Bill C-17 (Historical)
An Act to amend the Contraventions Act and the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts
This bill was last introduced in the 38th Parliament, 1st Session, which ended in November 2005.
Irwin Cotler Liberal
Referral to Committee Before Second Reading
(This bill did not become law.)
November 22nd, 2005 / 10:05 a.m.
November 14th, 2005 / 4:35 p.m.
Michael John Savage Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-50, amendments to the Criminal Code in relation to cruelty to animals.
Members who have been in the House longer than I will remember from the last Parliament when the bill was Bill C-22. This legislation has been before this House consistently since 1999 when it was first introduced in an omnibus criminal law bill, Bill C-17.
Canadians from all walks of life have expressed and continue to express support for stronger animal cruelty laws. I know the minister continues to receive countless letters in support of these amendments. I have certainly received letters and heard concerns from my constituents. As MPs we hear from a lot of people. I heard from someone this morning in relation to the puppy mill in Quebec which my NDP colleague spoke about previously. This issue is very much on the minds of Canadians.
For various reasons the bill has never passed both this House and the other place in the same form. It is true that when it was first introduced, a degree of discomfort was felt by a number of industry stakeholders, farmers and animal researchers, about the potential negative impact of the legislation on their activities. These are legitimate concerns and they have been addressed.
Over the past five years, significant work has gone on in Parliament, in the chamber and in committee, as well as in meetings and discussions with concerned parties to bring a greater consensus in support of this legislation.
In the summer of 2003 when a final set of amendments were made to the legislation, a broad based coalition of industry groups came to feel more comfortable with the legislation and in fact supported these amendments, alongside animal welfare groups and veterinary associations. These groups even wrote to urge the minister to re-table this very legislation.
Since that set of changes, not just those people who advocate for the interests of animals, but also many of those whose livelihoods actually depend upon the use of animals are now eager to see these amendments become law. Those groups include organizations representing the agricultural sector, trappers, fur farming industries, and the animal research community. This indicates that we have addressed a wide range of concerns.
One of the objectives of the reforms is the enhancement of existing maximum penalties for animal cruelty. Today even the most heinous mutilation or torture of animals can result in only six months' imprisonment or a $2,000 fine. There is widespread consensus that these maximum penalties are too low to deter or denounce behaviour that we know happens across this country. Our views toward animals have changed a lot in this country and in this world over the past number of years.
Part of the penalty enhancement reform involves making these offences dual procedure and giving the Crown the ability to proceed by indictment in the more serious cases. In those cases, the maximum penalty goes up from six months in prison to five years, and the ceiling of $2,000 is removed, in keeping with the sentencing for all indictable offences in the code.
There are more specific sentencing measures in addition to these general standard ones. Currently there is a two year maximum on orders preventing the offender from owning or possessing animals. This two year maximum ceiling will also be removed so the courts will have the power to make an order for any length of time the court considers appropriate.
In addition, Bill C-50 will introduce a new power for the court to order, in addition to any other sentence, that a convicted offender repay the costs of taking care of the animal in question. If a person or organization took in the animal after the cruelty incident, the person who committed the offence would be responsible.
In every province there are statutorily created societies for the prevention of cruelty to animals. We all know those. These agencies are under a legal obligation to protect animals from cruelty by seizing and caring for them when they are in distress, for example a puppy mill, yet these statutory bodies receive very little in the way of public funding. When they take in an animal that has been abused, care for it and provide veterinary services, food, shelter and comfort, they generally do so with money obtained from public donations.
We all know people in our communities who do this kind of work. In my community of Dartmouth--Cole Harbour, I think of people like Judith Gass, a former Progressive Conservative candidate in the 1993 federal election, who does great work. I also think of the many vets in my riding who talk to me about the concerns they have when they see animals in distress.
Bill C-50 will make it clear that the offender may be found responsible for repaying the costs associated with his or her criminal act. That is good sentencing policy. By holding the offender accountable for the costs, we do a better job at educating the offender about the consequences of his or her crime and hopefully this contributes to his or her rehabilitation.
Law reform is about more than adjusting numbers. It is also about making sure the substance of the law prohibits all forms of misconduct and does so in the clearest possible language and provides the most coherent structure of offences. Bill C-50 also contains a number of elements that accomplish this important set of objectives.
