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Wild Animal Law of Canada

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Animal Protection Act (Alberta)

(current to 01 August 2016)

Note Re Application of the Animal Protection Act ('APA')

For purposes of the Animal Protection Act (Alberta) an animal "does not include a human being" [APA 1(1)], but otherwise it makes no distinction between wild and domestic animals (though it does deal relatively extensively with 'livestock'). Unless otherwise made plain by the context, all of the provisions discussed below apply to both domestic and wildlife in Alberta alike.

This law bears on the wildlife issues of:
  • PROTECTION
  • OWNERSHIP/POSSESSION
  • EUTHANASIA
  • TRANSPORTATION
  • FACILITIES
  • CIVIL LIABILITY
The full current text of this legislation (including regulations) may be viewed at the Alberta statute website.

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Table of Contents
1. Overview
(a) General
(b) 'Distress'
2. Duties of Persons to Animals
(a) Not to Cause Distress
(b) Owners or Custodians Not to Cause or Perpetuate Distress
(c) Care Duties of Owners and Custodians
(d) Animals Used in Research
(e) Animals in Zoos
3. Transportation of Animals
4. Enforcement
(a) Peace Officers
(b) Entry and Inspection Powers of Peace Officers
(c) Direct Action by Peace Officer to Relieve Distress
(d) Abandoned Animals
(e) Disposition of Animal in Taken into Custody
(f) Offences
5. Civil Liability

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1. Overview

(a) General

Most provincial SPCA statutes create a provincial Society, with Society-approved local branches. The APA however varies from this model in that local Humane Societies may be founded, but only with provincial approval. These local Humane Societies have police-type powers to enforce both the animal protection provisions contained in it, and other applicable animal welfare law (particularly the federal Criminal Code cruelty provisions: see that module).

Otherwise though, the APA is an example of what most provinces have historically titled their 'Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act' (or SPCAA) legislation. In fact it plainly reflects the older form of SPCA legislation found throughout most Canadian provinces, though in it's surprisingly few sections (15 in the Act and 18 in it's single Regulation) it has a relatively high focus on the treatment of livestock (which as domestic animals are not covered in this wildlife law Guide).

(b) 'Distress'

Consistent with the history of SPCA legislation in english common law jurisdictions, the APA's protective provisions turn on the concept of 'distress', which it defines as:
1(2) For the purposes of this Act, an animal is in distress if it is:
  • deprived of adequate shelter, ventilation, space, food, water or veterinary care or reasonable protection from injurious heat or cold,

  • injured, sick, in pain or suffering, or

  • abused or subjected to undue hardship, privation or neglect.

2. Duties of Persons to Animals

(a) Not to Cause Distress

The APA imposes a duty on all persons to not "cause an animal to be in distress" [APA 2(1.1)].

This provision is excepted "if the distress results from an activity carried on in accordance with the regulations or in accordance with reasonable and generally accepted practices of animal care, management, husbandry, hunting, fishing, trapping, pest control or slaughter" [APA 2(2)].

(b) Owners or Custodians Not to Cause or Perpetuate Distress

Owners and custodians of animals shall not "cause or permit an animal ... to be or to continue to be in distress" [APA 2(1)].

Once again, this provision is excepted "if the distress results from an activity carried on in accordance with the regulations or in accordance with reasonable and generally accepted practices of animal care, management, husbandry, hunting, fishing, trapping, pest control or slaughter" [APA 2(2)].

(c) Care Duties of Owners and Custodians

Owners and custodians of animals must [APA 2.1]:
  • must ensure that the animal has adequate food and water;

  • must provide the animal with adequate care when the animal is wounded or ill;

  • must provide the animal with reasonable protection from injurious heat or cold, and

  • must provide the animal with adequate shelter, ventilation and space.
(d) Animals Used in Research

Persons owning, having custody of, caring for or controlling animals for research activities [which includes scientific investigation, scientific teaching or training (not under the School Act) and product testing] must comply with the listed Canadian Council on Animal Carecare ('CCAC') standards [see Animal Protection Regulation 2(1,2) ('AP Regs').

(e) Animals in Zoos

Zoos may be allowed under permit issued under the Wildlife Act (see that module). Persons owning or controlling animals in such zoos "must comply with the Government of Alberta Standards for Zoos in Alberta, prepared by the Alberta Zoo Standards Committee of Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development and Alberta Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, published September 30, 2005" [AP Regs 2(3)].


3. Transportation of Animals

The following provisions apply to the transportation of animals [Animal Protection Regulation 10-11,13-14 ('AP Regs')]:
  • Animals Unfit for Transportation

    Loading or transporting animals that "by reason of infirmity, illness, injury, fatigue or any other cause, would suffer unduly during transport" is prohibited, except for transportation "to or from a veterinary clinic, a designated confinement area or the nearest suitable place to deal with health concerns as long as the animal is loaded and transported humanely". Animals that become "injured, ill or otherwise unfit for transport during a journey" must be taken to the nearest suitable place for care and treatment.

  • Overcrowding

    Loading or transporting animals "in a vehicle in a manner that is likely to cause injury or undue suffering to the animals due to crowding" is prohibited.

