Wins for animals in 2023

Happy new year! As we celebrate and prepare to build on last year’s momentum for animals in 2024, here is a look back on some of the incredible achievements that animal allies like you made possible last year. 

Watch the video

Making life better for pets

Hundreds of pets received life-saving care

With rising costs of living and a rescue system struggling to meet the needs of animals, programs that keep loved animals in their homes are more essential than ever. Supporters from the community generously helped 580 animals to receive life-saving veterinary support through the VHS’s McVitie Fund.

Beloved companion animals like Arlo, who was diagnosed with a life-threatening liver condition called hepatic lipidosis, received the care they need and returned safely to their families thanks to donations from animal lovers like you.

Help pets in need

Helping People and Pets in Crisis helped families with pets find housing

The VHS’s Helping People and Pets in Crisis program helped 143 animals to access preventative care such as spays, neuters, and vaccines. These procedures enabled them and their 120 guardians to access stable housing where they could be safe and together.

Outreach helped pets in Vancouver’s vulnerable communities

At the VHS’s annual Because They Matter event, staff and volunteers met in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside community to share veterinary support resources, pet toys, leashes, harnesses, blankets, and more essential supplies with animals and their guardians who spend their days on the streets. The team handed out about 400 pamphlets and thousands of pet supplies over the course of the day!

The McVitie team also connected with pet guardians living on a low income at Pet Fair for People Care events by Community Veterinary Outreach.

Training helped organizations meet pet guardians where they are at

The VHS’s training program helped organizations across Canada meet animal guardians where they are at with trauma-informed, culturally safe care. The program welcomed 805 attendees through online courses, the team met nine organizations for face-to-face workshops, and live webinars reached 137 attendees!

Sign up for free

Speaking up for animals in entertainment

Saying no to horse racing

Last year, the VHS and supporters spoke out against the use of horses in dangerous racing events after a serious of fatal incidents at Hastings Racecourse. Concerns from the VHS were covered in 19 media outlets including Global News, City News Vancouver, The Aldergrove Star, and Victoria News. An opinion piece was published in the Daily Hive to raise awareness about the dangers posed to racehorses and to call on Vancouverites not to attend racing events.

The VHS also shared a pledge to say no to horse racing, which was signed by more than 860 people.

Standing up for animals used in the Calgary Stampede

VHS supporters rallied against rodeo cruelty in 2023! More than 15,000 people visited the website, building on the momentum of last year’s awareness campaign. More than 1,800 people took the pledge to #SayNoToRodeo and the chuckwagon races at the Calgary Stampede.

2023 marked the 100th year of chuckwagon racing at the Calgary Stampede, which meant the races were featured prominently in media and event promotion. The VHS raised concerns about dangerous and inhumane races in the Daily Hive. Following a chuckwagon incident that resulted in yet another horse death, the VHS’s response was covered in outlets including Global News.

Opposing inhumane rodeo events in B.C.

In 2023, the Province of B.C. offered nearly $800,000 in taxpayer dollars to events that included rodeos. The VHS published two opinion pieces raising concerns about provincial funding for rodeos, “It’s time to stop using taxpayer money to fund inhumane events” and “Taxpayer money should NOT be funding rodeos in BC“.

The VHS also released concerning footage following the province’s rodeo season, which revealed stressed animals and rough handling. Some of this footage was featured in a VHS piece published in the Daily Hive entitled “A stressful and fear-filled glimpse into an animal’s first rodeo“.

Public opposition to rodeo is growing in B.C.—65% of residents are opposed to the practice, and advocates continue to hold protests at controversial rodeo events.

Take action on rodeo

A win for animals in Port Moody!

More than 8,000 advocates signed the VHS’s actions calling for an end to provincial funding of rodeos and for municipal bans on inhumane rodeo events.

The City of Port Moody responded to the public demand for change, with City Council unanimously voting for a bylaw prohibiting events including bucking, roping, wrestling, and mutton busting!

