‘D’ Grade: A Look at Animal Welfare Policy in Canada

Celine Maiolino

This past year was an exciting time in the world of animal welfare. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) agreed to replace their muskrat fur hats with a more animal-friendly alternative (although the decision was later overturned by the federal government), the Pope confirmed that all dogs do in fact go to heaven, an orangutan was deemed to be a “person” in a first-ever court ruling, and there was even a conversation in Canada about drafting an animal charter of rights.

But it is not all good news for animal welfare in Canada. Late last year, an international animal protection index was released by World Animal Protection (WAP) comparing 50 countries on the strength of their public policy and legislative commitments to animal welfare. Canada received an overall grade of ‘D’ on a scale of A (best) to G (worst).

An obvious problem highlighted in the report is Canada’s archaic model of animal protection, consisting of outdated Criminal Code anti-cruelty laws and welfare policies that fail to reflect the changing landscape of animal welfare. One example of the disconnect between changing public perceptions and contemporary public policy in Canada is the practice of cosmetic testing on animals. In a 2012 Strategic Council opinion poll commissioned by Humane Society International/Canada and Animal Alliance Canada, 88 per cent of Canadians agreed that testing new cosmetic products on animals is not worth their pain and suffering, and 81 per cent would support a national ban on animal testing of cosmetics and their ingredients. While this sort of testing has been banned in the European Union since 2009, Canada has not yet made any similar progress.

The fragmentation and inconsistency of policy and legislation across Canada are the main inhibitors of animal welfare policy development. An integral first step suggested by WAP in moving towards more effective public policy would be to incorporate the World Organisation for Animal Health’s (OIE) standards in order to facilitate uniform regulation across the provinces and territories.

Beyond that, a second step could be to develop a central government body responsible for the improvement of animal welfare standards and for engaging with relevant stakeholders (including NGOs). In the United Kingdom, for example, there are requirements set out in legislation for consultation and advisory bodies have been established by the government. By building strong relationships with key stakeholders and interest groups, the government is able to produce relevant and sustainable animal welfare policy that is both informed and widely supported. In a period defined in part by a push for greater transparency, the Canadian government must also commit to improved reporting on standards for animal welfare.

On the bolder side of the spectrum, Canada could even consider an investment in animal welfare education to cultivate a stronger animal welfare environment in the future. By incorporating such an education into school curricula, discussions on animal welfare would start at a young age to promote compassion and pro-social behaviour. Here, provincial governments could look to Austria as an example, where the Austrian Association for Animal Welfare Education (founded in 2006 under the Animal Welfare Act 2004 to support animal welfare education in schools) reaches over 310,000 students in over 2,400 schools so far.

Recent endeavours by Ontario’s Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services have shown promise in addressing some of these issues. Proposed regulatory changes designed to improve conditions for captive marine mammals and a plan to enforce an outright ban on the acquisition and sale of killer whales are examples of progressive animal welfare policy.

The Ontario government has also pledged to form an advisory group comprised of scientists, industry representatives and experts, and animal activists to help guide recommendations — such as establishing new standards on the size of housing facilities, improving environment quality, and implementing new regulations for handling. An important facet of this endeavour is an attempt to create more transparency to the public in both the policy formulation and implementation stages.

These initiatives, focused on preventative as opposed to reactive measures, must be both built upon and emulated across the country. Animal welfare has increasingly become part of the conversation in Canada and around the world, stepping into the media spotlight. The task now becomes to talk about animal welfare in a substantive way, and to translate that talk into action.

Celine Maiolino is a 2016 Master of Public Policy candidate at the University of Toronto’s School of Public Policy and Governance. Her area of focus is animal policy.