More protection, high penalties planned for animal abusers

An abused pet cannot be seized from its owner until a court issues such an order. A driver illegally transporting an animal doesn’t have to…

An abused pet cannot be seized from its owner until a court issues such an order.

A driver illegally transporting an animal doesn’t have to stop when told to do so by an animal protection officer.

The maximum penalty for an animal cruelty violation is $500 or six months in prison.

These are problems with the Yukon’s existing animal-protection legislation according to a new document released by the government on Monday.

The 22-page document lists 17 proposed amendments to the outdated Animal Protection Act.

They include increased penalties and stronger powers for protection officers and RCMP.

Fines for violating the act would increase to $10,000 and up to two years in jail with the amendments.

The stiffer penalties would give courts more punitive options and bring Yukon fines in line with other provinces and territories.

The lax penalties have been a sore point for people pushing for better protection for animals.

“There has been strong public support for increasing the maximum penalties,” said the report.

Animal-protection officers could secure a warrant faster by using the telephone or other means.

Officers are now only allowed to obtain a warrant in person, which hase delayed investigations in remote parts of the territory.

And RCMP officers could enter homes without a warrant in emergency cases of animal abuse.

Other proposals include ensuring all animals are safely and humanely transported, something only laid out in bylaws in Whitehorse and Dawson City.

If asked, owners would also have to assist a protection officer with handling and evaluating the condition of an animal.

Officers would have the authority to stop vehicles that are transporting animals in an unsafe manner.

An amendment would also give government employees and citizens protection from legal action taken by disgruntled pet owners who’ve been charged under the new laws.

If private citizens take action authorized by the Animal Protection Act when an animal’s well-being is at risk, they’re protected from any ensuing lawsuit.

Pet owners in court to face animal-abuse charges are currently allowed to keep their pets until after a legal decision has been made to remove the pet.

The government wants the court to be able to grant temporary custody of a seized animal until after a court case.

“This option would allow the animal protection officer to ensure the safety and well-being of an animal while court proceedings are occurring,” said the report.

The public can comment on the changes through the government website, by mail or at community forums starting this month.

The tour begins at the Mount Lorne community centre on April 28 at 7 p.m. and ends in Teslin on May 22.

A full schedule of the territorial tour’s 13 stops can be found on the Community Services website.

The proposals follow an 11-page report by veterinarian Ken Kilpatrick that found the current laws outdated and ineffective.

“To improve the effectiveness of the Yukon Animal Protection Act, the primary focus should be on policy, procedure, funding and staffing to be put in place to support the act,” he wrote.

“Implementation of the act can be improved without changes to the legislation itself.”

Commissioned in 2006, the report compared Yukon legislations to Northwest Territories, British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan.

Those jurisdictions have much stronger laws that better protect animals, said the report.

Kilpatrick also indicated the local Humane Society chapter is not receiving the support and funding it needs to properly protect animals.

The Humane Society is not mentioned in the new consultation document.

But the amendments would make it easier for protection officers to do their jobs.

The Yukon Party government decided to study the legislation following a 2,500-signature petition was introduced in the legislature in December 2006.

Several troubling incidents of animal abuse — dozens of abandoned cats in freezing weather, mass slaughter of dogs and a gruesome incident of a dog left to die after being dragged behind a truck — have been reported in the Yukon over the past two years, prompting the call for tougher legislation.