The amendments will create a new offence that directly targets the wilful killing of an animal with brutal intention, such as by strapping an explosive on the animal--we have heard of that--or fastening the animal to a railway line. These types of acts, which most people consider impossible to imagine, are perhaps the most despicable form of cruelty we can imagine and may not be caught by our existing law if the person had or could prove a legitimate excuse for killing the animal. We are closing this loophole so that even when the law allows a person to kill an animal, he or she cannot do it with the intention of being brutal.
Euthanasia, slaughter, hunting practices could be humane. The hallmarks of humane euthanasia are that the methods are tried and true. They involve a minimization of pain and suffering. They are reproducible and reliable and do not pose any risk of failure or risk of harm to others.
Sometimes a person who kills an animal has another set of intentions reflected in acts that are not reliable methods of killing, which pose risks to that person or to others and which have uncertain and non-reproducible effects. Exploding an animal in a microwave, which we have heard of, or dropping it from a tall building are examples. If someone kills an animal with that state of mind, there is a good chance he or she is being deliberately brutal. The law must clearly prohibit and sternly punish this type of behaviour.
Another set of changes will clear up some of the language that is currently confusing. The code now has a set of offences in relation to cattle, a set of offences in relation to animals that are kept for a lawful purpose, and another set of offences for all animals. This produces duplication and some overlap. There are also omissions. For instance, there are special provisions on cockfighting and the keeping of cockpits. We know, sadly, that dog fighting also happens in our country. Why should our law not also prohibit that? There is no reason.
Bill C-50, a comprehensive law reform package in this area will rectify that deficiency. It will also remove current language, such as “dogs, birds and other animals”, which is a phrase that can do nothing except confuse. It will also remove the nonsensical notion of wilful neglect, which does not exist anywhere else in criminal law because it conflates two entirely different concepts. Wilful means deliberate and intentional, whereas neglect means inadvertence. Combining these two into one concept is bad criminal law. Bill C-50 will rectify that.
The bill will also provide a definition of animal when none currently exists. That definitely will be a “non-humane vertebrate”, for example. Today, there is no definition. This means that a worm or a snail or any possible living creature would probably be included. Since many industry groups have expressed concern over such an interpretation, Bill C-50 brings desirable clarity to the question. Without Bill C-50, the question of the scope of the law remains open and it leads to uncertainty.
Finally, Bill C-50 will create a new part of the Criminal Code with the title “Cruelty to Animals” as a chapter devoted just to these offences. This will permit the offences to be taken out of part XI, “Wilful and Forbidden Acts in Respect of Certain Property”.
I am aware that this change has been the subject of debate and discussion, but let us be clear about it in the bill. This change will not and cannot have the effect of altering the legal status of animals as property. The fact that animals are property is a result of property law, which is within the constitutional authority of provinces, not of this Parliament. The common law of this country and that of our Commonwealth cousins bears out centuries of jurisprudence that firmly establishes that animals are the property of the people or of the Crown. There are some people who would disagree with that. There are people who were referred to earlier as radical in this cause. This is a mainstream bill. This is not an extreme bill. It is legally impossible for the relocation of offences from one chapter of the Criminal Code to another to have any effect whatsoever on the legal status of animals as property.
The bill reflects the mainstream and widely held view of Canadians that the people with whom we share this planet are worthy of more respect than maybe we accorded them years ago. The bill is a meaningful and reasonable solution that addresses the needs of many stakeholders, people who work with animals, people who own animals, as well as people who just like to be with animals. The bill provides a sensible solution for all Canadians. I urge the adoption of Bill C-50.
November 14th, 2005 / 3:25 p.m.
Paul MacKlin Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak to the provisions of Bill C-50, an act to amend the Criminal Code relating to the cruelty to animals.
The legislation has a long and notorious history in Parliament. Members will no doubt remember that the legislation has been before the House on a number of occasions over the past five years. These animal cruelty amendments were first introduced in Parliament in 1999 as part of an omnibus criminal reform bill called Bill C-17 but died on the order paper. They were later reintroduced as another omnibus bill, Bill C-15, in a subsequent Parliament. That bill was split into two portions and the portion which contained the animal cruelty amendments again died on the order paper. The amendments were next re-tabled as Bill C-10 which were again split and again the portion with animal cruelty died on the order paper. In the last Parliament, these amendments were known as Bill C-22. Today we are discussing the same amendments in Bill C-50.
The history of the bill is a long and winding road, which includes two highly unusual incidents of bill-splitting and several messages being sent between this and the other chamber. Given the occurrences of rare parliamentary procedures and ping-ponging of the legislation, a person unfamiliar with this history might come away with the impression that the legislation is still controversial and lacks broad base support.
