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Wildlife Law of Canada

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Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act (BC)

(01 July 2016)


Note Re Application of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act ('PCAA')

The PCAA applies primarily to domestic animals, but also to 'wildlife' when they are in captivity [PCAA 2], as the term 'wildlife' is used on the Wildlife Act (see that module). However for purposes of this wildlife law Guide, I treat 'farmed' wildlife (such as fur farms) as domestic animals. As such the PCAA's application to wildlife for present purposes is limited to such activities as the keeping of wildlife as pets, or in various facilities such as zoos and circuses. The Act makes no distinction between indigenous and foreign wildlife, so it appears to apply to all wildlife in captivity, both foreign (exotics) and indigenous.

This law bears on the wildlife issues of:
  • PROTECTION
  • OWNERSHIP/POSSESSION
  • EUTHANASIA
  • LIABILITY
The full current text of these statutes may be viewed at the British Columbia statute website.
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Table of Contents
1. Overview
2. Protections
(a) 'Distress' Defined
(b) Causing Distress Prohibited
(c) Distress During Killing
(d) Duties of 'Persons Responsible for an Animal'
(e) Fighting and Baiting
3. Liability
4. Enforcement
(a) Overview
(b) Warrantless Entry by Agents
(c) Warrant Entry by Agents
(d) Agents Taking Custody of Abandoned Animals
(e) Agents and Animals in Distress
(f) Veterinarian Duty to Report Distress
(g) Offences
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1. Overview

British Columbia's PCAA legislation is a typical version of SPCA legislation found throughout Canada at the provincial level. Essentially it establishes the 'British Columbia Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals' (the 'Society') [PCAA 3] which, with it's local branches [PCAA 8], has 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).


2. Protections

(a) 'Distress' Defined

The primary criteria triggering the PCAA's enforcement authority is that of 'distress' [PCAA 1(2)], which is defined as when an animal is in any of the following states:
  • deprived of adequate food, water, shelter, ventilation, light, space, exercise, care or veterinary treatment,

  • kept in conditions that are unsanitary,

  • not protected from excessive heat or cold,

  • injured, sick, in pain or suffering, or

  • abused or neglected.
(b) Causing Distress Prohibited

Simply enough, the PCAA provides that no one shall cause an animal to be in distress [PCAA 23.1(1)].

(c) Distress During Killing

Persons killing an animal must both "comply with prescribed requirements" [to date, there are none that apply to wildlife]and not cause distress in the killing [PCAA 23.2].

(d) Duties of 'Persons Responsible for an Animal'

"(P)ersons responsible for an animal" (which includes both owners and custodians) [PCAA 9.1(1,2),9.3(1-3), 23.3(1)]:
  • must care for the animal;

  • must protect them from "circumstances that are likely to cause the animal to be in distress";

  • "must not cause or permit the animal to be, or to continue to be, in distress";

  • "must take reasonable steps to prevent the animal from attacking or otherwise harming another animal";

  • must not transport the animal by vehicle unless:

    • the animal is inside the passenger compartment, or

    • the animal is confined or secured in a manner that will prevent it from falling from the vehicle, being injured during transport, or causing a hazard to the safe operation of other vehicles.

      Animals must not be attached to a vehicle in operation unless so confined or secured.

    These transportation requirements do not apply to "a person operating a vehicle that is designed for use as a mobility aid for persons with a disability and that is being used for that purpose"
(e) Fighting and Baiting

No one shall use, breed, raise, train or dispose of an animal for baiting or fighting another animal [PCAA 23.3(2)]. It is also prohibited to possess "equipment ordinarily used for the breeding, raising or training of animals" for fighting or fighting [PCAA 23.3(3)].
Note: The PCAA, at s.9.2, also imposes additional duties (via the PCAA Regulations) on 'operators' of specified 'regulated activities'. To date however these activities (dairy farming, kennels and catteries, and sled dog operations) all involve domestic animals, not wildlife, so these additional protections have no present wildlife application. However it does mean that the province could, by regulation, move to regulate new caetgories of animals and circumstances by executive (ie. Cabinet) action alone - eg. other categories of food animals, pet stores, zoos and circuses.

3. Liability

Absent bad faith (malice), the Society and it's agents, members, officers, and employees are immune from civil liability for acts and omissions done by agents in the performance or intended performance of any duty under this Act, or in the exercise or intended exercise of any power under this Act [PCAA 25.1].

