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Laws and enforcement in your community help topics

Laws & enforcement in your community


The BC SPCA derives its powers to investigate and take action in instances of animal cruelty from the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act (PCA Act).

We are the only animal welfare organization in B.C. with the authority to enforce laws relating to animal cruelty and to recommend charges to Crown Counsel for the prosecution of those who inflict suffering on animals.

Sad dog outdoors looking through the hole of a fence

Criminal Code of Canada

It is a crime in Canada to intentionally harm animals. Anyone who deliberately harms animals can be charged under the Criminal Code of Canada.

The Criminal Code of Canada deals specifically with cruelty to animals in sections 444 to 447.

Our Cruelty Investigations team can recommend charges for Crown Counsel for the prosecution of individuals who inflict suffering on animals under the Criminal Code of Canada.

Ginger kitten close up shot looking sad

The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act (PCA Act) is the provincial animal welfare legislation that outlines required standards of care. The BC SPCA was created under the auspices of the PCA Act, and that’s what gives it the power to investigate and take action on animal cruelty cases. It also details the BC SPCA’s constitution and powers of inspection and enforcement.

Cruelty investigative Department staff in uniform walking dog outdoors on misty day

The BC SPCA is the only animal welfare organization in B.C. with the authority to enforce laws related to animal cruelty. In 2008, we successfully campaigned for amendments to the Act that significantly increased protection for abused and neglected animals in B.C.

We continue to propose and support amendments to strengthen the Act. For example, in July 2015, the B.C. Ministry of Agriculture announced a new regulation to adopt the Codes of Practice for the Care and Handling of Dairy Cattle into the PCA Act, specifically outlining what is considered a ‘generally accepted practice’. The inclusion of the Codes complemented our work with the BC Dairy Association, the BC Milk Marketing Board and the dairy industry to improve the welfare of dairy cattle.

In February 2017, the BC SPCA applauded the government of B.C’s move to target irresponsible dog and cat breeders. The proposed amendments to the PCA Act would enable the B.C. government to regulate commercial breeders through either a registration or licensing system that will help ensure commercial cat and dog breeders are treating animals with the respect and care they deserve.

The BC SPCA has a legal obligation to provide animal guardians with “an opportunity to relieve the animal’s distress.”

The objective of every investigation is to relieve and prevent the distress of an animal through education, cooperation and, if necessary, prosecution under the law.

Initially, an investigator may issue notices to a guardian that he must seek medical attention for his animal. Notices can also apply to an animal’s environment, such as building a raised and insulated shelter.

The investigator will give the animal guardian a time-frame for compliance, and if he or she fails to comply with notices, the investigator can either issue further notices allowing the guardian more time, or apply for a search warrant to seize the animal.

Acting under the law, the BC SPCA is not empowered to remove animals from private property without a search warrant unless those animals would not survive without immediate medical intervention.

Animals may be lacking adequate food, shelter and veterinary care, or even be sick and in pain, but unless they are in immediate danger of dying they are not in critical distress under the law.

Sad tethered up dog on a chain in a wooden kennel

The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act outlines generally accepted practices of animal management as a reason by which distress is legally acceptable.

Generally accepted practices of animal management are ways of handling or caring for animals that are commonly accepted by society. Sometimes these practices still cause pain, suffering and distress to animals. If the practices haven’t been written down in any official document, it is up to experts like veterinarians and leaders in the relevant industry (such as animal farming, sled dogs, animal breeding or horse racing) to give expert testimony in court when there is an animal neglect or cruelty case.

Animals are better represented when practices are written and agreed to by a committee of experts that includes animal welfare experts. We call these documents ‘Standards‘ or ‘Codes of Practice‘.

A ban (or prohibition) on owning animals is one of the most effective ways to prevent someone who has been convicted of animal cruelty from simply acquiring more animals.

Prohibitions are enforced in part through public reporting and in part through BC SPCA Special Constable monitoring. Given the media attention that often follows a person’s conviction of animal cruelty and ban on owning animals, we often find that neighbours or people living in the same community as the former animal owner are more than happy to report to us should this person obtain new animals. Our constables also do random inspections when possible.

If you are aware of someone who has a ban and you know that they also own or care for an animal, please call the BC SPCA Provincial Call Centre: 1-855-622-7722.

Learn more about our cruelty investigations.

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