Change the law: witness drafts new Animal Welfare Bill

Witnessing an alleged act of dog abuse has inspired Chris and Leigh Davies to try to change Canadian law.

"What really sort of grinded with me in particular was the fact that despite us witnessing the incident, the dog still remained with the owner, and everybody hid behind the law," said Chris Davies.

Claims that the law isn’t strong enough didn’t sit well with him.

"My reaction to that…was, well, change the law."

To that end, on Tuesday, Jan. 21, the Davies met with Nanaimo-Cowichan MP Jean Crowder and presented her with the Animal Welfare Bill, which they are very hopeful will be put before parliament to amend the Criminal Code of Canada.

It’s the culmination of months of work on Davies’s part.

He began with an examination of the criminal code, then moved on to examine animal rights laws around the world, with a particular focus on Europe and Australia, cobbling together a set of best practices.

"Even Hong Kong has better laws, in some instances. It’s crazy," he said.

Davies also scoured the Internet, particularly social media, and found plenty of people who shared his passion.

He then approached Crowder for an initial consultation where she told him about a bill that’s been stalled in parliament since 2011, suggesting if it would do the job, they could look at getting it kick-started.

But after talking to veterinarians, SPCA personnel, rescue organizations and anyone else he could think of concerned with animal rights, he ended up rewriting his own bill – the one he and his wife presented to Crowder Tuesday.

Key points in the bill include having animals declared sentient beings rather than property ("They can feel pain, they can feel stress, they do worry, like we do"), and getting rid of the word "wilful" where paired with cruelty, creating a grey area that Davies says can allow people to avoid suitable punishment.

The bill proposes prison terms of up to five years for abusers and fines up to $10,000 and restitution.

Davies said he thinks there’s more than enough support out there for the changes he’s proposing.

In his work to get the bill ready, he has also ended up creating a what he hopes will become a database of all of the animal welfare organizations in Canada.

Of those he’s enumerated thus far, Davies says they’ve got at least two million Facebook followers, all of whom would support a bill like his.

"I firmly believe things are going to change," he said. "I firmly believe that people want the politicians, the courts and the government to take it seriously. Too many people walk away with a slap on the wrist, and too many people slip through the current loopholes in the law."

Davies is prepared for his bill to undergo possibly significant changes if it moves forward, as he’s realistic that there will have to be negotiation with other interested parties, such as the very powerful farm lobby.

But he says even if they strip out 90 per cent of what the bill proposes, even if only one change comes of it, it’s still a step forward and a victory.

"Myself and my wife Leigh, we’re not vegans, we don’t chain ourselves to fences. We’re just two ordinary people who got mixed up in an incident and we’re looking at it and we’re saying ‘This is wrong, that the alleged beater can still keep the dog with him. This is wrong’."

Society has changed, he said. It’s time for the law to catch up.