Absent bad faith (malice), veterinarians are immune from civil liability for their acts and omissions in relation to the destruction of an animal, [see s.4(e) below], or in the making of a report as required [see s.4(f) below] [PCAA 25.2].


4. Enforcement

(a) Overview

The Society's immediate enforcement officers are appointed 'agents', who must also be appointed as special provincial constables under the Police Act [PCAA 10]. These agents have classic police-type powers as are explained below.

Peace officers may also act as agents for purposes of the PCAA [PCAA 22], and agents may call upon peace officers for assistance if required [PCAA 21].

Also used as an enforcement technique are the creation of 'duties to report' animals in distress, also described below.

(b) Warrantless Entry by Agents

Without a warrant, and where an agent has reasonable grounds to believe that an animal is in 'critical distress' in any premises, (other than a dwelling house) or in any vehicle, aircraft or vessel, they may enter to relieve that critical distress [PCAA 14(2)]. For these purposes, 'critical distress' means a situation where [PCAA 14(1)]:
  • immediate veterinary treatment cannot prolong the animal's life,

  • prolonging the animal's life would result in the animal suffering unduly, or

  • immediate veterinary intervention is necessary to prevent the imminent death of the animal.
Additionally, without a warrant, agents may enter premises "where animals are kept for sale, hire or exhibition" (other than a dwelling house) during ordinary business hours, "for the purpose of determining whether any animal is in distress in the premises" [PCAA 15].

(c) Warrant Entry by Agents

A justice of the peace or judge, may issue a warrant authorizing an agent to enter any "premises, vehicle, aircraft or vessel" (including a dwelling place), on the following grounds [PCAA 13]:
  • "there is an animal in distress in any premises, vehicle, aircraft or vessel", in which case entry may be made to relieve that distress;

  • that an offence under this Act [PCAA 24] has been committed, and "there is in any premises, vehicle, aircraft or vessel, any thing that will afford evidence of that offence", in which case entry may be made "for the purpose of searching for, and seizing, a thing that will afford evidence of an offence".
(d) Agents Taking Custody of Abandoned Animals

Agents finding abandoned animals may take them into custody and "arrange for food, water, shelter, care and veterinary treatment" for them [PCAA 10.1(2)]. For this purpose an 'abandoned animal' is one that [PCAA 10.1(1)]:
  • is apparently ownerless,

  • is found straying,

  • is found in a rental unit after expiry of the tenancy agreement in respect of the rental unit, or

  • if a person agreed to care for the animal, is not retrieved from that person within 4 days following the end of that agreement.
If the owner is unknown, then the animal may be destroyed, sold or otherwise disposed of by the Society after four days. If the owner is known, the Society must give the owner notice that the animal may be destroyed, sold or otherwise disposed of, and - subject to a right of review - four days after such notice the Society may so act [PCAA 17].

(e) Agents and Animals in Distress

Agents finding an animal in distress where the person responsible does not "promptly take steps that will relieve" such distress, or cannot "be found immediately and informed of the animal's distress", may [using the entry powers set out in ss.(b) and (c) above] "take any action that the authorized agent considers necessary to relieve the animal's distress, including, without limitation, taking custody of the animal and arranging for food, water, shelter, care and veterinary treatment for it" [PCAA 11].

Where an animal is taken into custody under this authority, the Society must give notice to the person from whom the animal was taken, and to the owner if known, that the animal may be destroyed, sold or otherwise disposed of - subject to a right of review - and fourteen days after such notice the Society may so act [PCAA 18].

If the animal is in 'critical distress', a veterinarian or, where a veterinarian is not available, an agent, may destroy the animal [PCAA 12(2)]. For these purposes, 'critical distress' means a situation where [PCAA 12(1)]:
  • immediate veterinary treatment cannot prolong the animal's life,

  • prolonging the animal's life would result in the animal suffering unduly.
(f) Veterinarian Duty to Report Distress

Veterinarians have a duty to report (with details), to a Society agent, situations where they believe "on reasonable grounds that a person responsible for an animal is, or is likely, causing or permitting the animal to be in distress" [PCAA 22.1].

(g) Offences

Several violations of the PCAA are prosecutable offences [PCAA 24(1)]. On conviction, the court may also "prohibit the person from owning or having custody or control of an animal for a period of time specified" [PCAA 24(3)]".






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