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Camille Labchuk is an animal-rights lawyer and executive director of Animal Justice Canada.

As the last few weeks of winter bears down on us, armies of urbanites clad in fur-trimmed parkas march the streets. But do they know what animal died for their fur trim? Canadians who wear fur – or fur-trimmed mittens or hoods – may be surprised to learn that cat and dog fur is perfectly legal; many are wearing dog or cat without even knowing it. There's no requirement that fur products be labelled, and consumers often have no idea which species they're wearing.

This may finally be about to change: Rookie Liberal MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith tabled the Modernizing Animal Protections Act last week, a private member's bill bringing much-needed reforms to the laws protecting animals (or lack thereof) at the federal level.

Mr. Erskine-Smith's bill modernizes the animal-cruelty sections in the Criminal Code, outlaws shark fin products, sets new standards for fur labelling and brings in a long-awaited ban on the import of cat and dog fur into Canada.

It's no exaggeration to say Canada is decades behind most developed countries when it comes to animal welfare, and the case of cat and dog fur proves this point. The United States and the European Union banned cat and dog fur imports long ago after learning about the brutal slaughter of millions of companion animals so that their fur can be used for clothing, trim and trinkets.

The vast majority of cat and dog fur comes from China, which has no animal-welfare laws. Dogs and cats have been documented living in filthy, cramped cages, and being killed by strangulation and other inhumane methods of slaughter. Many times, their pelts are a byproduct of the heartbreaking cat and dog meat industry.

Cat and dog fur imported into Canada isn't sold as full-length fur coats. It's typically found in smaller amounts, dog fur used to trim parka hoods and cat fur used in toys, figurines or a pair of gloves. Police have even apprehended shipments of counterfeit Canada Goose parkas that use cat and dog fur.

We can't count on the Canadian fur industry to shine a light, as it refuses to admit that there is any problem with cat and dog fur. The fur lobby also fights efforts to label fur products with species and country of origin, perhaps because it fears that labels will more directly connect consumers to coyotes that suffered in leghold traps or to foxes that lived in tiny cages before being killed for fashion.

This is why fur labels matter. Many Canadians are wearing cat and dog on the trims of their winter jackets without even knowing it, and others are duped into buying unlabelled real fur that they assume is fake.

Clear labelling laws will help combat this, and Mr. Erskine-Smith's bill is a good start. A cat and dog fur ban coupled with strong labelling laws will help prevent countless animals for suffering for fashion and trinkets and will help protect consumers from being tricked.

This new bill is the first step on a longer path toward bringing animal laws in Canada into the 21st century. Parliament is filled with more animal-friendly MPs and senators than ever before, and Mr. Erskine-Smith's bill is likely to receive broad cross-party support.

Let's hope that it's just the first of many legislative efforts to make Canada a world leader in animal protection, instead of a world laggard.

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