Canada: Is Anyone Ensuring That Your Mink Lashes Are Cruelty-Free?

This article takes a high-level perspective of the regulation of the fur farming industry in Canada, with a specific focus on the predominant fur-bearing species raised on fur farms in Canada: minks and foxes.1

Canada's robust fur trade saw over 2.3 million minks and foxes bred on fur farms in 2017,2 generating approximately $800 million dollars.3 As of 2017, there were over 200 mink and fox fur farms across Canada, which produced over 2 million pelts.4 Even now, there is a trend towards the use of mink fur in eyelash extensions. However, despite the size of the industry, the legislative framework is surprisingly inconsistent and often under-regulated. For example, the labelling of fur items is not a requirement in Canada. This means that products may contain fur without indication, and items advertised as "faux" fur may contain real fur.

Fur farming in Canada, when regulated by law, is done so provincially rather than nationally. There is no federal legislation governing fur-farmed animals.5 Therefore, the focus of this overview will be on the three provinces which currently have the largest fur farming operations: Ontario, British Columbia, and Nova Scotia.

Ontario

Ontario is the second largest producer of mink and fox pelts, with close to 400,000 mink and fox pelts produced in 2017.6 Given its prominence in the Canadian fur market, it may be surprising that there is currently no legislation regarding the wellbeing and treatment of fur-bearing animals bred on fur farms in Ontario. Ontario is far from an outlier in this regard; there is also an absence of such legislation in Manitoba, New Brunswick, Quebec, Prince Edward Island, Yukon, Nunavut, and the Northwest Territories.

Since the Fur Farms Act7 was repealed in 1997, there have been no specific protections for animals on fur farms. The Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act ("OSPCAA")8 says that its standard of care regulation does not apply to any "activity carried on in accordance with reasonable and generally accepted practices of agricultural animal care, management or husbandry". The generally accepted practices are, in effect, set by the industry and amount to self-regulation. While there are codes of practice put in place by the National Farm Animal Care Council since they have not been adopted into law, they do not have any legal significance, and thus are little more than possible guidelines for when the Crown may prosecute. Newfoundland and Labrador is the only province which has codified the Codes of Practice.9

...the labelling of fur items is not a requirement in Canada... items advertised as "faux" fur may contain real fur.

However, the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals ("OSPCA") could use them as proof that particular behaviour is contrary to the OSPCAA by showing that the behaviour caused the animal distress without being part of the normal reasonable practices of a fur farm. A breach like this would be under the jurisdiction of the Police or the OSPCA. OSPCA inspectors "have the same authority as police officers when enforcing animal-cruelty laws".10 However, the "[O]SPCA operates on a complaints basis" so the organization must first be notified before it can act as there are no laws mandating regular inspections of fur farms.11 Because fur farming is not regularly inspected, instances of cruelty are often only discovered by activists.12

In a situation where a complaint is made, and the OSPCA subsequently determines there is an issue, the organization can lay charges under animal cruelty laws under either the provincial OSPCAA or the federal Criminal Code of Canada ("Criminal Code").13 Enforcement officials may choose to lay charges under the OSPCAA, the Criminal Code, or both. As a general rule, provincial laws are usually broader and provide stronger protections for animals than the Criminal Code. Unlike the Criminal Code, the OSPCAA includes specific standards of care.14 When Jean-Luc Rodier became the first fur farmer in Canadian history to be charged with animal cruelty charges, the Quebec SPCA was only able to act because some of the animals were in circumstances that rose to the level of breaching the Criminal Code. There was no mechanism under the Codes of Practice to bring an action against him.15

However, even this system in Ontario is currently in a state of flux. In January 2019, a judge of the Superior Court found that the OSPCAA was unconstitutional and violated section 7 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms (the 1982 addition to the Canadian Constitution), which guarantees the right of everyone to life, liberty, and security of the person. The judge believed it was unconstitutional because it policed animal cruelty complaints using a private not-for-profit organization. This decision is being appealed to the Ontario Court of Appeal, however, a couple of months later, in March 2019, the OSPCA released a letter it wrote to the Ontario Provincial Government ending is role enforcing the OSPCAA as of June 28, 2019, and requesting that all complaints made regarding livestock be sent to the police.16 The OSPCA has expressed concern regarding the limited funding they were provided and the safety of their officers who would be required to enter businesses with no weapon or backup. The OSPCA expects to fulfil more of a support role going forward, however, how the system will look beginning in June 2019 and beyond is entirely up to the Ontario Government.

BritishColumbia

British Columbia produced 330,011 mink pelts in December 2017.17 Although the province does not contain any fox fur farms, it still represents the third largest producer of pelts in Canada.

Unlike Ontario, British Columbia does have codified regulations in place to regulate the fur farm industry under the Animal Health Act18 and Fur Farm Regulations ("Regulations").19 The province has also legislated a number of offences in section 19 of the Regulations. Licensing of fur farms is regulated under the Regulations, and licensees are required to renew their licenses annually.20

British Columbia, like all of the Canadian provinces, is also subject to the Codes of Practice. However, as noted above, enforceability of the Codes of Practice is problematic as there is no required monitoring in place, nor are the standards set by the Codes of Practice mandatory under British Columbia law.21

...there is "no third party or auditing system of mink farms" to ensure compliance with the Regulations and Codes of Practice

Despite British Columbia having a much more regulated fur farming industry than Ontario, there has still been significant criticism regarding the British Columbia regime. Section 7 of the Regulations, which deals with the health of fur-bearing animals on fur farms, has come under scrutiny from the British Columbia Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals ("BCSPCA") for being too vague.22 Compounding this issue is the fact that there is "no third party or auditing system of mink farms" to ensure compliance with the Regulations and Codes of Practice. As in Ontario, the BCSPCA can only inspect fur farms once a complaint has been made.