Port Moody joins the City of Vancouver and District of North Vancouver in introducing rodeo bylaws to protect animals.

Protecting farmed animals

Calling for transparency for farmed animals

A number of undercover investigations last year found horrific suffering on farms and in slaughterhouses in B.C. Advocates took strong action speaking out against this treatment of animals, with more than 8,500 supporters demanding that the B.C. government introduce greater protections including video surveillance, unannouced inspections, and meaningful penalties for industry stakeholders found guilty of cruelty.

Another 4,000 allies used the VHS’s quick action tool to oppose Bill C-275, a federal “ag-gag” bill which would criminalize whistleblowers and undercover investigators who expose animal cruelty or welfare issues on farms. You can read more about concerns with this bill in a joint piece written by the VHS and Animal Justice, “New bill would silence those who shed light on animal cruelty“.

New Dairy Code of Practice released

In 2022, the VHS and other animal organizations across Canada spoke out for animals during a consultation period on the National Farm Animal Care Council’s (NFACC) Dairy Cattle Code of Practice, which provides guidelines for the care of dairy cows on farms across Canada, and shared tips on how to call for much-needed improvements during the public comment period. 

Thousands of animal advocates and concerned consumers responded, and the Code received a record-setting 5,800+ comments! The strong public response during the public consultation prompted some positive changes to the new Code released in 2023, including stronger restrictions around abusive handling, changes to housing models, and a ban on branding. However, the VHS continues to draw attention to several areas of the Code which still fall short of expectations through messages like an opinion piece published in The Province.

Working to end live horse exports for slaughter

The VHS team was hard at work raising awareness and opposition of the cruel live horse export industry. The VHS Partnered with Canadian Horse Defence Coalition (CHDC) President Sinikka Crosland to release an episode of The Informed Animal Ally, submitted a letter with animal organizations nationwide that led to a meeting with government officials, and shared a quick action supported by more than 6,714 supporters!

Thanks to the efforts of advocates across the country, 2 bills have been introduced to ban the industry!

Photo: Canadian Horse Defence Coalition
Take action on horse exports

Giving Tuesday donors helped farmed animals today and in the future

On Giving Tuesday, the VHS partnered with The Happy Herd Farm Sanctuary to raise funds for vital animal supplies to care for rescued animals in a loving forever home, life-saving veterinary support, and advocacy to create meaningful changes for animals. Kind animal lovers supported animals through both organizations by donating or shopping at participating businesses, and donations were matched by generous sponsors including Panago Pizza, Vicky Reshetylo, Fraser Hall, and Spearhead Trucking Company.

Allies like you helped to raised a record-breaking $23,500 to help animals! This is enough funds:

  • …to cover food for all the cows of the Happy Herd for eight months
  • …AND for fourteen vet visits to the Happy Herd
  • …AND to cover food costs for all 22 goats at the Happy Herd for six months 
  • …AND for lifesaving tests for 35 pets in need through the VHS’s McVitie Fund
  • …AND to reach 156,922 animal allies to advocate for meaningful policy changes that will improve animal lives!

Plant-based advocacy protected animals by putting more plants on people’s plates

The VHS’s Plant University team was hard at work last year making plant-based eating more accessible and sharing information on how to make simple, compassionate changes.

The VHS released polling results that reveal plant-based eating is becoming more popular in the Lower Mainland. This poll also informed an impact report which outlined how one person can save money and reduce their environmental impact by transitioning to a plant-based diet. The report was covered in 23 media outlets including the Canadian Geographic and Kamloops Now, and the VHS was invited to speak about it at an event held at UBC Robson.

Plant University reached more people with information about plant-based eating! Messages about saving money and reducing land use and emissions were shared through radio ads, billboards, and bus ads. The team also developed a toolkit to help students learn about plant-based eating and shared a translated plant-based beginner’s guide to reach Punjabi speakers. This information reached more than two million people!

A kinder future for all species

Thank you for helping animals in 2023! Your support will help to create a kinder, more humane future for animals. Can you keep the momentum going by taking action on the current campaigns to end animal suffering or making a donation toward vital animal programs and advocacy?

