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How updated animal protection laws defend all Canadians
"Bill C-84 has been more than three years in the making and is an important step forward in providing greater protection to Canada’s most vulnerable animals and children."
Last week Bill C-84 which broadens the definition of bestiality as well as updating the animal fighting section of Canada’s Criminal Code, passed a third reading in the House of Commons
While it’s clear how these important changes will protect animals from sexual abuse and violence, many people may be unaware of how Bill C-84 strengthens our protection of children.
Consider, for example, a recent Canadian Centre for Child Protection report which shows that 87 per cent of the abuse cases involving bestiality also involved child pornography, sexual interference with a child, online luring of children or sexual assault.
It follows then, that if we can prosecute animal sex abuse crimes more fully, we can protect vulnerable people from the perpetrators of sex crimes generally.
A recent Supreme Court decision (R v. D.L.W.) had opened a legislative gap and effectively legalized any sexual abuse of animals that falls short of penetration.
The situation arose because the term bestiality was not use in Canada’s early Criminal Code to describe ‘buggery with an animal’ (penetration). The term had been introduced in 1955 and the criminal code was again revised in 1988 to provide further protection for children. Yet the term remained without clear a definition anywhere in the text.
Meanwhile, related social norms have changed to the point where any sexual touching of an animal is clearly recognized as deviant behaviour.
For example, one University College Cork study categorized images of bestiality as the worst offending in child sex abuse and victim impact. Here the term bestiality refers to “pictures where an animal is involved in some form of sexual behaviour with a child.”
Today, we know more about the role animal abuse plays coercing and controlling children and intimate partners in abusive relationships. The Canadian Center for Child Protection report cited 38 cases where the courts did not adhere to the strict legal definition of bestiality and found other sexual touching was more common in abuse cases.
We can see that using the historic common law definition of bestiality no longer serves Canadian society, and a broader characterization of the crime to include any act for a sexual purpose is now required.
In many cases of sexual assault of animals Humane Societies and SPCAs have struggled with the definition’s limiting scope and, as a result, have often seen perpetrators not charged due to a lack of evidence of penetration.
With the passing of Bill C-84, we have eliminated the risk of normalizing deviant sexual behaviour, increased animal welfare in Canada and thereby reduced sexual exploitation of vulnerable people too.
‘At’ the centre of change
Bill C-84 also addresses the historic flaws in the Criminal Code’s animal fighting provisions which had been woefully out of step with current society and inconsistent with today’s animal fighting crimes.
In the 19th Century, bear and bull baiting were the popular blood sports in Canada and were made illegal through the Criminal Code. Then, cock fighting increased and, later still, dog fighting came to the fore and remains widespread today. It’s linked to gangs and illegal gambling and other major crimes.
The Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals reported three investigations in less than a year that resulted in 11 search warrants and the seizure of 64 fighting dogs, documents, photos, veterinary supplies, electronic equipment and hundreds of items related to the training of dogs to fight.
Since these activities are linked to criminal undertakings and often to organized crime as well, it would be logical to eliminate all animal fighting and the breeding and training that support it.
Yet in the past, a specific preposition had been the stumbling block to prosecuting many cases.
“Encouraging, aiding or assisting at the fighting or baiting of animals”, was an offence under the Criminal Code.
However, the use of “at” narrows the offence to just one moment within the whole crime. It neglects the training, transporting and breeding of the animal, which is often even more cruel than the fight itself.
And, it fails to accommodate today’s online world. Live streaming technology means it’s no longer necessary to be physically “at” an animal fight to be part of the wagering that happens. Bill C-84 expands the scope of the law to include “in any manner encourages, aids, arranges, assists at, receives money for or takes part in and animal fight.”
Bill C-84 has been more than three years in the making and is an important step forward in providing greater protection to Canada’s most vulnerable animals and children.
On behalf of organizations that enforce these laws in communities from coast to coast, we are thankful that Bill C-84 has passed the House of Commons and is before the Senate.
Barbara Cartwright is the CEO of Humane Canada, the national federation of SCPAs and humane societies.
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