Usually, the police raids crack houses and gang hideouts in Toronto. Last Thursday, November 26, 2009, officers descended on the Toronto Humane Society, a 118-year-old charity sheltering abandoned cats and dogs. Some of the most noted charges were cruelty to animals, which is a criminal offence in Canada. Apparently, the Society kept very sick animals alive instead of putting them to death. Assuming that’s what happened and that both managers and vets are responsible, this case may very well come down to whether keeping sick animals alive out of opposition to euthanasia is a crime in this country.
Four sections of the Criminal Code of Canada cover the crime of cruelty to animals. There are four possible offences. Three of them, injuring animals in transit or abandoning them, keeping a cockpit, and breaching a prohibition order are not relevant to this case. The offence that the Society’s managers allegedly committed is causing unnecessary suffering to animals. “Every one commits an offence who … wilfully causes or, being the owner, wilfully permits to be caused unnecessary pain, suffering or injury to an animal or a bird…” (s. 445.1(1)(a) of the Criminal Code).
If the Society’s managers can prove that the pain their policy caused to the animals was necessary, they will be acquitted. Tim Trow is the Society’s President who faces charges of cruelty to animals. According to the Toronto Star, he is “a retired lawyer known for his opposition to euthanasia.” Assuming there is no other relevant information, he isn’t a sadist. He kept animals suffering from incurable diseases alive because he believed it was wrong to kill them. If he can prove that choosing pain over death is necessary, he will be acquitted.
Only those causing “unnecessary” pain are guilty of the crime. The courts have said that “unnecessary” in this context means something that can be avoided. And you must handle the animal for a legitimate purpose in the first place. For example, it is legitimate to euthanize your terminally sick dog, but you can’t cut its throat to kill it because painless alternatives are available. But what about keeping a terminally sick dog alive? Assuming it’s a legitimate purpose and assuming they don’t prescribe morphine for dogs, there is indeed no alternative to pain. So Tim Trow’s defence will come down to whether keeping a terminally sick animal alive is a legitimate purpose.
And that’s a philosophical question, isn’t it?