Take action
Donate now

How to prevent further bird flu outbreaks in B.C.

Letter: How to prevent further bird flu outbreaks in B.C.

The PETA Foundation has written a series of alternate food options to help stop the spread.

“The best way to prevent future outbreaks of bird flu, which has been found on more than 50 poultry farms in British Columbia since October, is to stop raising birds for food.”

The PETA Foundation has written a series of plant-based options to help stop the spread in this letter to the Times Colonist.

Read the article

Millions of birds killed due to avian flu in B.C.

11 new cases of avian flu in Lower Mainland | CityNews Vancouver

Two new cases of bird flu have been confirmed in Chilliwack by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, bringing the total cases across the Lower Mainland to 11.

“Canadian Food Inspection Agency data show there have been 39 B.C. outbreaks of H5N1 avian flu since Oct. 20, resulting in almost five million birds dying of infection or being ‘humanely depopulated’ to halt the spread of the virus.”

Intensive animal agriculture, where a large number of animals are kept in close quarters under stressful conditions, puts animals at risk of disease spread like avian influenza.

Read the article

Where to donate to help Metro Vancouverites, animals in need over the holidays

Where to donate to help Metro Vancouverites, animals in need over the holidays

There are numerous places in Metro Vancouver, BC that are asking for donations leading up to Christmas Day 2023. Find out how to help those less fortunate.

The Vancouver Humane Society, the Happy Herd Farm Sanctuary, and other worthy causes were featured in Vancouver is Awesome! Read the article to find out how your gift can make a difference this holiday season.

“Panago Pizza locations across B.C. will offer plant-based pizzas for $15 with the code PLANT15 on Tuesday, Nov. 28. One dollar from each purchase will be donated to the Vancouver Humane Society (VHS) and the Happy Herd Farm Sanctuary. Panago has five plant-based pizzas to choose from.

“Funds support a loving forever home for more than 65 animals at the Happy Herd sanctuary in Aldergrove, which rescues animals from the farming industry. 

“Donated dollars also support vital program and advocacy work at the Vancouver Humane Society, including covering life-saving veterinary care for beloved pets and ensuring they can return to their caring guardians rather than being surrendered to the overburdened shelter and rescue system.

“Members of the community can also donate directly to the VHS and The Happy Herd online. Panago is matching donations made to the Giving Tuesday campaign up to $2,000, and other generous local partners are matching an additional $6,000 in donations.”

Read the article
Donate now

BC pig farm accused of cruelty—again

Photo: Animal Justice

Excelsior Hog Farm is in the news again after disturbing new undercover footage, allegedly filmed at the Abbotsford farm between April and June 2023, was released by Animal Justice.  

The footage shows:

  • cruel handling practices, including pigs being kicked in the stomach and face, and struck with metal rods and plastic boards;
  • injured pigs with hernias, pressure sores, open wounds and leg injuries; and
  • filthy conditions, including dead and rotting bodies of pigs and partially eaten bodies of piglets, and floors caked in feces and what appears to be blood and feces in some water troughs. 
Take action
Watch the video (Warning: Graphic content)

Take action

Call for meaningful action to protect farmed animals, including: 

  • Government-mandated and proactively enforced farmed animal welfare regulations;  
  • Publicly available reports of independent, third-party audits on farms and in slaughterhouses, including consistent video surveillance monitoring for real transparency; and 
  • Appropriate deterrents to prevent animal cruelty, including unannounced inspections and effective penalties for industry stakeholders who are found guilty of animal cruelty. 

Fill out the form below to send this important message to your Member of B.C.’s Legislative Assembly (MLA), B.C.’s Premier, and B.C.’s Minister of Agriculture. Feel free to personalize the message.

Live outside of Canada? You can email B.C.’s Premier at and the Minister of Agriculture at

Not the first time Excelsior accused of cruelty

This comes after a previous undercover investigation at the farm in 2019, which also showed concerning on-farm conditions and treatment of pigs. The footage included clips of dead and dying pigs in unsanitary conditions and cruel handling, including piglets being castrated without the use of painkillers.

