Podcast: Fish cruelty laws

Fishes think, play, form relationships, and feel pain; yet they are often overlooked both in animal cruelty legislation and in public discussions of animal cruelty.

In this month’s episode of The Informed Animal Ally’s series on animal cruelty, Vancouver Humane Society Executive Director Amy Morris and Communications Director Chantelle Archambault discuss cruelty laws and practices related to fishes.

Note: Traditionally, “fishes” plural refers to the animals when there are multiple species. In this episode, the word is used to refer to any instance of multiple fish animals in recognition that each fish is an individual being.

Fish welfare legislation

A wild school of fishes in the ocean.

In general, fishes raised or caught for food are covered under the federal Fisheries Act in Canada. The act has been in place since 1868 to regulate fisheries and fish management, including protecting fishes and their habitats and preventing waterway pollution.

The law has gone through some amendments that weakened protections, but in 2019 it added new provisions that improved on the original Act. However, there is still a notable gap with regard to the welfare of fish.

The consideration for fish protection is mainly concerned with maintaining fish “stocks” as a resource, rather than protecting the welfare of fishes.

Many of the practices in “harvesting” fishes cause immense suffering. In fact, there don’t appear to be any laws that specifically outline the way fishes should be killed, which means there are no penalties for those who are fishing, or kill fishes, inhumanely.

Aquaculture (fish farming)

Aquaculture, or fish farming, is specifically included in amendments to the Fisheries Act.

Fish farms pose a major welfare problem for fishes, both those being farmed and those in surrounding waterways. Carnivorous farmed fishes like salmon, halibut, and tuna are fed diets made with fishmeal and fish oil made from smaller wild-caught fish. Open-net fish farms in particular are a major issue for surrounding fishes because they are placed in the water, allowing waste, disease, and chemicals to seep out into the surrounding ecosystem.

Fishes on farms are in kept in cramped, crowded conditions with no enrichment. According to a 2016 study by Royal Society Open Science, about a quarter of farmed fishes end up floating lifelessly at the top of their tanks, and they exhibit behaviours and brain chemistry that reflect stress and is reminiscent of the signs of depression that can be found in mammals.

Because so many fishes are stressed and in close quarters, they are very vulnerable to disease and parasites. Farms combat this by relying heavily on antibiotics. Not only can those antibiotics lead to drug-resistant infections in humans, but both the antibiotics and the parasites can make their way into surrounding water and impact wild fishes.

According to the First Nations Wild Salmon Alliance, the majority of First Nations in B.C. are opposed to open-net fish farms because of the impact of sea lice and viruses on wild fish. The federal government is currently working to phase out open-net fish farms in B.C. Bill C-258 passed the first reading in Parliament in March, which would amend “the Fisheries Act to prohibit finfish aquaculture for commercial purposes in Canadian fisheries waters off the Pacific Coast except when it is carried out in closed containment facilities”; essentially removing open net fish farms.

In BC, fish farms are managed under the Pacific Aquaculture Regulations.

Generally, like in B.C. and New Brunswick, specifics like “harvest” (slaughter) and habitat protection can be specified in the specific farm’s license rather than standardized in the regulations.

The National Farm Animal Care Council has a Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Farmed Salmonids (salmon, trout, charr) as of 2021. One requirement in the Code is that “Methods of euthanasia, slaughter, and depopulation must be quick, cause minimal stress and pain, and result in rapid loss of consciousness followed by death without the fish regaining consciousness.” Electrical stunning is one of the allowed slaughter methods. The code acknowledges that the use of ice slurry (a combination of freezing and asphyxiation in non-oxygenated water mixed with ice) is not a quick or painless slaughter method, but it is still allowed for the next 2.5 years.

Industrial fishing

An industrial fishing net full of wild-caught fishes

Industrial fishing uses harmful methods that result in the mass deaths of fishes and bycatch (the accidental capture of non-target species like dolphins, sea turtles, and diving birds).

Two of the methods used in commercial fishing are:

Longlining: Boats use lines that can extend for up to 50 miles, with thousands of baited hooks branching off from the main line. In 2018, a fishing magazine reported that the Canadian government was supporting a shift to longlining, but the federal government released an action plan on reducing bycatch from longlining in 2019.