NovaScotia

Nova Scotia is the nation's largest producer of mink and fox pelts, with over 1.1 million pelts produced in 2017.23

In addition to the uncodified standards set out by the Codes of Practice, the province's fur farm industry is regulated by the Fur Industry Act.24 Nova Scotia is also the only province with environmental laws related to fur farming, which were enacted in 2013.25 The environmental regulations were introduced after years of lax regulations allowed fur farmers to dispose of manure, extra feed and carcasses into the province's wetlands, and run-off from the farms polluted lakes.26 This led to high-algae concentration in natural bodies of water causing water quality surveys to determine that watersheds had been highly degraded.27

Nova Scotia's Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals ("NSSPCA") has much broader powers than its counterparts in Ontario and Quebec. Under section 18A (1) of the Animal Protection Act,28 the NSSPCA has the power to inspect premises where animals are kept for slaughter, sale, food production, etc. In two Court of Appeal decisions29 interpreting the Animal Protection Act,30 which applies to both minks and foxes, the courts found that the Act is meant to protect animals, not owners or farmers.

InternationalApproach

Internationally, it is arguable that Canada is trailing behind modern approaches to animal welfare. To the south, California recently passed Proposition 12 which will legislate various animal welfare regulations, including prohibiting the sale of certain animal products produced from animals held in cages that are too small.31 Although the animals included under Proposition 12 do not include animals bred for their fur, the legislation still is indicative of a movement towards greater concern for providing codified guidelines for animal wellbeing. The size of cages on fur farms in Canada has been contentious, and conceivably an under-regulated, issue.

In Europe, countries such as Switzerland and Germany have introduced strict welfare requirements to protect animals bred for their fur.32 Many other countries have opted to phase out, or completely ban, fur farming on ethical grounds.33 Most recently, Norway, one of the world's predominant contributors to the export of fur, announced plans to phase out fur farming by 2025.34

Conclusion

As is evident from the overview of the regulation (or lack thereof) of the fur farming industry in Ontario, British Columbia, and Nova Scotia, there is a distinct lack of consistency between provinces. In each province reviewed in this article, there have been instances of animal cruelty left unchecked for long periods, and environmental degradation, where the legal regulations were insufficiently strong or administered. In comparison to the international trend towards the humane treatment of animals bred for their fur, Canada has fallen behind.

For this reason, the recent upheaval in Ontario could be beneficial, as it will give the Ontario Provincial Legislature an opportunity to thoughtfully redraft the legislation and hopefully put in place more protections for animals kept for husbandry and agriculture.

Footnotes

  1. Fur Institute of Canada, "Overview of the Fur farming Industry" October 1, 2015.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Elizabeth McSheffrey, "Behind bars: Canada's fur-farmed mink and fox", Canada's National Observer (November 18, 2015), [Behind Bars].
  4. Statistics Canada. Table 32-10-0116-01:Supply and disposition of mink and fox on fur farms, [StatsCan].
  5. Ibid.
  6. Ibid.
  7. R.S.O. 1990, c. F.37.
  8. R.S.O. 1990, c. O.36.
  9. Behind Bars, supra note 3.
  10. Ontario SPCA, "Report Animal Cruelty".
  11. Ibid.
  12. See: Julien Gignac, "'This is not normal': Ontario mink farm charged with animal cruelty after activists go undercover", The Star (12 May 2018); Sharmeen Somani, "Animal rights group accuses a Battersea farmer for neglect and cruelty", Global News (4 November 2018); "OSPCA following up on complaints against Ontario fur farms, including one in Clarington", Durham Radio News, (29 January 2018).
  13. R.S.C., 1985, c. C-46.
  14. Humane Canada, "Provincial Legislation".
  15. Rene Bruemmer, "Montérégie fox and mink fur farmer found guilty of animal cruelty", Montreal Gazette, (21 November 2017); "'Horrific conditions' at Quebec fur farm: SPCA", CTV News, (14 August 2014); "A Quebec first: Fur farm owner charged with cruelty, negligence", CBC News, (10 November 2014).
  16. "OSPCA tells Ontario government it will no longer enforce animal cruelty laws", CBC News, (Mar 4, 2019).
  17. StatsCan, supra note 4.
  18. [SBC 2014] chapter 16.
  19. B.C. Reg. 8/2015.
  20. Ibid, s. 6(1).
  21. BCSPCA, "Facts About Fur",
  22. Behind Bars, supra note 3.
  23. StatsCan, supra note 4.
  24. Chapter 4, 2012, c. 58.
  25. Fur Industry Regulations, N.S. Reg. 106/2015.
  26. Judith Lavoie, "Mink Farm Pollution Key Culprit in Rendering Nova Scotia Lakes Unswimmable: Report," The Narwhal, 15 Aug. 2014.
  27. Ibid.
  28. Chapter 33 of the Acts of 2008, c. 45; Bill no. 27, Animal Protection Act, 2nd Sess, 63rd Gen Ass, Nova Scotia, 2018.
  29. Nova Scotia(Agriculture) v. Rocky Top Farm, 2017 NSCA 2; Brennan v. Nova Scotia (Agriculture), 2017 NSCA 3.
  30. NS 2008, C. 33; Bill no. 27, Animal Protection Act, 2nd Sess, 63rd Gen Ass, Nova Scotia, 2018.
  31. Proposition 12.
  32. "Global Fur Farm Bans", Humane Society International.
  33. Ibid.
  34. Glen Whiffen, "Norway's ban on fur farming comes as surprise in Newfoundland and elsewhere" The Telegram (19 January 2018).

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