Quebec's provincial government wants to change the status of animals in the province and increase penalties for cruelty toward animals.

The legislation tabled on Friday will treat animals as "sensitive beings" and recognize their "biological imperatives."

They will no longer be treated as mere property.

Fines for animal cruelty will be increased to $250,000, and that could even apply to misfeeding a goldfish, according to Agriculture Minister Pierre Paradis.

"Basic legislation applies to all animals according to the definition in the law. But if you are a pet owner you are under a different order than if you have a feed animal," said Paradis.

The law will permit animals to be raised for food, but says those animals should never be mistreated.

"They have to live as much as possible in dignity."

Bill 54 comes after Quebec has been repeatedly singled out by animal rights groups as one of the best places in the world to mistreat an animal and a centre for puppy mills.

Paradis said Quebec's legislation is modelled after similar laws in Manitoba, Ontario and British Columbia. Paradis says the fines can double and triple for repeat offenders. Judges will have the discretion to sentence serial violators of the proposed law to jail for up to 18 months.

The law will:

  • forbid harming an animal and causing it distress
  • ban animal fights such as cockfighting and dogfighting
  • require permits for fur farms and stables with more than 15 equines
  • grant immunity to whistleblowers
  • increase fines to $250,00 for a first offence
  • allow prison terms of up to 18 months for second offences

Public hearings on the law will soon take place and those interested can express their opinions directly to the National Assembly.

The legislation will likely be studied, debated, and passed during the fall session of the National Assembly.