I would like to take this opportunity to remind the members that in actual fact this House has passed this legislation several times in the last two years with support from members on both sides of the House. In addition, hon. members should recall that the legislation has a history of accommodation and compromise that has brought together groups that advocate for animal welfare, as well as groups that advocate for people whose livelihoods depend upon the use of animals. Let me explain.
Over the past five years there has been spirited and comprehensive debate about the impact of the legislation in both this House and the other place, in committees in both places, in the public domain and in the media, not to mention the innumerable meetings between stakeholders and various government officials. As a result, specific amendments have been made on a number of occasions to this bill. These were not legally necessary changes, I would submit, but were adopted by the government with a view to providing greater clarity about the issues of concern.
These accommodations did not compromise protections against animal cruelty. The end result was that a large number of industry stakeholders came to support the legislation. The ministers received the written support of a broad based coalition of industry groups, including a letter from earlier this year urging the government to re-table these very amendments just months before this bill was tabled.
This coalition of stakeholders includes representatives from the agricultural sector, animal research and the trapping industry. The legislation is not meant to and will not negatively impact on the lawful and humane animal related industries and these industries have now acknowledged that. Of course, animal welfare organizations, as well as veterinary associations, police associations and provincial attorneys general, continue to support the legislation wholeheartedly.
The only difference between this legislation and that which was last passed by this House as Bill C-22 is the inclusion now of a non-derogation clause that reaffirms the applicability of existing constitutional protection for traditional aboriginal practices. This was included after discussions between the minister and concerned senators over the potential impact of the legislation on aboriginal persons.
In every other respect, the legislation we have before us today mirrors exactly that legislation which was passed by this House many times already and which stakeholder groups on all sides of the issue urged the government to re-table.
With that brief history, let me make a few basic points about the legislation.
The first point to note is that Bill C-50 is not about new law. It is about better law. The criminal law already contains a range of offences that prohibit cruelty to animals and has since 1893, but the law is a messy jumble of archaic terminology and piecemeal amendments made on a few occasions since 1893.
The first goal of the bill therefore is to modernize, simplify and rationalize the law as well as to fill in certain gaps in legal protection. This objective is accomplished by a variety of measures, including: removing the distinctions in the law that originate from another century; removing overlapping offences; improving the coherence and functionality of the law by removing problematic language, such as “dogs, birds and other animals”; eliminating the illogical notion of “wilful neglect” that is not found anywhere else in our criminal law; and filling in gaps by creating new offences of killing an animal with a brutal or vicious intent and training an animal for the purpose of fighting another animal.
One other change that bears mentioning is the creation of a new chapter of the Criminal Code devoted specifically to animal cruelty. The new chapter would not change the legal substance of offences but would allow us to stop categorizing animal cruelty as property crime and to symbolically reflect that animal cruelty is most appropriately characterized as a gross violation of public standards of acceptable behaviour, as oftentimes it is a serious offence of violence. In fact, there is increasingly scientific evidence of a link between animal cruelty and subsequent violent offending against humans, particularly in the context of domestic violence. The women and children who are forced to witness animal cruelty know that it is not about property damage and it is time our Criminal Code recognized this reality.
The second goal of the amendments is to increase and enhance the penalty regime for animal cruelty offences. The way that society traditionally recognizes the seriousness of a particular conduct is through the penalty that it prescribes for that conduct.
Bill C-50 would make the law more coherent by clearly distinguishing criminally negligent conduct from wilful cruelty for the purposes of providing different sentencing ranges. The person who keeps too many cats and is unable to care for them all commits a different kind of criminal offence than one who skins a cat alive, and Bill C-50 would ensure that penalty ranges reflect this.
The current maximum penalty for animal cruelty, six months in prison or a $2,000 fine or both, would be increased accordingly for both kinds of crime. For intentional cruelty, which would be made a hybrid offence, the maximum penalty on indictment would be increased to five years and on summary conviction to eighteen months. For criminally negligent offences, the maximum sentence would be increased to two years.
Another change is the removal of the current two year cap on orders prohibiting a convicted offender from owning or living with animals. The length of a prohibition order would be in the discretion of the judge and he or she would make the final determination. The courts would also be given a clear power to order a convicted offender to repay to a person or to an organization, which most likely would be the animal welfare society, the costs associated with the caring for the animal the offender was convicted of abusing.
