Dog Act in Canada's Northwest Territories Under Review

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N.W.T. MLAs are looking at proposed amendments to the territory's Dog Act, which has historically focused on dealing with sled dogs. (CBC)Northwest Territories MLAs have begun looking at changes to the territory’s decades-old Dog Act, including one proposed change that has already attracted controversy.

Enacted in 1988 but based on laws dating back to the 1950s, the N.W.T.’s Dog Act differs from animal protection laws in southern Canada because much of it focuses on dealing with sled dogs, traditionally used as a mode of transportation in the North.

Politicians are looking at proposed changes to the Dog Act, such as heftier fines and longer jail terms for people who neglect or abuse their dogs. The current act carries a $25 fine or 30-day jail term for offences such as not feeding a dog.

The N.W.T.’s standing committee on economic development and infrastructure began holding public hearings on the proposed changes Thursday in Yellowknife.

MLAs on the committee said they are particularly concerned with one proposed clause that would exempt dog owners from penalty if they are using their dog in a “traditional” manner.

Clause needs clarification

While the proposed new Dog Act says, “No person shall cause a dog to be in distress,” it then goes on to provide an exemption “if the distress results from an activity carried on in accordance with the regulations or in accordance with generally accepted local or traditional practices of dog care, use and management.”

Committee members agreed on Thursday that the exemption clause needs to be more specific about what “traditional practices” mean, and whether they still apply in N.W.T communities.

“We’ve got to pay close attention to that clause, and at the end of the day we’ll hear from folks, the committee will take what we hear very seriously and report back to the house on what we’ve heard,” Yellowknife Kam Lake MLA David Ramsay, who chairs the standing committee, told CBC News before the hearings began.

“It’s by no means a definite that that clause is going to be included in there.”

Meanwhile, Hay River resident Bonnie Dawson has started an online petition calling on the government to get rid of the proposed exemption.

“I’m trying to use the internet to get the message out there, get to this meeting, oppose this deadly loophole,” Dawson said.

Dawson said she is concerned that leaving one’s dog chained outdoors without adequate food and shelter could be construed as a “traditional practice.”

The N.W.T. government hopes to officially amend the Dog Act this spring.

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