Bottom trawling: A large net with heavy weights is dragged across the seafloor, scooping up everything in its path and damaging sensitive marine habitats. Bottom trawling was banned in 2019 in Marine Protected Areas, which only make up about 6% of Canada’s marine areas.

Recreational fishing

Fish approaching lure in the water

Even when fishes are released after being caught, the use of hooks causes pain and tissue damage. The change in pressure from pulling up some fishes out of the deep water results in barotrauma. For example, rockfish can experience barotrauma. Rockfish have a specialized gas filled sack that they use to control buoyancy. When they are reeled up and brought to the surface, they can’t release the necessary gases and this blows up their eyes, stomach and vent. If the fishes are quickly returned by a descender, they can survive, but in many cases they are just thrown back and continue to suffer or die from their injuries. There are no laws to prevent this, likely because they would be very difficult to enforce.

According to research, 18% of released fishes die of injuries and another 22% of the surviving fishes have their vision permanently impaired.

Recreational fishing and hunting organizations have admitted that they work to block cruelty legislation which would protect animals further.

Are fishes considered “animals” in law?

A wild tropical fish

In law, definitions matter quite a bit. Sometimes terms aren’t defined because they are seen as obvious. B.C.’s Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act states, “This Act does not apply to wildlife, as defined in the Wildlife Act, that is not in captivity.” However, there is no definition of animal outlined in the act.

If an agency responsible for Prevention of Cruelty to animals received a complaint in regards to a fish in captivity, they would need to use the same criteria as they would with a dog to identify if the fish were in distress.

There are many thousands of animal species, and in some species it can be complicated to prove distress. In cases of fish, it would likely require a biologist who specializes in fish distress, and could require someone who is knowledgeable about a specific species. For example, in 2016, the BC SPCA investigated the death of a sturgeon after the fish was euthanized. The fish had come from a commercial farm and was seen floating along the top of the tank before being euthanized; sturgeon are naturally bottom feeders.

There do not appear to be any cases of animal cruelty to fishes in captivity that have made it to court. A case in the United States was dropped specifically because the definition of animal excluded fishes.

What you can do

The best way you can help decrease the demand for harmful fishing practices is by eating plant-based. Fishes are farmed in higher numbers than any other animal, so shifting away from animal products in your diet can save hundreds of fish lives every year. The greatest impact of cutting out fish-based foods from our diets comes from cutting out farmed fishes, because of the high-stress methods used throughout the fishes’ lives and their impact on wild fishes, followed by fishes caught in commercial fisheries.

Cutting out farmed meat and animal products also decreases the demand for industrial animal agriculture, which is a major source of water pollution from agricultural runoff. Agricultural runoff can lead to the overgrowth of algae, which then decomposes and depletes the water of oxygen. Fish, who cannot survive in oxygen-depleted water, either die or move elsewhere to compete for increasingly scarce territory and resources.

There’s also other small changes that everyone can make to protect fish habitats – fishes are heavily impacted by plastic pollution and rising water temperatures, so reducing your use of single-use plastics and decreasing your carbon emissions are ways you can help every day.

Advocating for an end to fishing subsidies by the government and for climate-friendly and plant-forward policies is a great way to effect systems-level change.

Learn more about fishes

Next episode

On August 30, the Vancouver Humane Society will be joined by animal law lawyer Rebeka Breder for a discussion on dangerous dog laws.

Opinion Editorial

Calgary Stampede-goers should skip deadly chuckwagon races

A version of this article originally published in The Daily Hive.

People from across Alberta and Canada are flocking to Calgary for the return of the Calgary Stampede, but the event’s program gives reason for pause. For the first time since 2019, the Stampede’s deadliest event is returning: the Rangeland Derby chuckwagon races.

It doesn’t take much to see through the thin veneer of the Stampede’s carefully crafted safety-first defenses to the inherent danger on which the races were built. The Calgary Stampede’s chuckwagon races continue to be the cause of near-annual horse deaths; more than 70 horses have been killed by the event since 1986. Risk is so intrinsic to the nature of the sport that the World Professional Chuckwagon Association openly deems it the Half-Mile of Hell.

The last time the races were held, six horses died. One incident, in which the death of a horse and the injuries of three more were ruled to be caused by driver error, resulted in the event’s first-ever driver disqualification and potential lifetime ban. That driver has since been reinstated and is now slotted to race in 2022 without missing a single year.