  • Vehicle Standards

    Vehicles used to transport animals must meet the following standards (these are really designed for livestock and horses but technically apply to all animals):

    • exhaust fumes are not able to enter the box and cause distress to the animals;

    • the box front is of sufficient height to protect the animals from direct exposure to any adverse condition;

    • the deck surface is suitable non‑slip flooring or is covered with straw, dry sand or other suitable material that is uniformly spread;

    • before and during transportation the vehicle must be cleaned;

    • a box or stock rack must be of a strength and height that is sufficient to adequately protect and contain the animal at all times;

    • fittings must be secure and adequately padded, fenced off or obstructed,

    • there must be no bolt‑heads or other objects projecting into the area where the animals are held,

    • there must be no broken, cracked or damaged siding or flooring material,

    • there must be adequate ventilation,

    • there must be no unsafe footholds or footholds that are not secure, or

    • there must not be any other equipment in such a condition that it is likely to cause injury or undue suffering to the animals.

  • no person shall load or transport an animal in a vehicle in a manner that could cause undue exposure of the animal to extreme injurious heat or cold.

4. Enforcement

(a) Peace Officers

Day-to-day enforcement of the APA is performed by peace officers. RCMP and municipal police officers are peace officers, and there are peace officers appointed specifically for purposes of the APA [APA 1(1)].

(b) Entry and Inspection Powers of Peace Officers

Peace officers have authority to enter any land, vehicle or place (other than a dwelling place) where there is an animal in distress and obtaining a warrant is not practical in the circumstances [APA 4(1)]. Warrants are required before entering a dwelling place for this purpose [APA 4(2)].

During ordinary business hours, and without a warrant, a peace officer may enter and inspect any premises (other than a dwelling house) where animals are kept for sale, hire or exhibition, or any vehicle used to transport animals [APA 10(1)].

(c) Direct Action by Peace Officer to Relieve Distress

Peace officers may unilaterally take actions to locate an animal in distress and to relieve that distress, "including taking custody of the animal ... and arranging for transportation, food, water, care, shelter and veterinary treatment", if any of these circumstances exist [APA 3(1)]:
  • the owner or custodian of the animal neglects to forthwith take steps that will relieve its distress;

  • the owner or custodian of the animal is not likely to ensure that the animal’s distress is relieved or to ensure that the animal’s distress will continue to be relieved, or

  • the owner or custodian of the animal cannot be found immediately and informed of the animal's distress.
Where custody is taken of the animal under the above authority:
  • it shall be delivered to a humane society or, where that is not possible or there is no humane society nearby, to a caretaker [APA 3(2)]. A caretaker is someone with an appropriate facility who agrees to care for the animal [APA 1(1)]; and

  • the humane society or peace officer, as the case may be, shall "take reasonable steps to locate the owner of the animal" [APA 6] and where the owner is found the peace officer must give notice to them or the person in charge of the animal. Where they cannot be found "the peace officer must post the notice in a prominent place where the animal was found" [AP Regs 17].
Where an animal is in distress and a veterinarian (or where a veterinarian is not readily available, a peace officer) believes that "the animal cannot be relieved of its distress and live without undue suffering", then the peace officer may destroy the animal [APA 3(3)].

(d) Abandoned Animals

Peace officers may take custody of an abandoned animal (and then deliver it to a humane society or caretaker) whether or not it is in distress. For this purpose an abandoned animal is one that is [APA 4.1]:
  • left for more than 24 hours without adequate food or water or shelter;

  • left for 5 days or more after the expected retrieval time from a veterinarian, or a commercial stable or boarding facility (such as a kennel or cattery);

  • is found on rented premises (either commercial or residential) where the tenancy agreement is terminated.

    Note that this provision does not require actual re-possession of the premises by the landlord, which is a legal step distinct from termination of the lease. Termination normally occurs before re-possession of rented premises.
The peace officer "must post the notice [SS: that the animal has been taken into custody] in a prominent place where the animal was found" [AP Regs 17(2)].

(e) Disposition of Animal in Taken into Custody

An animal taken into custody by a peace officer (and delivered by them to a humane society or a caretaker) under the authority set out in (c) or (d) above, may be sold or gifted (ie. adopted out) by the humane society or peace officer (where the animal is held by a caretaker) within three business days after the animal is taken by the peace officer, if either [APA 7(1)]:
  • the owner is not located in that time, or

  • the owner has been notified as per (e) above and has not redeemed the animal (by attendence and payment of the required fees) in that time.

    Such sale or gifting conveys ownership of the animal against the interest of the previous owner.
Where "the animal appears to be a purebred animal or if it bears an obvious identification device, tattoo, brand, mark, tag or licence, the time periods above are extended to ten business days [APA 7(2)]. For these purposes a 'business day' is a day that the humane society having custody of the animal is open, or the office of the peace officer who delivered the animal to a caretaker is open, as the case may be [APA 1(1)].

Where the above timelines are exceeded without the owner redeeming the animal, and the humane society or peace officer (where the animal is held by a caretaker) is of the opinion that " the animal is not suitable to be sold or given away", then it may be destroyed [APA 8].

(f) Offences

The APA has a broad offence provision which may be used to prosecute violations of the Act [APA 12(1)]. On conviction the court may both fine the defendant up to $20,000 and order that they be banned from having custody of animals for a specified period [APA 12(2)].


5. Civil Liability

Absent bad faith (eg. malice), humane Societies and their officers and employees, peace officers, veterinarians, and caretakers are immune from liability for anything done under the APA [APA 14(1)].

Similarly, anyone who on reasonable and probably grounds "believes an animal is in distress and reports the distress to a peace officer" is immune from liability unless they have acted in bad faith [APA 14(2)].
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