Weak federal animal cruelty legislation enables abuse

Weak federal animal cruelty legislation enables abuse

The woman at the heart of Canada’s largest animal neglect case was sentenced this month receiving a lifetime ban on owning animals in Alberta. She pled guilty to 4 four counts of causing an animal to be in distress under the Alberta Animal Protection Act - even though she was charged with 13 provincial offences and 1 criminal offence.

Sadly this was not her first offence...

In 2007, 36 dogs were seized from her care in Fort McMurray, Alberta.

In 2010 she was convicted of non-criminal neglect under the Saskatchewan’s Animal Protection Act after 83 dogs were seized from her property in Foam Lake, Saskatchewan. She was handed a 10-year ban from owning more than two dogs in Saskatchewan. That ban expires in 2023.

Ms. Irving then moved to Milk River, Alberta where in 2014, 201 dogs were seized in Canada’s largest animal neglect case in history.  The animals were found dehydrated, starving and chained in the yard. 

This case is a clear example of the impact of weak federal animal cruelty legislation. Unfortunately, without a federal Criminal Code conviction Ms. Irving will not have a criminal record that follows her across the country or a nation wide lifetime ban on owning, caring for or living with an animal. In other words, there is nothing stopping her from moving to another province and starting all over again.

Outdated Criminal Code

The issue at stake is that the Criminal Code is outdated with regards to the crime of neglect. The term “willful neglect” dates back to the 1800s and requires proof that someone deliberately neglected an animal. As a result, Prosecutors will often charge offenders under provincial legislation which has been adequately updated in the last 20 years as the likelihood of conviction is higher.

The modernized offence that aligns with every other section in the Criminal Code is “gross negligence” which requires proof that there was a marked departure from a reasonable standard of care and an animal has unnecessarily suffered. In the April Irving case, there’s an abundance of evidence that she deviated from the standard practice of caring for dogs.

Without Criminal Code charges, the result is a patchwork of laws, repeat offenders and animal suffering. This is why Humane Canada is pressing for changes to the Criminal Code to ensure cases like these don’t fall through the cracks.

We need your help to make a difference

Canada must also address the issue of tracking those convicted of abusing animals. By tracking these crimes and the offenders who commit them we give police forces a powerful tool to protect the most vulnerable in our society whether animal or human.  Humane Canada has been working with police forces in Canada to assess the current reporting and tracking systems to determine how to integrate animal cruelty considerations into them.  Together we can make our communities safer, please consider supporting Humane Canada today. 


Barbara Cartwright, CEO, Humane Canada



Barbara Cartwright
About Barbara Cartwright
As the CEO of Humane Canada, Barbara convenes and represents the largest animal welfare community in Canada, working to end animal cruelty, improve animal protection and promote the humane treatment of all animals.
Weak federal animal cruelty legislation enables abuse
Weak federal animal cruelty legislation enables abuse
Humane Canada (also known as the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies) is Canada's federation of SPCAs and humane societies, representing the largest animal welfare community in Canada.