These penalty enhancements, coupled with the other set of reforms that bring greater simplicity, coherence and rationality to the laws, will work together to signal to judges, prosecutors, police and the general public that the abuse of animals is about violence and that cruelty is a matter of serious criminal law.
To be effective, good criminal law must not only provide adequate penalty ranges, it must also be clear, coherent, complete and must reflect the true nature of the misconduct and the societal values at stake. The full range of legal reforms is necessary to bring our 19th century criminal laws in this area into the 21st century.
Over the course of many years that animal cruelty amendments have been before Parliament, Canadians have consistently voiced their strong support for legislative change in this area and their expectation that the legislation will be passed without delay. I urge all members in the House to ensure that occurs as soon as possible.
October 26th, 2005 / 2:45 p.m.
Rob Merrifield Yellowhead, AB
Mr. Speaker, we need some clear answers and commitments from the Prime Minister, not more “well, we will think about it.”
Either the Prime Minister is going to scrap the marijuana bill, Bill C-17, or he is not. Either he is going to reform the parole system or he is not. Either he is going to take real action on crystal meth and marijuana grow ops or he is not. Either he is going to adopt mandatory prison sentences or he is not.
What is it going to be: real justice reform or just more talk?
September 28th, 2005 / 2:25 p.m.
Peter MacKay Central Nova, NS
Mr. Speaker, we thank the professor of justice for that little lecture, but he is wrong. The Liberal government's legacy will be leniency on drugs in Canada, soft on drugs and soft on crime generally.
Crystal meth labs are proliferating around the country. This highly available and addictive drug is having a devastating impact on the lives of Canadians. Just this week, a $2.5 million crystal meth lab was shut down, and B.C. municipal leaders are calling for more drug laws as well.
The Prime Minister knows Bill C-17 can actually increase drug use. When will the Prime Minister show some leadership for a change and introduce mandatory minimum sentences for—
September 28th, 2005 / 2:20 p.m.
Peter MacKay Central Nova, NS
Mr. Speaker, the families of the four murdered RCMP officers have called for mandatory prison sentences for marijuana grow ops. There were some members over there who actually believed that at one time. The families also want Bill C-17, the marijuana decriminalization bill, scrapped.
Family spokesman Reverend Schiemann said that the Roszkos of this world are laughing at us. He is worried that the Mayerthorpe tragedy could happen again.
The families say it is time to draw the line, but the government, instead of tightening the drug laws is actually slackening them. Decriminalization is a step in the wrong direction.
When will the Prime Minister commit to shelving Bill C-17 permanently and getting on with tightening our laws in the country?
September 27th, 2005 / 4:05 p.m.
Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON
This is important. It is not just the RCMP. We are talking about the official provincial police and regional policing authorities that have to enforce the Criminal Code. This is at all levels of government. It is one reason why I wanted to raise and debate the whole question about the criminal justice system as it relates to sentencing, and I hope the committee will deal with it.
The linkage here is to the four slain RCMP officers. Reverend Schiemann spoke to the MPs yesterday about this in our brief meeting. He has said that the person who perpetrated these murders. Mr. Roszko, and I use the word “Mr.” very loosely, has a criminal record that would make any common sense person say that he is someone who has a deep problem. The recidivism rate already has been very high. He is a threat to society. Everybody in the community knew that the person was a problem. He had been charged, convicted, put away for a couple of days, then let go and he was back on the streets. It became a game.
How can Canadians have confidence in the laws of Canada if they know that the application and the defence of those laws only goes so far as the police will lay charges and the person will have a criminal record, but the individual will be back on the street again?
I understand very well why the families are saying that they need the federal government to help them make reasonable changes to the laws so that dangerous people are not out on the streets, that they are not there to perpetrate even further crimes to do the damage to these families, their friends and their communities such as happened with the senseless murder of four RCMP constables, human beings with families.
Members of the justice committee are here today. Notwithstanding that Bill C-49 prescribes that there are penalties to a maximum of, et cetera, it is about time we have some real discussions about mandatory sentencing.
There was an incident in Toronto not too long ago. It was just discharged by the courts. It involved a police officer who was charged with sucker-punching a refugee. Right out of the blue, he gave him a whack. The officer received a sentence of 30 days in jail. It should have been a lot more given the circumstances. He denied it, but someone came forward with a film of the incident. Now the police unions are going to appeal this because he is a good guy and his wife is going to have a baby. I understand there are always mitigating circumstances, but when a person in a position of trust violates the rights of a human being, we need to deal with that firmly. A 30 day sentence says to that person that he is going to jail for a sucker punch.
