Due to the 2016 Supreme Court of Canada decision in R v. D.L.W. a legislative gap has opened, effectively legalizing sexual abuse of animals that falls short of penetration. The status quo risks normalizing deviant sexual behavior, decreasing animal welfare in Canada and, ultimately, increasing the sexual exploitation of vulnerable members of society, including children.
The sexual abuse of animals and its relationship to criminal law can be viewed through several lenses. One is the effect of the offending behavior on the animal and on the moral fabric of society. Another is the relationship of sexual abuse of animals to the sexual exploitation of others, including children.
Generally speaking, criminal law focuses on safety and security, the protection of property and the maintenance of social order. Animal cruelty and bestiality provisions have existed in the Criminal Code in one form or another since 1892. Initially, bestiality was referred to in the Code as "buggery with an animal". In 1955, Canada’s criminal laws were amended to introduce the word "bestiality" into the English version of the Code, though the term was not explicitly defined anywhere in the text. The bestiality provisions of 1955 specified that sex with animals was a vice that was to be criminally sanctioned.
Further revisions were made to the Criminal Code in 1989, outlawing the forcing of children to commit or watch bestiality as measures of child protection. What did not change with the 1989 amendments was the continuing absence of an explicit definition of bestiality in the Criminal Code. Instead, the courts have had to rely on the common law definition of bestiality: "sexual activity with an animal that involves penetration".
Meanwhile, social norms as to the acceptability and morality of animal abuse and sexual exploitation have changed over time, to the point where any touching of an animal for a sexual purpose is clearly recognized as deviant behaviour. At the same time, society’s understanding of animal behavior, emotion and psychology has evolved; we now know that there are psychological aspects of neglect and abuse. With these developments, Canadian society is no longer served by using the common law definition of bestiality as "buggery with an animal".
In R v. D.L.W., the Supreme Court found that penetration between a human and an animal is the essence of the offense of bestiality. The Court further found the accused "not guilty" of bestiality because he had enticed his dog to sexually assault his stepdaughter while he filmed it, but there was no penetration involved.
Since this ruling, it has become clear that, under the Criminal Code as currently worded, penetration is an essential element of the offense of bestiality. As observed in the dissent by Madame Justice R. Abella, "since penetration is physically impossible with most animals and for half the human population, requiring it as an element of the offense eliminates from censure most sexually exploitative conduct with animals". But since the majority of the Court found that this was Parliament’s intent, moving beyond the common law definition of bestiality to include all sexually exploitative conduct with an animal - would be required to fix this legislative gap.
There have already been three cases since the R. v. D.L.W. decision in which child sexual abuse and animal sexual exploitation have been allegedly perpetrated by an accused. These recent events highlight the co-occurrence of the offences, demonstrate the link between animal sexual abuse and the sexual exploitation of children, and underscore the urgency of moving forward on this issue.
Parliament should remedy the legislative gap and clarify the issues described by the majority in R. v. D.L.W. by defining the term "bestiality" to mean any contact for a sexual purpose between a person and an animal.
In October 2018, using Humane Canada's recommended language, the Minister of Justice introduced Bill C-84, which would broaden the definition of bestiality and close this dangerous loophole. The law is currently at second reading before the House of Commons.
Dayna Rose-Desmarais is the President of the Board of SafePet Ottawa, which provides safe foster homes to animals so that women and children can leave abusive situations without fearing for the safety of their pets. She is one of the expert speakers sharing her knowledge on the link between human and animal abuse at the CFHS Canadian Violence Link Conference in Ottawa December 4-6. She spoke to the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies (CFHS) about her work with SafePet Ottawa and her upcoming session at the conference.
CFHS: Can you tell us how and why you got involved in your work with SafePet Ottawa?
DRD: Years ago, before I met my husband, I was in an abusive relationship. And it was actually my dog that made me leave – I didn't do it for me. After that experience, it was really important to me to get involved with a rescue or charity that supports women in that position. I saw a post about SafePet Ottawa and, I thought, "That's perfect! I’d be helping animals and helping women to say goodbye to abuse." I've been involved with SafePet for four years now. This project was definitely love at first sight, and we're growing every day – new foster homes, new clinics and more demand. Which is both good and bad. We're happy that women are leaving and that animals are staying safe, but it's a sad reality just how needed the program really is.