In 2021, Stampede organizers cancelled chuckwagon racing due to safety concerns over a lack of practice season. Some of the Stampede’s usual wagon drivers – who purport to have the best interest of their animals at heart – went on record slamming the unprecedented safety precaution.

Unsurprisingly, when a similar event went ahead in nearby Red Deer that season, a horse was injured and had to be put down.

Stampede organizers have had two years to reconsider the deadly sport – but instead of responding to public demands to remove the races, they made a minor rule change that decreases the number of wagons on the track from four to three.

This is unlikely to differ in impact from previous changes, which set a bleak precedent for the outcome we can expect.

In 2011, the Stampede dropped two outriders from the event, bringing the number of horses on the track down to two outriders per wagon in each heat instead of four. The following year, an outrider horse sustained severe injuries after crashing into an unexpectedly halted wagon in an incident that claimed the lives of three more horses.

The problems with the chuckwagon races cannot be solved with simple rule changes. The volume of horses on the track in each heat is indeed problematic, but the threat to the animals’ safety runs much deeper.

Without serious structural changes to the event, the races will always be at high speed and close proximity, running the risk of chain reaction incidents like the one seen in 2012. The races also continue to use thoroughbred racehorses, many of whom have broken their legs during the event. Animal scientist Temple Grandin has pointed to an inherent problem with the use of thoroughbreds as selective breeding for speed has weakened their legs.

Rather than addressing these serious issues, Stampede organizers have opted to bring back the event in full force.

It is worth noting that the return of the chuckwagon races is not for lack of alternative events. The Stampede has been called Canada’s largest arts festival, with visual arts having been incorporated since the event’s inception. The Stampede’s diverse range of music performances is estimated to draw more than 600,000 attendees each year.

With an array of safer options to truly celebrate the vibrant culture of Calgary, it is baffling to see the Stampede leaning back into an event that is as controversial as it is dangerous.

It is obvious that the much-needed shift away from the Half-Mile of Hell will not come from the common sense of the organizers, but from the pressure of the public. If Stampede goers do not wish to bear witness to possible deaths of horses, year after year, the choice is clear: skip the chucks.

Urgent Care

Urgent care for Muska

Muska needs urgent help

After arriving from the Ukraine with her guardian Anna just three weeks ago, beautiful Muska recently became sick. She was coughing and having difficulty breathing, both signs of dangerous respiratory problems.
Even though Anna is a refugee with very limited funds, she knew that Muska’s life was too precious to risk. She immediately rushed her to the vet, where she found out Muska would need emergency testing.
Anna is committed to doing whatever it takes to get Muska well again, but she needs help. She is unable to find work until she gets her SIN card; she and her two children are living with a host family while her husband is still in the Ukraine. She reached out to VHS for assistance with Muska’s care, which is expected to cost between $400 and $800.
Can you donate toward Muska’s emergency testing and treatment?

Your gift will make double the difference! An anonymous donor is currently matching all donations made toward the McVitie Fund, up to $25,000.

Urgent Care

Urgent care for Lucky and Charm

Lucky and Charm need your help!

When Charm stopped eating and began vomiting, her guardian Stacy became very worried. Even though Stacy is living on an extremely limited income, she rushed Charm to the vet along with her cat brother, Lucky.
The vet determined that Charm would need to be hospitalized as she had become dehydrated from vomiting. The cost of hospitalization was more than Stacy could afford.

But there was more bad news to come. While checking Lucky for signs of illness, the vet discovered that he had an infection and would need antibiotics.
Stacy scraped together as much as she could to get her fur babies well again, but she can’t afford the costly treatment on her own. She reached out for help getting them the care they need. Can you make a gift today toward Lucky and Charm’s urgent treatment?

Your kind donation will be matched 100% by an anonymous donor.


Podcast: Farmed animal cruelty laws

Industrial animal agriculture has been called the biggest animal welfare crisis on the planet, with more than 70 billion land animals killed for food each year.

The Sentience Institute estimates that 74% of farmed animals are currently on factory farms, which are characterized by large numbers of animals confined in cramped, barren and unnatural conditions. This episode of the Vancouver Humane Society’s podcast, The Informed Animal Ally, explores the practices and laws that impact the suffering of these animals throughout their lives.

Practices on farms

A farmer walks inside a poultry farm

The Canadian Criminal Code may apply to farmed animals—they include an offense for wilfully killing, maiming, wounding, poisoning animals—but only if there is no lawful excuse.

