OTTAWA -- Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould has tabled a new piece of legislation that amends the Criminal Code to crack down on bestiality and animal fighting offences.

Bill C-84 proposes a new definition of bestiality in the Criminal Code as "any contact, for a sexual purpose with an animal," and prohibits all forms of this illegal behaviour.

The new legislation also expands the offences around animal fighting to include a wide range of activities associated with the fighting or baiting of animals or birds. This would include promoting, arranging, profiting off of, breeding, training, or transporting animals for the purpose of fighting.

As well, it broadens the offence of "building, making, maintaining or keeping a cockpit," to include any kind of arena for animal fighting.

"For many Canadians, animals are an important extension of our families and of our communities. Our laws need to reflect these values and protect animals, and provide protection to them that they require from such senseless acts of violence. These crimes have no place in our society," Wilson-Rayould said during a media availability in the House of Commons foyer.

The changes come after a 2016 Supreme Court of Canada decision that found there was a gap in the law because bestiality in the Criminal Code only prohibited sex acts with animals in cases where there was penetration. Now, all forms, penetrative or otherwise, will be considered crimes.

Wilson-Raybould also credited other parliamentarians for pushing forward similar initiatives and raising awareness about the issue and deficiency in the existing law.

The minister is billing these changes to the law as important steps to protect children and vulnerable people, who they say the 2016 case identified as potentially more susceptible to commit or witness sexual acts with animals.

The department issued a statement that noted that there are often links between offenders who commit animal cruelty offences and other crimes like sexual assault; as well as between animal fighting and organized crime.

"We don't necessarily have specific data around the prevalence of bestiality and charges around that. It's not a common occurrence. In terms of animal fighting, there have been specific cases that we can refer to in the past, but the prevalence of animal fighting… It does exist and where it exists, we want to make sure that we have laws in place to prevent it," Wilson-Raybould said.

Legal advocacy group Animal Justice criticized government for not going further in updating Canada’s animal cruelty laws. Executive Director Camille Labchuk said that while the organization supports the amendments Bill C-84 proposes, they don’t go far enough to ensure animals in Canada are fully protected from cruelty.

"Closing bestiality and animal fighting loopholes is literally the least this government could have done, and still leaves millions of animals in Canada out in the cold. The new law is remarkable for its narrow scope, and for the unacceptable length of time it took to be introduced," she said in a statement.

Wilson-Raybould credited other parliamentarians for pushing forward similar initiatives and advocates for raising awareness about the issue and deficiency in the existing law.

Conservative MP Michelle Rempel and Liberal MP Nate Erskine Smith have both tabled private members’ bills seeking changes to Canada's bestiality laws. Rempel’s Bill, C-388 has been stalled at first reading since December 2017, while Erskine Smith’s Bill C-246 was defeated at second reading in 2016.

Responding to the announcement, Rempel was critical of the time it took for the government to do something so “simple.”

"This took two years for them to do, and only comes after I tabled an identical bill, animal rights groups across the country pushed, and 8000+ people signed a petition," Rempel tweeted. "This simple change took two years of fighting with Trudeau to accomplish," she said in another tweet.