in 1892, the criminal code is outdated. Some changes have been proposed that would make animal cruelty a criminal offence complete with higher penalties for offenders. Read more

Provincial legislation

Each province has its own animal welfare laws, although some date back before confederation. There are two common approaches to provincial animal welfare legislation:

  • a) general animal protection legislation: this protects animals from distress, and provides the authority to remove animals from situations of neglect or harm.

  • b) regulation controls and licensing: humane slaughter, transport, and health legislation

All provinces define liability offences, often using the term “distress” to describe animals in an unfit condition. All of the provincial laws allow animals to be taken into custody when considered to be in “distress.”

Interesting points

  • Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba have protection regulations for transport
  • Alberta, Ontario, and Prince Edward Island have protection regulations at auctions
  • Veterinarians now have the professional obligation to report offenses
  • Many provinces include codes of practice in their regulations. However the regulatory language is often weak and non-prescriptive.