The National Farm Animal Care Council’s Codes of Practice outline the minimum generally accepted practices of animal management; practices within the codes would be considered a “lawful excuse” for causing suffering. In British Columbia, the Codes are incorporated into law as a means of defense for farmers even in cases when there is evidence of animal suffering.

Many practices we would consider essential to the welfare of animals are labelled in the Codes as “recommended practices” and not requirements. Even where there are requirements that help to protect welfare, there is no use of the codes for proactive enforcement by government.

Generally accepted practices can cause acute pain and prolonged suffering. For instance, the chicks of egg-laying hens are met with practices that cause immense suffering or death soon after birth.

  • Male chicks born from egg-laying hens are considered a byproduct because they do not grow as quickly as chickens bred for meat; they can be killed by being sent down a conveyor belt into a macerator, gassed, or suffocated in plastic bags.
  • Female chicks are prepared to be raised for egg-laying by being debeaked; the tip of the top part of their beak is cut off with a hot blade or laser without anesthetic. This mutilation is done to prevent hens from pecking each other and themselves in stressful close quarters rather than giving the hens more space and freedom.

This is just one of many examples of animals receiving a punishment or painful prevention for an undesired behaviour, rather than addressing the poor conditions that cause the behaviour.

You can learn more about generally accepted practices on farms by registering for free at the Animal Justice Academy and watching The State of Animals Used in the Food Industry: In-Depth with Geoff Regier.


A pig seen through the bars of a transport truck

The Health of Animals Act regulates animal import and export, including transportation times.

There are very few farms with on-site slaughter facilities, which means most farmed animals must be transported before they are slaughtered.

The transport of animals is regulated federally by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), but the loading of the animals is considered provincial jurisdiction.

Allowed loading practices can cause serious harm to animals, as was evidenced in graphic footage captured on a B.C. egg farm. When animals arrive at the slaughter facility gravely injured or dead, no one is held accountable. Instead, the suffering can be deemed accidental because Codes of Practice were followed and CFIA veterinarians can deem it outside their jurisdiction because the harm happened before transport.

In February 2020, new transport requirements came into effect. Unfortunately, these laws had a negligible impact on the well-being of animals. The new regulations still lag behind other nations. Animals can be transported for long periods without food, water, or rest; they often arrive at slaughter facilities severely dehydrated, unable to stand, and surrounded by their own waste.


Even animals such as dairy cows and egg-laying hens, who are primarily used for the milk and eggs they produce while alive, are slaughtered at the end of their lives.

Slaughter is regulated federally through the Safe Food for Canadians Regulations. Though the federal government website claims to require “humane slaughter of food animals”, in reality animals are typically already stressed entering the facility and the slaughterhouse causes further fear and distress.

Laws require that animals are rendered unconscious before being bled. The methods through which this is done have varying degrees of effectiveness and varying degrees of pain. For instance, the gassing often used to render pigs unconscious causes distress. Lori Marino, a neuroscientist and expert in animal behaviour and intelligence, says that “Pigs are at least as cognitively aware as a monkey,” and that their squeals in the slaughterhouse are “distress calls”.

A study published in 2017 found that slaughterhouse workers—often vulnerable migrant workers—experience higher levels of stress than the general population.

Auction of farmed animals

Auctions of farmed animals are typically regulated by the provincial animal cruelty laws; however, there is not usually anyone monitoring them.

Often, there are animals sold at auction who are not in good condition.

Auctions themselves are scary and overwhelming for farmed animals, as they are unfamiliar, loud, and involve a lot of uncomfortable and often cruel handling. Similarly to all other situations with little oversight, animal suffering is the norm.

Labelling of animal products

Very few terms used in the labelling of animal products are actually regulated.

All labels for animal meats where an animal production claim is made such as “organic”, “vegetable grain fed – no animal by-products” or “raised without antibiotics” must be registered with the CFIA.

“Nature” and “natural” are terms often misused on labels and in advertisements and have no meaning for animal well-being. “Organic” means that it follows the Canadian Organic Standards, which still allow painful procedures. However, advertising can be carefully written; is an animal raised by organic methods, or are they only fed an organic feed?

Terms that are not regulated include “grass-fed”, “grass-finished”, “free range”, and “free run”. Hens can be very crowded in barns of 25,000 that are free-range or free-run.