Despite this evidence, the farm’s owners were never charged or held accountable. Instead, two advocates involved in a peaceful protest and sit-in that took place on the farm, have been convicted and face jail time. Both are appealing their convictions. 

Second major undercover investigation in B.C. this year

While the animal agriculture industry attempts to suggest instances like this are the exception to the rule and don’t represent the industry as a whole, the reality is that numerous investigations over the years have revealed widespread animal cruelty and welfare issues on farms and in slaughterhouses.  

In February 2023, undercover footage from a Pitt Meadows-based slaughterhouse, Meadow Valley Meats, showed animals being hit, kicked and thrown to the ground; inhumane use of an electric prod; frightened animals crowding together in the hallways and panicked attempts to escape; and improper slaughter techniques that led to significant animal suffering.

Like Excelsior Hog Farm, this was not the first incident involving the company. Media reports that the company, formerly called Pitt Meadows Meats, pled guilty in 2015 to selling E. Coli-tainted meat and after the plant manager knowingly decided not to recall it.  

The new footage, along with the many other previous undercover investigations in B.C., make it clear that there are serious, systemic issues across the animal agriculture industry. 

Back to take action

B.C. hog farm accused of animal cruelty after new video released

Excelsior Hog Farm in Abbotsford is once again under scrutiny after new footage depicting horrific animal suffering was released by Animal Justice, revealing:

  • dead and rotting pigs, including piglets whose carcasses were partially eaten;
  • crushed and stillborn piglets inside crates;
  • pigs kicked in the stomach and face;
  • pigs jabbed with a metal rod and hit with plastic boards;
  • pigs with hernias, prolapses, blood laceration and open wounds; and
  • water troughs that appear to be filled with feces and blood.

The footage appears to “show some violations of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, potentially the Criminal Code and without a doubt violations of industry’s own subscribed national codes of practice,” according to the BC SPCA.

Content warning: The video accompanying this article contains censored (blurred), disturbing footage.

Read the article

Union of BC Indian Chiefs rejects factory farming, calls for change

On July 20, 2023, the Union of BC Indian Chiefs (UBCIC) issued an open letter to both the provincial and federal Minister’s of Agriculture calling for government action to address the animal welfare, climate and environmental impacts of factory farming.  

The open letter cites UBCIC Resolution 2023-19 “Call to Strengthen Animal Farming Practices and Address the Significant Environmental Impacts of Factory Farming”, which was unanimously endorsed at the UBCIC Chiefs Council in June. 

Read the UBCIC resolution
Learn more about factory farming

The Resolution highlights “our spiritual and ethical responsibility to treat our animal relations with respect, reciprocity, and dignity” and that “poor treatment of animals in factory farming practices contravenes the customs, laws, traditions and values of First Nations in BC who maintain deep spiritual connections to all living things, including new animal kin that were brought over by colonization and European settlement.” 

It goes on to note that: 

“Animals on factory farms are one of the most unregulated and unprotected groups of animals in BC and Canada, and their mistreatment during raising, transport and unethical slaughtering practices is a punishable act under the Criminal Code, but the lack of regulation and oversight bodies prevents it from occurring.”

The Resolution also highlights the intersection between factory farming, climate change, habitat and biodiversity loss “that have resulted in the displacement of Indigenous peoples and our animal kin to make room for mass and over-producing factory farms…” 

The UBCIC Chiefs Council issues a powerful call to action for the B.C. and federal governments, urging both to “work with First Nations to co-develop legislation and regulations in alignment with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples that reduce the impacts of climate change and habitat loss due to factory farming, and reduce the risk of disease and suffering of animals on factory farms, and that provide funding to communities in order to support the transition to better animal welfare practices more aligned with a cruelty-free stance toward animals.” 

Read the UBCIC resolution
Learn more about factory farming

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.


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.


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.