Hearings on Quebec's proposed bill expanding the rights of animals to classify them as sentient beings with biological needs begin this morning at the National Assembly.

The legislation, which would also allow for animal abusers to be sentenced to jail time, was heralded by animal-rights advocates such as Quebec's Order of Veterinarians as an important step forward.

"Quebec is about 20 years behind the rest of the civilized world [in this matter]," said Quebec Agriculture Minister Pierre Paradis.

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