Subliminal messaging and imagery such as the use of the colour green, images of leaves and open pastures, and positive words such as “happy” can also influence the way consumers perceive the welfare of the animals. These are purely marketing tactics and do not reflect the state of the farms.

When it comes to nutrition claims, there are restrictions. However, many of the claims that are on animal products are not on plant products. For example, even though fruits and vegetables can give you much of the nutrition we require in our diets, there are often no labels on them at all because it isn’t legally required.

What you can do

If everyone on earth ate the average Canadian diet, we would need 1.3 earths for agricultural land alone. That huge demand is driving intensive agriculture to try to maximize the food output in the smallest possible space, leading to the most serious welfare concerns.

The best way to reduce the demand for animal agriculture is to start transitioning our consumption to more plant-based foods.

Every level of government and many other institutions like schools and businesses have climate commitments right now, and an important part of meeting those goals would be a shift away from animal agriculture and toward plant-forward policies and legislation.

For instance, the Canadian government currently subsidizes the private animal agriculture industry with millions of taxpayer dollars. Funding that currently props up the animal agriculture industry could be used to invest in sustainable plant-based agriculture and emerging technologies like lab-grown meat.

Governments can also help by improving animal protection laws to immediately address industrial animal agriculture, which produces more greenhouse gas emissions and uses intensive methods with some of the greatest animal welfare concerns.

If you’re interested in spreading the message about eating a plant-based diet, or if you’re thinking of trying more plant-based foods yourself, you can find recipes and tips on Vancouver Humane Society’s PlantUniversity platform.

Ag-gag laws

Ag-gag laws are anti-whistlerblower laws that apply within the agriculture industry. They can differ between provinces. They aim to prohibit the taking and sharing of footage of farm animal suffering, under the guise of biosecurity. However, ag-gag laws don’t have to be in place for law enforcement agencies to recommend charges against people who take undercover footage, or go onto farms for the sole purpose of exposing animal cruelty. Charges like “trespassing” and “mischief” are applied even when there are no ag-gag laws in place. A number of cases have been going to court in recent years.

To read industry’s perspective on these laws, check out this article from Canadian Poultry or this article from the Canadian Hog Journal.

To read animal advocates perspectives in more detail, you can read this article from the Animal Protection Party or this article from Animal Justice.

Right now, in B.C., 3 animal activists are facing charges for exposing suffering on a farm in Abbotsford, called the Excelsior 4.

Read op-ed on the Excelsior 4

Next episode

Keep an eye out on July 26 for the next episode of The Informed Animal Ally on fishes. Thank you for listening and thank you for reading.

Opinion Editorial

“No justice” for those who exposed animal cruelty at Abbotsford hog farm

Article originally published in The Daily Hive.

Today, the Excelsior 4 (now 3) begin their trial by jury for exposing animal cruelty at a hog farm in Abbotsford; but there is no justice in this case.

The story of the Excelsior 4 began in 2019, when dozens of animal activists documented the suffering of pigs at Excelsior Hog Farm, advocating for media cameras to be allowed on the farm. Their aim was simple: to show the public how much suffering goes into the meat products they can find neatly packaged on grocery store shelves.

Footage recorded on the farm reveals a dire situation. In it, pigs can be seen crammed in crates barely larger than their bodies, unable to turn around. Some have bloody lacerations on their ears; some sport large growths around their eyes or abdomens; some struggle to stand on badly broken legs. Nursing mother pigs are separated by restrictive bars from their babies who languish, helpless and dying, on filthy floors. Anonymous staff shock the animals with what appears to be electric prods as they shy away, squealing, or cart dead piglets out of the barn in wheelbarrows.

In other videos, activists can be seen breaking down in tears as they document the bruised and bloodied bodies and broken spirits of animals widely understood to be as capable of learning and social behaviour as beloved family dogs.

Despite the overwhelming evidence of unimaginable suffering, Excelsior Hog Farm has still faced no legal repercussions in the three years since the footage was taken. The so-called justice system has instead targeted a small group of individuals who exposed this cruelty, known as the Excelsior 4.

One of the Excelsior 4, Geoff Regier, had charges stayed in pre-trial. The remaining three, Roy Sasano, Amy Soranno, and Nick Schafer, face a combined total of fourteen serious charges. If convicted, they could be looking at years in prison.

