Quoted from Hub Newspaper Article published April 8, 2009
BY PATRICK F. TESKEY
A Hay River woman who is petitioning the Government of the Northwest Territories for the creation of an animal protection act is “encouraged” by recent announcements from the GNWT.
Bonnie Dawson, who launched a petition last year following the case of Hope, a neglected animal who was rescued near Bigway Foods, said she recently received a letter from Premier Floyd Roland regarding the matter.
In a March 18 letter to J.E. Tidman, president of the Animal Defense League of Canada, Roland said “it is clear that the NWT is in need of animal welfare legislation that is more comprehensive in scope than our current legislation and reflects the values and realities of NWT communities. We need to protect animals from people who would intentionally harm them, while insuring animals can be used for food and other acceptable uses.”
The letter, a copy of which was also sent to Dawson, concludes with Roland stating that “our work in the area has already begun. The Department of Justice is partnering with other departments on a work plan that aims to introduce animal protection legislation during the life of the 16th Legislative Assembly.”
The first step will be to create an options paper which will determine which legislation model will adopt, the Premier’s acting communications coordinator, Drew Williams, said Friday. The options paper is expected to be completed sometime by the end of May.
‘At that point then we can decide what department is going to be responsible for sponsoring it (and) administering it,” Williams said. “Not so much if we’re going to move it forward but how we’re going to move it forward.’
While calling Roland’s letter good news. Dawson said there is still more work to be done in the meantime.
“I’m not letting up until the time I see the legislation in place and offenders being charged.” she said March 26.
The NWT’s current legislation, the Dog Act, was created in 1988 but based on legislation from the 1950s. It is currently the responsibility of the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs. Williams said MACA will make a decision following the delivery of the options paper to decide whether to repeal the act. modernize it. or combine it with the efforts of the Department of Justice to create an animal protection act.
Williams said the Dog Act was concerned mainly with the treatment of working dogs at the time it was created.
“It didn’t really speak a lot to standards of care because people just didn’t neglect their dogs,” he said. “They were essential transportation and livelihood and people just didn’t leave them tied up and not feed them. In that sense it’s horribly outdated and can’t really be used to apply to the issues that we’re trying to deal with.”
Under the current legislation. a person found guilty of an offense faces a $25 fine or up to 30 days in jail. That doesn’t go far enough, Dawson noted, saying she would like to see it replaced with the strictest legislation possible.
“I don’t want an ad hoc piece of legislation,” she said of the GNWT’s plan to review the act, noting that Ontario, British Columbia. Alberta and Manitoba have stiff animal protection laws in place. Dawson is hoping the NWT follows suit shortly.
“I would like to see those acts being used as a template,” she said.
Williams said that was one option being examined.
“I think we’re on the same page when it comes to that,” William said. “We have to look at what we need and she’s been helpful in identifying that and has been a fairly strong lobby in identifying areas the GNWT needs to consider. Now it’s a matter of determining what kind of legislation could be adopted and how it could be adapted to suit the GNWT structure and the many different areas that we would probably need to apply it on.”
Dawson would like to see legislation that requires “qualified” animal cruelty investigators to look after cases in the NWT. Dawson is presently enrolled in the course through a university in B.C. and will learn about animal health, welfare and care as well as the legal issues surrounding animal abuse.
Any legislation adopted by the GNWT should include licensed animal cruelty investigators and give them power that supersedes the bylaw officer’s. Dawson explained.
‘Then it’s not left up to the opinion of an RCMP officer or a bylaw officer,” she said, explaining that the investigator would then have the power to seize an animal and press charges against an individual.
In a March 9 letter addressed to Weledeh MLA Bob Bromley. Municipal and Community Affairs Minister Robert MeLeod, Minister of Justice Jackson Lafferty, Premier Floyd Roland and Hay River North MLA Paul Delorey, Dawson called the staying of animal neglect charges against artist Archie Bealieu on March 2 “a disgrace.”
“Those dogs were starving,” she said. “That is unacceptable. Neglect falls under the Criminal Code. Abuse is causing any form of distress to an animal.”
Thirty-four of Beaulieu’s sled dogs had to be euthanized in Behchoko last September after they were discovered suffering from malnourishment. In order to get a guilty verdict, prosecutors had to prove Beaulieu neglected his dogs “willfully.”
“If you have 34 dogs that need to be shot – that’s willful to me,” Dawson said.
While some of her work has cast the Northwest Territories in a negative light across the country, Dawson said the attention was needed.
“I’ve just got it out there,” she said. “It’s too bad that happened but something had to be done.”
Since she took up the cause in April 2008, Dawson said it has dominated her free time – including evenings and weekends.
“As soon as I get home basically I’m on it,” she said.
“And I’m on it for hours.”
Education is the key to combating animal cruelty, Dawson said, alleging there is a direct link between animal cruelty and family violence.
“If they’re going to do that to an animal, what are they going to do to a person down the road’?” she asked.
“It’s got to be education: You’ve got to know. This has got to be put in place and people have to be held accountable for their actions.”
The GNWT must “make the NWT a shining example of what true animal protection legislation is all about,” Dawson said, explaining that she and Beaufort Delta Regional SPCA executive director Linda Eccles hope to meet with government leaders to assist in the development of new legislation.
‘‘If it’s not upheld, if it’s not enforced, it’s not worth the paper it’s written on.” Dawson said.