VICTORIA — The British Columbia government tabled changes to provincial animal cruelty legislation Wednesday, the same day investigators announced they have completed the grim task of digging up the bodies of dozens of sled dogs whose slaughter prompted the tougher laws.
The April 2010 cull of sled dogs near Whistler, B.C., caused worldwide outrage when it came to light earlier this year, and prompted the province to appoint a task force that recommended the legislative changes.
If passed, the law would give B.C. the toughest penalties in Canada for animal cruelty.
Agriculture Minister Don McRae introduced the amendments to the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act to increase fines to a maximum of $75,000 and allow jail terms of up to two years, up from the current maximums of $10,000 and six months.
In addition to the tougher penalties, the task force also recommended mandatory standards for sled-dog operators and increased funding for the SPCA.
“The amendments in this act provide for greater deterrence of future crimes through higher penalties,” said McRae when he introduced the amendments in the legislature. “I’m pleased B.C. will now have the toughest animal cruelty penalties in the country.”
Marcie Moriarty, general manager of cruelty investigations for the B.C. SPCA, said the organization supports any such law that attempts to stop cruelty against animals.
“Larger penalties — as long as we get the case before the court — is helpful,” she said. “There’s a school of thought that increased penalties can lead to greater deterrence of future crimes.”
The changes to the law include extending the statute of limitations for offences under the act to three years from six months and holding owners, companies and others responsible for animals more accountable for the welfare of the animals.
The amendment gives government more ability to regulate specific activities relating to the use, care and protection of animals, including sled dogs and service animals such as dogs and horses used by police, McRae said.
Moriarty said the exhumation of the sled dogs from a grave near Whistler was completed Tuesday and investigators are off the site. The bodies of 56 dogs were removed.
The original report said that as many as 100 animals were in the grave, but she said they weren’t looking for more animals and there would no be further searches elsewhere.
She wouldn’t reveal details of the case, in the event of criminal charges, but said they may have enough to warrant a charge under the Criminal Code of causing unnecessary pain and suffering to an animal.
The killings only came to light when the provincial worker’s compensation board awarded a worker who killed the animals compensation for post-traumatic stress.
If required, Moriarty said some of the dogs’ remains may go through further investigation.
She said investigators would be looking for evidence “that would support a finding that the dogs did not die, or a dog did not die, instantaneously.”