The fact that this case has proceeded to the trial stage while the perpetrators of egregious cruelty carry on free of consequences is a tragic testament to the priorities of the justice system. It is not on the side of the hundreds of millions of blameless animals who languish in illness and injury behind closed doors only to be slaughtered by gas, knife, or electrocution. It is certainly not on the side of the people expressing compassion for these defenseless animals. No; it is on the side of the corporate interests that perpetuate such inhumane treatment for the sake of the bottom line.

If the measure of a society truly is how we treat our most vulnerable members, where does this leave us?

The system has failed spectacularly in protecting any semblance of empathy for farmed animals and the humans who have tried to help them thus far. If we are to have any sense of justice in our society, the perpetrators of cruelty must be held accountable; and those who expose it must be celebrated, not punished.

Urgent Care

Urgent care for Shailoh

Shailoh needs surgery to remove a growth.

Shailoh is an incredible companion to her guardian, Francis. Francis struggles with anxiety and depression, and Shailoh gives her the emotional support she needs to get out of the house.

While Shailoh was shy at first, she quickly opened up with Francis’s loving care. She is amazingly communicative; she will tap her water bowl for a cold refill and rest her head on Francis’s shoulder when she wants to jump up.

Sadly, Shailoh recently developed a benign growth on one of her mammaries. The vet predicts that without treatment, the growth will burst within a matter of weeks or months, putting Shailoh’s life at risk. With help, however, she has many years of love left to give.

Francis can’t bear the thought of losing her beloved companion. She lives on a very low income and reached out for support covering the costs of Shailoh’s care. Can you help?

Your gift will make double the difference as all donations toward veterinary support are currently being matched by an anonymous donor up to $25,000.

Urgent Care

Urgent care for Brutis

Brutis needs help being treated for suspected rodenticide poisoning

Sweet Brutis has strong instincts to chase rodents, and his guardian Wanda has seen him going after mice in the backyard of her rental unit. Though she is cautious to keep him safe, he has occasionally caught them. Now he is in the veterinary hospital with symptoms of internal bleeding and Wanda fears rodent poisons are to blame.

Wanda was shocked when Brutis began showing signs of bleeding in his digestive tract. She rushed him to the vet, who confirmed that Brutis’s symptoms—including diarrhea, bleeding, and refusing to eat—are consistent with rodenticide poisoning. Brutis needs urgent help to cover his treatment, including hospitalization and an IV.

Wanda is living on a very low income. She says that Brutis is an important part of her family and helps her daily with her personal wellness.

Wanda is heartbroken to see Brutis suffering and wants nothing more than to bring this sweet boy home. Can you donate to help him today?


Petition: Say no to a new rodeo in Langley Township

Sign on to say no to inhumane rodeo events in Langley Township.

Tell decision-makers that you are opposed to inhumane rodeo events.

Sign onto the petition below to reflect your opposition to a recently introduced rodeo in Langley Township.

Your signature will be delivered to decision-makers including the Township of Langley Mayor & Council, asking that they not allow rodeo events that are at odds with best practices and the well-being of animals to become an annual occurrence.

Learn More

A step backward

This is the first time in well over a decade that a new annual rodeo is being introduced in the Lower Mainland. It also comes at a time when most communities have moved away from rodeos and toward more animal-friendly and family-friendly events. For example, the Luxton Rodeo near Victoria was cancelled in 2015 and the Abbotsford Rodeo was cancelled in 2016.

A ferris wheel at an animal-free country fair
A screenshot of an article from Global News reading "Cloverdale Rodeo accused of discrimination in human rights complaint"

Human rights case concerns

This rodeo has concerning connections to an ongoing human rights complaint. The event contact for the rodeo is listed as Rich Kitos, the former vice president of the Cloverdale Rodeo & Exhibition Association and one of the key board members named in a human rights complaint filed against the Association in July of last year and currently still being investigated by the B.C Human Rights Tribunal. The complaint alleges that board members including Kitos conspired to cover up discriminatory conduct, including racism, sexism, and physical abuse.

Changing public values

New public polling reflects that rodeo is not in the public interest, with 64% of B.C. residents and 61% of Canadians opposed to the use of animals in rodeo.

