Any animal advocate who wants to get political needs to understand what level of government can help them with their cause. Different animals are served by different levels of government. To be effective for animals, knowing where best to direct your time and energy is invaluable.
Breaking down the government
Canada’s form of political system is federalism. We have a central federal government with further regional levels of government called provinces, and then municipalities. Powers and responsibilities are divided between the federal and provincial government. Municipal, provincial, and federal governments cannot pass legislation, or bylaws which are outside of their power (ultra vires) or that infringe on the powers provided to another level of government as laid out in the Constitution Act. Technically, only the federal and provincial governments are provided powers through the Constitution, with municipalities being provided their power through the provinces.
The executive branch of government is the highest level in Canada, the Queen of England is still our Head of State and is represented by the Governor General. The Prime Minister and Cabinet (ministers of the departments for the party in power) are also part of the executive and they implement the legislation passed in Parliament. There is also the Senate (unelected) and the House of Commons (elected MP’s), who are the legislative branch of government that make the laws. We have a bi-cameral government, which means we have two chambers of Parliament a bill must pass through when making laws, the Senate and the House of Commons. Provinces have legislatures with elected representatives with no senate. Municipalities have elected mayors and city councillors and serve through city hall.
It may all seem a bit overwhelming, but which level of government you will need to hold accountable will be based on the particular animal issue you are trying to address. For example:
Federal laws address the Criminal Code of Canada, or animals that fall under the interests of a particular federal ministry. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada is responsible for oceanic marine life. This is why a bill such as Bill S-203, the ban on cetacean captivity, is a federal issue. It requires amending the Criminal Code, the Fisheries Act, and the Wild Animal and Plant Trade Regulations Act. Certain criminal acts are also prosecuted under the Criminal Code of Canada and not provincial legislation. Although “cruelty” and “neglect” are not defined under the Criminal Code, certain other types of abuse against animals are. Hence, why Bill C-84, Animal Fighting and Beastiality, was amended federally. However, the federal government is also responsible for the international transport of animals across borders and the export of animals, that is why the Canadian Horse Defence Coalition took the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to court over not enforcing their own regulations for horse welfare, for horses being shipped to Japan. The Minister of Justice is primarily responsible for criminal law in Canada. Each federal district in Canada has a Member of Parliament (MP) who has a local constituency office where you can request to meet with them.
Provinces have their own legislation regarding the treatment of and protection of animals. Provinces are also responsible for wildlife who falls within their jurisdiction and regulate hunting, trapping, and fishing. Pets in housing is also a provincial issue, because the province regulates housing. For example, in B.C. there is the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act (PCA Act) which outlines who can enforce the law, defines what cruelty is, among other definitions. Oddly, in most provinces, animal protection legislation is enforced by charities which are given special powers, not by the provinces or proper law enforcement themselves. This leads to issues of accountability and transparency and is the reason why the Ontario SPCA lost their powers of enforcement, and the responsibility is now falling to the province. The province is also responsible for animals on farms and animals who are raised for food. However, these industries tend to not be subject to the same provincial animal protection legislation because of “standard industry practices,” which allow farm animals to largely suffer without consequence. These industries are effectively self-regulating as there is little public oversight of their operations nationwide. The Minister of Agriculture is responsible for animals bred and raised on farms, and also the various animal protection legislation in each province. That government responsibility for animals is administered through the lens of agriculture tells you everything you need to know about why provincial legislation fails to protect the interests of animals. Just consider how know charges were not brought against the farm occupied by the Meet the Victims demonstration. Each district in the province has its own Minister of the Legislative Assembly (MLA), except in Ontario where they are called Member of Provincial Parliament (MPP). They have constituency offices you can reach out to and talk to them about the issue you want them to address.
Municipal governments tend to create bylaws regarding the regulation of animals that can be enforced by their in-house or contracted animal control services. They do not have the power to create legislation per se. However, they do have the power to regulate business. This is where their power related to animals is usually derived from. So, Montreal can ban horse carriages because they can regulate business activities such as permits to operate stalls and business licences. They may also regulate which kinds of animals can be sold in pet stores, how many animals people can keep as pets, or what kind of animals can be raised in people’s backyards. Sometimes, like in the case of the Vancouver Aquarium, there is a bit of overlap. Animal advocates lobbied the Vancouver Park Board to ban cetacean captivity in Stanley Park. Although it falls within the city of Vancouver, the Park Board has power over park business. They could make this decision without the federal government, as described above, because it was the regulation of activities within the park. Mayors and city councillors are the seat of power in municipalities and you can reach out to them to see where they stand on local issues through city hall.
Furthermore, it is important to remember that animals are generally considered “property” under the law and are not “persons.” Wildlife is generally considered property of the province or federal government, domestic animals are considered property of their “owners,” and animals on farms are considered property of the corporation or business that profits from them. An exception to this is that in Quebec animals are recognized as “sentient beings.” However, this doesn’t necessarily mean animals are not still treated as property.
It is all about accountability
It is important to have a good understanding of who needs to be held accountable for various animal issues when starting a campaign. If a campaign is not focused in the right direction, then a lot of time and energy can be wasted holding the wrong level of government responsible. At the start of every campaign, it is worth investigating who has the power to actually change the issue. Is it a federal, provincial, or municipal government issue? Who is the government official who is responsible? If it is farm animals you are concerned about, then it is worth putting pressure on the Minister of Agriculture. If it is a municipal issue, focus on a city council. Too often advocates focus on the industry they are opposed to exclusively and neglect the government officials who can actually force the industry to change. Remember, the government is happy when you don’t hold them accountable because then they do not have to take the issue seriously. We need to put animals on their agenda by making them accountable for the cruelty and suffering taking place across Canada.
If we want to be as effective as possible for animals, we need to get political and understand the political systems that are the gatekeepers to their liberation.
Deputy Leader, Animal Protection Party of Canada