CFHS: Can you explain what SafePet does?
DRD: At this time, there are almost no violence against women shelters that allow women to leave a violent situation and then cohabitate with their pets in shelters. So what we've been seeing is that either women weren't leaving or they were giving up their pets in order to leave. SafePet Ottawa has a system for making sure these pets stay safe. When a woman wants to leave her abuser, she contacts the shelter she wants to enter, and the shelter worker asks her if she has any pets in the home. If the woman says yes, they tell her about the SafePet program and give her the opportunity to use our services or tell the shelter that she's made alternate arrangements.
If she decides to use our program, she’s directed to one of our confidential veterinary clinics. The woman would make an appointment to bring her pets to the vet clinic, at which point the vet does an exam to check for signs of abuse for potential animal cruelty charges against the abuser, makes sure the animal is up-to-date on vaccines and, on occasion, a spay or neuter surgery is offered. Once that’s all done, the woman leaves and the pets stay at the clinic for up to 2 hours, waiting to be picked up by our foster volunteer. When the woman is ready to reclaim her pets, the foster volunteer will bring the animals back to the vet clinic, and she will arrive 1-2 hours later to pick up her pets. At that point, we’re hoping they all live happily ever after in a new, safe home.
CFHS: This is incredible work you're doing. How many people and animals have you helped?
DRD: We've helped 68 families so far and 114 animals.
CFHS: You're coming to talk about SafePet Ottawa at the Canadian Link Conference here in Ottawa in December. Can you say more about what you’ll be presenting on?
DRD: I'm very excited to come to the Link Conference to talk about SafePet and how we do the work we do. When I saw the conference description, not only did it click with what we’re doing in our program, it clicked in my mind as the conversation that we need to be having. This isn't a conversation that needs to happen just in Ottawa – it's one we should be having on a national stage. Violence against people and animals is happening every day. It's affecting our animals and our children, and we need to do something about it. Whether you’re involved in this work through animal cruelty enforcement, as a veterinarian, a police officer, a social worker, a shelter worker – or as a volunteer who works for an organization like SafePet, it's a conversation that we all need to take part in to set goals and all work actively toward them. That's when we're going to see new legislation, people standing up to abuse and reporting it. We are so happy and proud to be a part of this event.
TUESDAY, DECEMBER 5
TRACK B: RECOGNIZING INTERPERSONAL AND DOMESTIC VIOLENCE
Dr. Michelle Ward, MD FAAP FRCPC, Division Head, Child and Youth Protection, Department of Pediatrics, Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO), Associate Professor, Faculty of Medicine, University of Ottawa, Vice President, Child and Youth Maltreatment Section, Canadian Paediatric Society
All children in Canada deserve to grow up in an environment that nurtures them and helps them meet their best potential as children and then as adults. Unfortunately, child maltreatment (abuse and neglect) is a surprisingly common problem and often interrupts a healthy life path. Approximately 1.5% of children in Canada are the subjects of reports to a child welfare agency in which maltreatment is substantiated. However, population studies show that nearly 1/3 of adults (both men and women) report experiencing maltreatment as children. Maltreatment experienced in childhood is linked to many negative outcomes such as higher rates of violence, teen pregnancy, school problems, substance abuse and involvement with the criminal justice system. More recently, child maltreatment has also been directly linked to changes in brain development and to long-term health problems including all forms of mental health disorders and many physical health disorders such as heart disease, liver disease and diabetes. It is also a costly problem for the healthcare system and for society generally, with lost productivity and higher social service costs for victims. All Canadians have a legal and moral responsibility to report cases of possible child maltreatment to appropriate authorities. In order to do this, it is necessary to understand how to recognize signs of maltreatment and intervene in a way that is most likely to help a child. Animal welfare professionals have a special opportunity to play a positive role in these cases. This presentation will focus on practical tools to assist professionals who are involved in animal welfare to understand their role in identifying and reporting child maltreatment.
- Understand what child maltreatment is and how it affects children.
- Have tools to spot potential child maltreatment.