A pie chart showing 64% over a faded background of a horse's legs
A photo of steer wrestling at a rodeo event

Risk of injury

Many rodeo events put animals at unnecessary risk of injury, which may require euthanasia.  This can include broken bones, neck injury or internal damage. Injuries may also not be identified immediately after the event, as inflammation and muscle damage can take up to 48 hours after the injury to present.

Distress and discomfort

Research demonstrates how animals used in many rodeo events experience fear, stress, discomfort and pain when chased, roped, and wrestled. For example, there is evidence of elevated levels of stress hormones in calves after being roped. Another indicator of stress is when the animal’s eye rolls to show more of the eye-white.

A close up of a bull's face during a bull riding event

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Podcast: Companion animal cruelty laws

Millions of pet guardians across Canada consider our furry friends to be part of the family; but what happens when companion animals are the victims of cruelty?

The first episode of the Vancouver Humane Society’s podcast, The Informed Animal Ally, explores companion animal cruelty, laws, and advocacy. Listen as we dive into this topic, from gaps in federal legislation to how laws have harmed animals and their guardians.

Federal laws

A hand scratches a cat's chin

In the Canadian Criminal Code, companion animals are covered under the section “Wilful and Forbidden Acts in Respect of Certain Property“. The designation of companion animals as property in federal law has led to a patchwork of laws in which, for instance, different protections can exist for a domestic cat with a guardian compared to a feral cat. It also fails to address the intrinsic value of animals’ lives and well-being. Humane Canada is currently aiming to work with the Federal Minister of Justice to update the Criminal Code.

Specific animal cruelty cases that have set a precendent in Canada can be found through the NCPAC Case Law Database. Please note that the details in this database can be disturbing.

Canada does not currently recognize animal sentience at the federal level. A list of countries that have formally recognized non-human animal sentience can be found on Wikipedia.

Indigenous laws

A person pats a dog while sitting in the grass

Indigenous laws were applied on the land now known as Canada far before the existence of the colonial system. More about Indigenous law can be learned through the University of Alberta’s Indigenous Canada course.

Generally speaking, Indigenous laws are concerned with maintaining and restoring harmony within and between human and non-human animal relationships. While specific laws differ based on the stories, history, ceremony, and worldview of each individual community, they are guided by the relationship between humans and the environment. They typically use restorative approaches that promote values including respect and consensus.

The interconnectedness of humans, animals, and the environment within the current Western tradition is considered under the One Welfare framework. This framework is not new; in fact, it is very similar to the values that have been held by Indigenous communities for thousands of years.

Historically, federal laws and practices have interfered with the freedoms of Indigenous communities to keep and care for companion animals. For instance, qimmiit (sled dogs) were an integral part of Inuit culture prior to being almost wiped out after the introduction of settlement life. Among the threats to the qimmiit was a cull by colonial authorities; hundreds of qimmiit were shot by the RCMP and other authorities in the 1950s and 1960s. For more information, see the Qikiqtani Truth Commission Final Report (PDF).

Provincial laws

A pit bull lounges on a bed

Each province and territory’s animal cruelty laws attempt to fill in the gaps left by the federal Criminal Code. Written legislation, case law, and interpretation vary between provinces and territories, creating inconsistent protections for animals across the country.

For instance, Quebec is the only province with a Civil Code, which is similar to the federal Criminal Code. Because the Civil Code enables more explicit written legislation, Quebec is the only province that officially recognizes animals as sentient beings in its written laws.

Alberta also set a precedent for recognizing animal sentience in a 2021 case regarding cruelty against a puppy named Cinnamon.

In British Columbia, companion animal protection is covered under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act.

A person walks a cat on a leash

Municipal laws

Municipal animal cruelty laws can allow for better community relations and animal care, but are often more open to interpretation, again leading to a patchwork approach.

Animal guardians living on a lower income are disproportionately affected by municipal laws and barriers, particularly fine-based systems, registration costs, and a lack of access to pet-friendly housing.

Where pet-friendly housing does exist, there are often further barriers to people living in poverty. For instance, some renters are required to spay and neuter their pets in order to find or keep their home—a procedure that can be prohibitively costly for pet guardians living on a low income.

The Vancouver Humane Society’s Helping Women and Pets in Crisis program aims to break down the barriers and support the pets of women who are seeking housing or maintaining their housing while caring for a pet in crisis.

Next episode

Keep an eye out on June 28 for the next episode of The Informed Animal Ally on farmed animals. Thank you for listening and thank you for reading.