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E-collars in Quebec

Craig Koshyk


 Les lois inutiles affaiblissent les lois nécessaires.  

Extrait de L’Esprit des lois

Note: The following article covers certain nuances of provincial law in Quebec. I am not a lawyer, so please take what you read here with a hefty chunk of salt. It is also about e-collars which can be a hot-button issue among dog owners and trainers. I may post something in the future to further clarify my personal views on them, but for now, I will try to keep the article focused mainly on the legal issues surrounding the use of e-collars on hunting dogs in Quebec.

If you type the words "electronic collar" and "Quebec" into a goole search, you'll probably get dozens of links to articles about e-collars (and prong collars) being 'banned' in the Canadian province. Fortunately, for dog owners who support the proper use of e-collars, the articles are wrong. E-collars are NOT banned in Quebec. So what happened? Where did the misinformation come from?

Paved With Good Intentions.

The province of Quebec has long been considered the puppy mill capital of Canada. The province's vaguely worded and poorly enforced animal protection laws meant that unscrupulous breeders could keep and breed domestic cats and dogs in horrible conditions. But in 2013, after significant public pressure, the ruling party finally introduced new legislation designed to strengthen the Quebec Animal Health Protection Act. Soon after, a detailed application guide was published in an effort to help people understand the new laws and how they should be interpreted and applied by the courts. And while much of the information in the guide can be helpful, none of it is actual legislation. The guide is meant to explain the laws, not add to them or amend them in any way. 

But that is exactly what the La Fédération québécoise des chasseurs et pêcheurs claimed was done when it came to legislation regarding dog and cat collars. In the official act, the following line is found: "The animal's collar must not hamper the animal's breathing, or cause it pain or injury.

Notice that there is no mention of any specific kind of collar. As written, the law basically says that ANY collar you put on a dog or a cat "... must not hamper the animal's breathing, or cause it pain or injury".  And who would disagree with that? Nothing you put on your dog — collar, sweater, boots, a Halloween costume or goggles — should hamper its breathing or cause it pain or injury. So the problem is not the actual law as it is written. The problem is the way the application guide tried to explain the law.

Unlike the actual law, the application guide did in fact mention specific types of collars.  Here is a screen shot from the first edition of the guide published in late 2013.  

Translation: Non-acceptable types of collars.
Electronic collars, anti-bark or for training. These collars do not meet
the requirements of the law since they can cause pain and injury to the animal.

Photos of an electronic bark collar and a prong collar were placed under the heading "Non-acceptable types of collars". The text next to each type of collar reads: "These collars do not meet the requirements of the law since they can cause pain and injury to the animal."

La Fédération québécoise des chasseurs et pêcheurs takes action

Realizing that the wording in the application guide would have a huge impact on gundog owners and trainers, members of the La Fédération québécoise des chasseurs et pêcheurs asked the provincial government to consider changes to some of the language in the guide. A memorandum issued by the Fédération argued that
"....the Application Guide, despite what it written in its own introduction, adds constraints and parameters that are not in the law, for the sole purpose of prohibiting training tools that are misunderstood due to unfounded prejudice. Moreover, it implies that people who uses these tools do so with the intention of hurting or injuring the animal, something that is absolutely contrary to the true intentions of anyone concerned with the healthy development of the animals with which they work."
Just like the men and women who wrote the law, Federation members understand that ANY kind of collar can hamper breathing and cause pain or injury if it is improperly used. So they were not asking for a change in the wording of the law, they were simply asking that the application guide stick to its mandate and not add "constraints and parameters that are not in the law". Why were e-collars and prong collars singled out in the guide? Why were users of such devices automatically assumed to have evil intentions?

There are already laws on the book to address the mistreatment of dogs. If any type of collar is used to hamper breathing and/or cause pain or injury to a dog, the Criminal Code applies. In fact, anyone doing anything with any device or even their own hands that hampers breathing or causes pain or injury to a dog is in violation of the criminal code and should face the consequences. 

Another point the Federation made was that the new laws were about the conditions in which dogs and cats are kept (housed, fed, watered, bred etc.) and NOT about how dogs are trained or used for hunting. So any reference in the application guide to e-collars did not apply to them as training devices or devices used in the field at a distance.

In the end, the powers that be saw the light. The Federation succeeded in convincing them that e-collars, when properly used for the purposes for which they are designed, do not systematically hamper breathing or cause pain or injury to the dog. So they modified the language in the guide (not in the law, the language there was always considered perfectly acceptable). It now says that e-collars and prong collars are 'not recommended'.

Translation: Not recommended.
These collars can cause pain and injury to the animal. 

And that is a spot on compromise in my view. I own and use e-collars. I believe that in the right hands, when used correctly for the purposes for which they are designed, they can be highly effective tools. But I do not recommend them to every guy and girl out there with a shotgun and a gundog. I only recommend them to people who are ready and willing to spend the time and effort to learn how to use them effectively. In the wrong hand, they can cause pain and injury to a dog, just like any collar can.

So I applaud the Federation and the Government of Quebec for agreeing to make a simple change in the language of an application guide that, in the end, makes a huge difference for hunters and their dogs in la belle province. Now, if you choose to use an e-collar in Québec, you are not automatically assumed to be abusing a non-acceptable device, you will not be given a warning to stop using it and you will not face fines if you continue to use it...just like any other collar. 

Special thanks to Martin Gagnon for helping me understand the nuances of the issues and the Fédérations efforts to change the wording in the application guide.