- Know how to document and report concerns to the appropriate authority.
Dr. Michelle Ward is a pediatrician and Head of the Division of Child and Youth Protection at the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO). She is an Associate Professor at the University of Ottawa, a Clinical Investigator at the CHEO Research Institute and Vice President of the Child and Youth Maltreatment Section of the Canadian Paediatric Society. She is certified in pediatrics in Canada and the United States and is Board Certified in Child Abuse Pediatrics (U.S.). Dr. Ward's clinical work involves the medical assessment and management of children with possible injuries or effects of child maltreatment. Her teaching, research, advocacy and academic interests include medical aspects of child abuse, care of children involved with the child welfare system, education of professionals, and other issues for vulnerable populations.
WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 6
TRACK B: INTERVENTION
Dayna Desmarais, President, SafePet Ottawa
Kia Rainbow, Executive Director, Interval House of Ottawa
Interval House of Ottawa is creating an innovative and groundbreaking animal co-housing program. Housing pets with their families in a shelter for victims of violence will allow for an increase in the support system for women and children fleeing abuse. It has been proven that the human-animal bond is critical during times of stress and trauma. Animals provide emotional support, accelerating the healing process of both women and children. During stressful situations, some people benefit more from a pet’s companionship than from a human friend. Keeping families together, including the family pet, provides a sense of continuity, security and safety.
- Building/increasing space within VAW shelters to house much-loved family pets.
- Attending to fears and allergies of all people in a community living environment.
- The importance of partnerships in a project such as this.
Dayna Desmarais has been a life-long animal lover and advocate. She believes in a humane Canada. Her life has been dedicated to working with animals in numerous capacities which she began by working with fostering for rescues in 2009. In 2012, she opened a pet-sitting company focused on providing the highest standards of care to animals in the Ottawa area. Shortly after that, she began an apprenticeship studying canine behaviour science in a more hands-on approach. While making great personal accomplishments in those fields, she also completed courses from Duke University in Canine Emotion & Cognition, as well as from the University of Edinburgh in Animal Welfare and Behaviour.
The year 2013 sparked the beginning of Dayna's involvement with SafePet Ottawa, where she sat on the Board as their Vice President for 3 years before being voted in as their President in 2017. It was through this young non-profit organization that she learned more about the link between domestic violence and animal abuse. It became apparent to her that more needed to be done to raise attention and awareness to the link between domestic violence and animal abuse.
The inspiration and motivation to make a difference for the treatment of animals came not only through Dayna's love for them, but also through her mother's. Dayna's mom inspires her every day to do more, to be better and to embody the true attributes of an animal advocate. Because of her mother's hard work to help rescue and rehabilitate animals throughout Dayna’s childhood, she has been blessed with the passion and drive to do the same. Read our interview with Dayna Rose-Desmarais here!
Kia Rainbow is the Executive Director of Interval House of Ottawa, a thirty-bed shelter for women and children fleeing violence. She has worked in the area of violence against women (VAW) for more than twenty-five years and, in that time, has researched, developed, implemented, managed and evaluated numerous VAW programs.
Today, Kia is putting her energies into creating an innovative and groundbreaking animal co-housing program at Interval House of Ottawa. The animal housing area will support women and their children fleeing violence to bring their beloved family pets into the shelter with them. Numerous studies explain why women who are bonded to their companion animals may choose to remain in violent homes in order to keep their pets safe. As well, allowing women and children to take their pets with them eliminates their need to return to the abusive home to protect their pets from the abusers’ calculated retaliation.
TUESDAY, DECEMBER 5
SPEAKER: Carl Sesely, Profiler, Behavioural Sciences Unit, Royal Canadian Mounted Police
Criminal behaviour is a complex phenomenon and is the product of many drivers, including mental health. This presentation will explore how mental health plays a role in a variety of criminal behaviours, such as cruelty to animals, as well as discuss the
weight that profilers give to red flag behaviour traits like animal abuse and arson when they are building profiles, or when preparing to interview suspects. Participants will gain insight into how certain crimes figure into the profiling process.
- The role of mental health in cases of criminal abuse.
- Bestiality in the Criminal Code of Canada.
- Using red flag behaviour traits to build a profile.