EDMONTON — Alberta’s justice minister says he wants to amend provincial legislation to better protect service animals after a police dog was killed during a violent arrest in Edmonton.
Jonathan Denis said the province is considering changing the Service Dog Act to include provisions that would punish people who harm the animals.
The Service Dog Act currently makes it illegal to discriminate against someone who uses a qualified service dog, but there is nothing in the act that deals with cruelty toward the animals.
“The incident that’s happened this week has definitely brought it to the front of our attention,” Denis said in a telephone interview.
“Of course service dogs are canines but, at that same time, many police officers have told me they perform such an important duty they’re almost like another police officer and for people who require service dogs because of hearing or sight issues, obviously service dogs are an integral part of their very being.”
Denis said Alberta will look at what other provinces do before determining what changes are appropriate.
A section of Saskatchewan’s Animal Protection Act, for example, carries a penalty of up to two years in jail for anyone who harms a service dog, which includes dogs working with police.
Denis said he hopes to have legislation ready for next spring’s sitting.
“I’d like to move forward with this as soon as we can.”
Denis said he also plans to write a letter of support to Conservative MP Costas Menegakis who has brought forward a private member’s bill in Ottawa proposing that law enforcement animals be given special protection in the Criminal Code.
It says anyone “who knowingly or recklessly poisons, injures or kills a law enforcement animal,” including a horse or dog, could be subject to a five-year maximum sentence, the same sentence for animal cruelty.
Edmonton police dog Quanto died Monday after officers said he was stabbed repeatedly while trying to take down a man who had fled a car with stolen plates.
Paul Joseph Vukmanich, 27, faces charges including possession of stolen property, dangerous driving, criminal flight and resisting arrest.
But when it comes to the death of the dog, police said cruelty to an animal is the strongest Criminal Code charge that can be laid.
The Canadian Police Canine Association has long wanted protection of police dogs in the Criminal Code.
Penalties for animal cruelty in the Criminal Code were recently increased, with the maximum sentence rising to five years behind bars. But officers say a Criminal Code section dealing with service dogs, which would be applicable across Canada, would make for a stronger deterrent.
The Canadian National Institute for the Blind added its support Tuesday.
Alberta vice president John McDonald told Edmonton radio station CHED that guide dogs are often the victims of violence.
“The incidents are significant enough that we really do need to afford the protection to these important animals as well as to their owners, who rely on them for their well-being and safety,” MacDonald said.