Legal status of animals in Canada

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Animals in the Canadian legal system are considered property. Property rights include the rights of possession, the rights of use, and the enjoyment of property to the exclusion of humans. Jurisdiction over animals is divided between the federal government and the provinces under the Constitution of Canada. The federal government, using its criminal law power, has created offences in the Criminal Code, in relation to animal suffering, defining the limitations and penalties in the event of breaches.[1] The federal Parliament also has jurisdiction over the import of animals. The provinces have jurisdiction over animals as part of their power to regulate property laws.

Criminal Code provisions[edit]

Current provisions[edit]

Provisions for animal cruelty were originally enacted in 1892. Cattle and other working animals have more protection than other species. In general, owned animals also have more protection than unowned animals. Crimes of neglect are rarely prosecuted because of the term “wilful neglect”, which is difficult to prove. There is no provision for training animals to fight other animals, nor for receiving money from animal fights. Law enforcement animals have no special protection.

The Criminal Code makes the deliberate killing, wounding, maiming, injuring, or poisoning of an animal as well as acts of deliberate cruelty can result in a prison sentence of up to 5 years or a fine of up to $10,000. A prison sentence of up to 18 months may also accompany a fine. Specific acts of cruelty detailed in the code are: causing unnecessary pain or suffering, administering or allowing the administration of a poisonous substance or drug, and participating in the freeing of captured birds to be shot on liberation. Persons who allow their property to be used for any of the above activities may also be charged, unless there is sufficient evidence that they were unaware of how their property was used. Failure to exercise reasonable care to prevent the suffering of an animal also counts as wilfully allowing the suffering.[2]

Attempts at reform[edit]

In 1999, the Government of Canada began gathering input on what changes were needed to update the provisions. Then Justice Minister Anne McLellan tabled Bill C-17 in December of that year, but the bill died due to the election call of early 2000. Over the next five years, the Liberal government repeatedly retabled the bill as it died again due to repeated prorogations. The bill nearly passed in 2003 as Bill C-10B, with the support of all parties, but was blocked by the Senate.

When the Conservative Party came to power in 2006, MP Mark Holland tabled a private member’s bill that was virtually identical to Bill C-50, the most recent incarnation of C-17. Holland also retabled his bill repeatedly as it died with prorogation. The New Democratic Party also tabled its own version of the bill, C-558, in June 2008.

In February 2005, Liberal Senator John Bryden tabled Bill S-24. Animal groups like the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies strongly opposed this bill with the support of a petition, containing almost 112,000 signatures from the Canadian public. While S-24 did increase the penalties for misconduct (the penalties section was taken from the Liberal government bill that had not yet passed), it fell short of much-needed updates to the list of offences. Bryden had to retable the bill as, like the others, it repeatedly died due to prorogation. Bryden's bill ultimately passed through the Senate and House of Commons of Canada as Bill S-203, enacted in June 2008.[3]

Bill C-229 (40th Parliament of Canada, 1st Session)[edit]

In 2009, Mark Holland tabled Bill C-229, which was supported by both animal protection groups and most animal use industries. This bill would update many of the archaic offenses that had not changed substantially since 1892.[1] If passed, this bill would have updated the wording of the current Criminal Code as it deals with animal cruelty in order to more effectively identify misconduct. Animal cruelty would no longer have been considered a property offence. It would have protected all animals equally, regardless of species and whether or not they were owned. The term “wilful neglect” would have been replaced with “negligent”. There would have been new provisions for killing an animal in a particularly brutal or vicious manner, training animals to fight or receiving money for animal fights, and special protection for law enforcement animals. The bill would have maintained protection for lawful animal use activities such as farming, hunting, fishing, and scientific research.[1] The bill was not passed.[4] Efforts are now being made at the provincial level to elevate the status of animals from property to sentient (i.e., feeling) beings.[5]

Bill 54 (41st Quebec Legislature, 1st Session)[edit]

Bill 54 was introduced in the 41st Quebec legislature in June 2015 and consultations are being held during September 14–29, 2015.[6] This bill would classify animals as sentient beings and would allow jailing animal abusers.[7]

Import regulations[edit]

The Health of Animals Regulations must be followed for all animals in human care while in Canada. Endangered species are subject to additional controls by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. In Canada, these controls are administered by the Canadian Wildlife Service. Environment and human health analysis may also be required under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act before importation is permitted.[8]

Amphibians and reptiles[edit]

There are no regulations on the imports of reptiles and amphibians, except for turtles and tortoises, which require an import permit from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. Pet turtles and tortoises must have been in the owner’s possession in the country of origin and must accompany the owner into Canada. Permits for turtle and tortoise eggs are only issued to zoos and research laboratories.


Pet birds imported from the United States must accompany the owner or an immediately family member into Canada. They must be found to be healthy when inspected at the place of entry and have been in the owner’s possession for 90 days preceding the importation, during which they cannot have been in contact with any other birds. If the bird is less than three days old, the owner must have been in possession of its mother and father for the preceding 90 days and both birds must have the same health status. The birds must also be pets, not intended for re-sale. Finally, neither the owner nor any member of their family may have imported birds into Canada under the pet bird provision during the preceding 90 days.

Importation of birds from countries in which highly pathogenic avian flu is endemic (Bangladesh, China, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Vietnam) is prohibited. Importation from other countries requires a CFIA permit.


Domestic cats aged 3 months or older from a country recognized by Canada as free of rabies must be accompanied by a rabies vaccination certificate or a veterinary certificate declaring that country of origin is rabies-free. Cats from a country not so recognized must be accompanied by a vaccination certificate. Without a certificate, the owner must have their cat vaccinated and provide a record of the vaccination to a CFIA office.


Regulations for domestic dogs vary with the age of the dog and whether the country of origin is recognized by Canada as rabies-free. In general, dogs must be accompanied by a certification of rabies vaccination or that the country of origin is rabies-free.

Aquatic animals[edit]

Aquatic animals such as fish, crustaceans, and molluscs must be declared. If the animal is on the Susceptible Species of Aquatic Animals list and cannot be exempt (for example, if the owner can attest that the animal will not come into contact with other aquatic species other than those kept in the household), a permit is required.


Rodents do not require a permit except for prairie dogs, Gambian pouched rats, squirrels, or rodents from Africa. Permits are also required for rats in Alberta.


Horses may be imported from the United States with an export certificate from the United States Department of Agriculture.


Pet rabbits from countries other than the United States require a permit.


Pet non-human primates are not permitted entry into Canada. Import permits are possible for primates destined for zoos, exhibitions or scientific research.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "A) Federal". Retrieved 2013-05-31. 
  2. ^ "Criminal Code". Government of Canada. Retrieved 2013-05-31. 
  3. ^ "CFHS | Criminal Code amendments". Retrieved 2013-05-31. 
  4. ^ "40th Parliament, 1st Session, Bill C-229". Parliament of Canada. 2008-11-26. Retrieved 2015-09-19. 
  5. ^ "New bill aimed at modifying the legal status of animals announced". Montreal SPCA. Retrieved 2014-12-14. 
  6. ^ "An Act to improve the legal situation of animals". Quebec Parliament. 2015-06-05. Retrieved 2015-09-19. 
  7. ^ "Quebec animal welfare bill hearings begin at National Assembly". CBC. 2015-09-14. Retrieved 2015-09-19. 
  8. ^ "Importing or Travelling with Pets". Canadian Food Inspection Agency. 2013-04-01. Retrieved 2013-05-31.