In response to the horrific Whistler sled dog cull in British Columbia, the government is toughening animal cruelty laws. Premier Christy Clark endorsed all of the task force’s recommendations. While these tougher laws are a positive change moving forward, it is cold comfort that it took the killing of nearly 100 huskies to strengthen laws to protect animals. Read on to see what changes will be made to help prevent tragedies like this from happening again. — Global Animal
680 News, James Keller
VANCOUVER – British Columbia plans to introduce what its premier calls the toughest animal cruelty laws in the country in response to the gruesome slaughter of as many as 100 sled dogs near the resort town of Whistler.
The allegations that dozens of animals were shot and dumped in a mass grave last April made headlines around the world earlier this year, casting a cloud over the province’s tourism industry as it was still basking in the afterglow of the 2010 Winter Olympics.
The slaughter led to an ongoing criminal investigation by B.C.’s SPCA and prompted the province to launch a sweeping review of the dog-sled industry.
The report from that government review was released Tuesday along with 10 recommendations, including significantly tougher penalties for animal cruelty, mandatory standards for sled-dog operators and increased funding for the SPCA.
Premier Christy Clark immediately endorsed all of the report’s recommendations, which were drafted by a task force led by a member of the governing Liberal caucus.
“It was a terrible black eye for British Columbia, there is absolutely no question about that,” Clark told reporters gathered at the SPCA’s offices in Vancouver.
“This incident made an entire industry look like it wasn’t doing its job, when in fact the vast majority of people who work in this industry and eco-tourism industries across the province are doing an absolutely terrific job and care very deeply about the animals they work with.”
Clark said the province will increase the maximum penalty in animal cruelty cases to a $75,000 fine, 24 months in jail, or both. The current law allows for a maximum fine of $10,000 and a maximum jail sentence of six months. The changes will also extend the current six-month statute of limitations in such cases.
“Part of the action that we will be implementing includes the toughest penalties in Canada for animal cruelty,” said Clark.
The premier said the government will immediately provide an additional $100,000 to the SPCA for its investigations, and she raised the possibility that further funding increases could follow.
The province will require veterinarians to report cases of animal cruelty, appoint a dedicated prosecutor to handle such cases and create policies to ensure public-sector agencies also report abuse. The province’s workers’ compensation board, which first learned of the slaughter last year, faced criticism for not reporting it to the SPCA.
Clark also pledged to lobby Ottawa to toughen animal cruelty provisions in the Criminal Code.
For the dog-sled industry in particular, the province plans to set a mandatory “standard of care” for operators, and any using Crown land will be subject to annual inspections.
The province will also encourage the industry to develop a certification program that would go beyond the minimum standards set by the government.
The details of the Whistler slaughter emerged in January in leaked workers’ compensation documents.
In those documents, a worker claimed he slaughtered between 70 and 100 dogs, which he said left him with post-traumatic stress. The documents detailed a bloody scene in which dogs were shot or had their throats slit over two days.
The dogs were owned and cared for by Howling Dog Tours. At the time of the cull, Outdoor Adventures had an ownership stake in the company but has repeatedly insisted it knew nothing about the slaughter. The worker claimed he was ordered to cull the pack after a post-Olympic slump in sales, which Outdoor Adventures has also denied.
The company, which has suspended its dog-sled operations, issued a brief statement Tuesday welcoming the government report, saying the recommendations will “lead to strong regulations, increased oversight and the toughest animal welfare legislation in Canada.”
“We also support the recommendation to develop standard of care and best practices guidelines for sled dog operations.”
The Opposition NDP’s agriculture critic, Lana Popham, said she was encouraged by the report’s recommendations and the government’s quick response.
Still, Popham said the $100,000 grant announced Tuesday doesn’t go far enough, noting the SPCA spends more than $2 million a year on animal cruelty investigations across the province.
The CEO of the provincial SPCA, Craig Daniell, estimated that his organization needs another half-million dollars to ensure it has enough resources to enforce the law.
“We will be engaging in a discussion with the provincial government about how we make up that shortfall, because we definitely see it as a shortfall,” said Daniell.
Meanwhile, Daniell the next step in the animal cruelty investigation will be to dig up the bodies of the dogs.
Daniell said because of the current six-month limit in the provincial legislation, the Whistler case will be investigated under the Criminal Code, which sets higher standards for a conviction.
The RCMP also launched a separate investigation into alleged death threats connected to the case.