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Old July 31st, 2003, 10:42 AM
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Animal cruelty laws don't go far enough, critics say

JUSTICE: Dog dragging incident cited as case for law reform


Bob Van Tongerloo believes that Brian Joseph Lavigne should be going to jail for what he did to his dog.

But, the CEO of the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies, knows the law would never allow the sentence the man deserves for dragging his dog alongside his car.

That's because the Criminal Code of Canada views pets as property.

"An animal is treated no differently than a used car or a shovel or a wheelbarrow. If you damage my wheelbarrow, you have to reimburse me for it, but if it has no value - and stray animals and wild animals are considered to have no value because they're not owned by anybody - that really discounts them."

Mr. Lavigne, 35, of French Village, was fined $345 and prohibited from owning an animal for two years after pleading guilty to the charge on Tuesday. The sentencing judge noted that he would have liked to have extended the prohibition period, but that he was limited by the Criminal Code, which sets two years as the maximum.

Mr. Van Tongerloo is appalled by the light sentence, but knows that judges are guided by precedents.

"I think it's terrible," he said of the light sentence, "but it's not surprising and it's not out of line with what's been happening." Under current law, cruelty to animals carries a maximum sentence of six months in jail and/or a $2,000 fine.

The Canadian Federation of Human Societies has been lobbying governments for years to provide tougher punishments for hurting and killing animals. Since being enacted in 1892, the laws have changed little.

In 1999, former justice minister Anne McLellan introduced a bill that would have allowed for tougher penalties and moved animals out of the property section of the Criminal Code of Canada.

The legislation has spent four years in Parliament and still hasn't been passed. In June, the Senate voted to return Bill C-10B back to the House of Commons for more debate in the fall.

"We need these changes in a hurry and we need them very badly," Mr. Van Tongerloo said by telephone from his Ottawa office.

"Every day that this bill is not passed, we believe that more animals are suffering and more people like this guy, who dragged his dog, are getting away with serious acts of cruelty."

The head of the Canadian Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, based in Montreal, says the sentence sends the wrong message to the public.

"It saddens me so much because it encourages people to do the same," said Pierre Barnoti.

"They know that in the worst-case scenario, they'll pay a fine and that's it."

Mr. Barnoti said cruelty to animals has proven to be a good indicator of a person's potential to behave cruelly to people and should, therefore, be taken very seriously.

"Seventy-five per cent of people in jail for violent crimes have admitted being cruel to animals in their youth or during their lifetime.

"That's why the whole humane movement has fought so hard to get harsher penalties for people who are cruel to animals. We realize that you cannot be cruel to animals and nice to humans."

The court heard that Mr. Lavigne was growing tired of his dog continuously running away. On May 26, he drove around to find the dog. He said when he found his pet, the beige-coloured Shepherd mix didn't want to get in his vehicle, so he dragged it alongside the vehicle.

A woman who witnessed the incident called police.
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