Thursday, November 09, 2006

Are Animal Cruelty Laws Too Soft?

Debate has erupted across the nation on the heels of a rather disturbing allegation of animal cruelty against two young men in Didsbury.

Animal Cruelty Allegation

A dog was put down immediately by an attending vet upon observing the extent of the massive injuries it had suffered from being apparently beaten and then bound and dragged behind a car by the neck.

Petitions have shown up in local businesses and on the internet as well as some estimated 100 people attended the accused's first court appearance to try to bring public awareness to the issue.

The fact is that no matter how bad the allegation, animal cruelty is only a "straight summary conviction" offence and as such the penalties are limited to 6 months in jail or a $2,000.00 fine or both [s. 446]. Many animal advocates think this is just way too light.

Now, I won't put any opinion of my own out on this as I don't think it appropriate for a criminal lawyer to be lobbying one way or another on penalties for criminal offences. My job is to assist clients who are subject to the Criminal Code, not advocate to strengthen or weaken its consequences.

That being said, for the sake of fostering debate, I would point out that had these boys been accused of the exact same conduct, but the animal was "cattle" as defined by the Code (any bovine, horse, mule, ass, pig, sheep or goat) instead of a dog, they would be facing a "straight indictable" offence with a potential sentence of up to 5 years in jail [s. 444].

Seems to me there is a pretty vast disparity between these two sections and it is hard to understand why. Obviously, history would tell us that "cattle" are animals owned for survival / livelihood whereas other animals would be more classically seen as mere pets. Is such a distinction valid in today's society? I leave it to be debated.

Interestingly, legislation had already been proposed to increase penalties for animal cruelty to 5 years or $10,000.00, but according to Didsbury area MP Myron Thompson, it was unable to be passed as a result of the call of the last election.

Could be in an ironic twist that the alleged actions of these two teens will be the impetus behind a quick passage of new tougher animal cruelty legislation that might otherwise have fallen by the wayside...


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