If we look at Mr. Roszko's rap sheet, we see how much time he has spent in jail. The system basically said that he had a problem, that he had done this or that and that his criminal record was very long. However, he was out on the streets before we could blink. He went back into the community and was a risk to people of his community. Everyone knew it would happen again, but no one knew it would be that bad on March 5 when four RCMP officers were slain needlessly because the criminal justice system and the courts let them down.
We are the legislators. We are the people who make laws that affect the Criminal Code. This is affecting the Criminal Code. The bill does not talk about sentencing. We do not have a lot to do other than prescribing maximums. More and more members in this place comment on grow ops. People who have grow ops with 3,000 plants get slapped with an $1,800 fine and a suspended sentence. We know very well that major grow operations are generating cash for organized crime, for serious criminal activity. When people have more than a plant or two, it clearly is not for their own use. I do not want to debate where to draw the line, but when there are hundreds and thousands of plants, I want to see people go to jail.
We seem to have an aversion to putting people away when they commit serious crimes. We do not talk about this enough. Would someone please make a case to the Speaker that we need an emergency debate, or at least a take note debate, on the sentencing in the criminal justice system. Let us talk about it and see what our parliamentarians have to say. This is a very important issue because families are hurting each and every day.
I do not want to start picking holes. We all understand that we collectively are the lawmakers of Canada. I believe it is a priority. We should talk about this and put it on the table. When the judges and people in positions of trust and authority hear what Parliament has to say about the sentencing track record for serious and violent crime and how we feel about this, even without passing a law, they will look twice and think twice.
We need to take some leadership, too, if things are not happening in the courts and through our judges. I believe very firmly that we can make a difference, and I wanted to raise it in this debate. It is not really a major part of Bill C-49. It is not.
If somebody gets up on a point of order to say that this is not relevant, it was very relevant to the families yesterday. I went there to support them personally. I listened to them. I do not support Bill C-17, which includes the decriminalization of marijuana. I voted against it the last time and I will vote against it again. That is only part of it because that gives the wrong signal.
I think we also give the wrong signal through our legislation. Even though the amendments to the Criminal Code must prescribe penalties, we need to have some real direction to the courts through the criminal justice system. I do not know from where it is being driven. I am not a lawyer. I am not a member of the justice committee. I listened to the people yesterday and I listen to my constituents. I know there is a legitimate concern that should be dealt with in Parliament, and I want that.
I am sorry that what I said has not been relevant to the bill, but I wanted to raise the issue because it is important to Canadians.
Oral Question Period
September 27th, 2005 / 2:35 p.m.
Rob Merrifield Yellowhead, AB
Mr. Speaker, what happened this summer is no answer.
Yesterday the families warned that there are thousands of other James Roszkos all across this country, in every police division, putting police and ordinary Canadian citizens at risk.
The families have sound ideas on how to fix the system. One of the things they would like to see is a scrapping of Bill C-17, this government's soft approach to marijuana. We need some straight and honest answers in the House. Will the government scrap the bill?
September 26th, 2005 / 2:30 p.m.
Rob Merrifield Yellowhead, AB
Mr. Speaker, raising the maximums on crystal meth does not solve the problem when the minimums are not there.
Last week the RCMP officers raided another Quonset hut in Mayerthorpe and turned up 800 marijuana plants.
Marijuana and crystal meth are ruining lives and harming our communities, while criminals scoff at the law and laugh at our weak sentences. RCMP families see the dangers in the soft approach to marijuana in Bill C-17. They want it scrapped and so do we.
Will the government admit it was wrong and scrap the marijuana bill?
Civil Marriage Act
June 28th, 2005 / 7:05 p.m.
Randy White Abbotsford, BC
Mr. Speaker, I would like to have this put into some perspective because I am sure a lot of Canadians are wondering where politicians are taking them these days.
The House of Commons lowered the age of sexual consent from 16 to 14. It is currently changing the definition of marriage. It is studying the legalization of prostitution. It currently has Bill C-17 in the House of Commons which would decriminalize marijuana and ultimately legalize marijuana, and a bill to legalize euthanasia is also in the House of Commons.
Does the member feel that these issues are rightfully in the domain of the House of Commons, where there is voting by party politics, by whip votes or from a mandate to vote a certain way? Does she not think it would be better, for the safety, security, and peace of mind of all Canadians, to put issues like these out to Canadians in a public referendum where they could have a say and we could get away from the obvious partisanship of party politics in the House of Commons?