Using Ethology and Animal Welfare Science to Achieve Successful Prosecution for Suffering Under the Criminal Code of Canada and PCA Act

Rebecca Ledger, Animal Behavior & Animal Welfare Scientist, Langara College, PostMedia Network Inc.
Eileen Drever, Senior Animal Protection Officer, British Columbia SPCA (BC SPCA)

Federal and Provincial animal welfare legislation refers to ‘suffering’ and ‘distress’. Under the Criminal Code of Canada 445.1 (1), “Every one commits an offence who (a) willfully causes or, being the owner, willfully permits to be caused unnecessary pain, suffering or injury to an animal or a bird…”

Further, according to British Columbia’s Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act (PCA Act, RSBC 1996, Chapter 372, Part 1.1.2.b), an animal is defined as being in critical distress, “…if it is injured, sick, in pain or suffering.”

However, demonstrating that an animal has suffered is challenging. Unlike the presence of injury, for which there is tangible, physical evidence, suffering is a feeling and something that an animal experiences mentally. As animals cannot verbally tell us when they are suffering, the presence of suffering instead may be inferred using behavioural and physiological measures. In order to be credible, this inference needs to be evidence-based and requires an understanding of how affective states in animals can be assessed.

The BC SPCA has used this evidence-based approach to successfully demonstrate mental suffering in two separate dog cruelty cases. This presentation will review cases Crown vs Des Hague (2014) and Crown vs Emma Paulsen (2014).

Key Learnings:
1. Delegates will learn about Canadian Federal and Provincial legislation, as it relates to animal welfare and ‘emotional suffering’
2. Delegates will learn about the science of emotional suffering in animals and how it can be assessed
3. Using examples from previous Court cases, delegates will learn how the BC SPCA has been able to successfully demonstrate that animals have ‘suffered emotionally’


Dr Rebecca Ledger
 is an animal behavior and animal welfare scientist. She has a Master's Degree in Applied Animal Behavior & Animal Welfare from the University of Edinburgh and a Doctorate in the clinical assessment and treatment of behavioral disorders in companion animals. Rebecca is a Lecturer in animal behavior and animal law at Langara College. She is an award-winning Journalist, and writes a column for the Vancouver Sun and other Postmedia Inc. newspapers across Canada. Rebecca runs a busy referral clinic and consultancy, providing expertise to pet owners, veterinary organizations, the BCSPCA and other humane organizations across Canada. 

Eileen Drever worked for the SPCA in Scotland before joining the BC SPCA Vancouver Regional Branch. In 2003 she became a Senior Animal Protection Officer, overseeing a team of Special Provincial Constables and investigating hundreds of animal cruelty cases. Well-known in the local media, Eileen hosts a weekly Adopt-a-Pet segment on Global Television. Eileen has led a number of high profile investigations in BC including Hazina the hippo and submission of a recommendation to Crown again the Greater Vancouver Zoom; an investigation into the deaths of multiple exotics (including Giraffes) at Mountainview Conservation Center and submission of recommendations to Crown against the owners; an investigation of multiple deaths on a dairy cattle farm resulting in the conviction of the owners, one of whom, was the Regional Administrative Crown Counsel responsible for overseeing charge approval in the respective area and the Whistler Sled Dog Investigation, who, as lead investigator, oversaw a multi-disciplinary team of forensic experts resulting in the conviction of the owner. Eileen has been the recipient of a number of BC SPCA Awards including a Lifetime Achievement Award 2012, the Stu Rammage Award 2012 – Whistler Sled Dog Investigation and the Stu Rammage Award 2010 – Cockfighting Investigation Team.