House of Commons Hansard #122 of the 36th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was animals.

Topics

Criminal Code
Government Orders

3:10 p.m.

Reform

Myron Thompson Wild Rose, AB

Madam Speaker, there is only one person who could possibly explain it. I would like to hear a simple explanation as to why a bill dealing with cruelty to animals would be incorporated with a bill that says it is against the law to disarm a peace officer. I fail to see the connection.

There has to be some reason. For the life of me, I cannot possibly think of what the reason would be. It makes no sense to me at all. I am sure the question being asked by millions of Canadians across the country is: Why would the Liberal government do this kind of a thing? There must be a political reason for it.

If the government is trying to boggle our minds with confusion, it does not have to try so hard. It has been doing that for many years. I hope the voters wake up and realize what kind of an outfit is trying to run the show.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

3:15 p.m.

Reform

Ken Epp Elk Island, AB

Madam Speaker, the Edmonton max is real close to my riding. It is a couple of miles outside the boundary. I talked to one of the guards. He complained that their guns are taken away from them when they go into Edmonton on escorted leave with some of the very dangerous criminals.

It is curious to me that the same government that would take weapons away from the guards would make a law which makes it against the law for anyone else to take a weapon away from a police officer. I wonder if the member could comment on that.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

3:15 p.m.

Reform

Myron Thompson Wild Rose, AB

Madam Speaker, it will not take long to comment on that. That is a very, very good point. The government has taken away the weapons from peace officers who are escorting criminals from one penitentiary to another and at the same time we are making a law that says it is illegal to disarm a peace officer. Maybe someone should charge the government. The Liberals are a very confusing lot and it is time to get rid of them.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

3:15 p.m.

Bloc

Michel Bellehumeur Berthier—Montcalm, QC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-17, which I could not describe as complex, because it is fairly straightforward, but rather as a bit of a mixture, since it addresses several different things.

It is, of course, an omnibus bill but, with these, we are more used to having changes to a number of things that are somewhat interconnected. Here we have different things. This is not a bill that strikes me as problematic; I would say it is an improvement.

I will quickly go over the range of points addressed by this bill. I am going to focus on one point in particular, the one I find rather more important, requiring more reflection and attention.

As we have been hearing since this morning, Bill C-17 addresses a variety of issues, the main and most important of which as far as changes are concerned relates to cruelty to animals. Its main aim is to group together the present provisions of the Criminal Code under one new section. I believe that it is a worthwhile step forward in dealing with animal cruelty. Just reading the amendments, we can see that this government is attempting to make some innovations in this field and to update the situation.

Nonetheless, there are some weaknesses or flaws in the bill. Improvements would have to be made. I believe that careful attention needs to be paid to the innovations the minister wishes to make by introducing this bill. It gathers into a single bill the various offences to be found here and there. The government now wants to concentrate them, and that is fine.

In addition, the whole issue of disarming officers of the peace is contained in the bill. On September 1, I met in Halifax the Canadian Police Association. Naturally, this subject came up for discussion, and statistics were provided to me, but I had gathered a few of my own as a member of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.

In the province of Ontario alone, over the past 25 years, some 22 police officers have been gunned down with their own weapon. At the moment, the measures in the Criminal Code do not satisfy the police community.

If the police support these amendments, I can tell you honestly that I will not do battle, because in the end we will no doubt support the way they are drafted. In any case, we support the aim, which is to make disarming an officer of the peace an offence.

Then there is section 214 of the criminal code on illegitimate children. I could not believe that in the year 2000 we would find this in the Canadian criminal code. In my view, children have not been illegitimate for a long time. I would go so far as to say that there is no such thing as illegitimate children, since the child is the product of the mother and the father, and that is the way it is.

Therefore, I fully support the amendment in this omnibus bill to delete the expression illegitimate child which, in any case, should never have appeared in the criminal code. But at one time that expression reflected the moral standards of the day.

This omnibus bill seeks to increase the protection granted to extremely vulnerable people in society, namely the disabled, against sexual exploitation by adding a new category to the list of offences targeted by special evidence rules.

We must salute and, more importantly, support these amendments, which seek to help crown attorneys, among others, collect evidence to build solid cases.

Because the political will was there to amend some legislative tools to help collect evidence under certain circumstances, to help crown attorneys build solid cases, the Minister of Justice found a way—and I congratulate her—of bringing in amendments to the criminal code to facilitate the work of crown attorneys in the collection of evidence.

I am convinced that, in her department, and I am sending this message, there are public servants who could find an effective way to fight organized crime, to help crown attorneys collect evidence to build their cases and to provide them with all the necessary legislative tools.

In this bill, the minister shows her interest for a group we must protect, namely disabled people and those who are more at risk of being abused, people who may be less able to communicate evidence for reasons of accessibility and other reasons. It was therefore important and appropriate for the minister to include these changes in her omnibus bill.

Finally, I do not intend to revisit an old issue here, but Bill C-17 proposes significant changes to the Firearms Act regarding the issuance of licences for handguns to employees and storekeepers. These amendments in the omnibus bill are very understandable. This is not very complicated. The purposes and the objectives of these amendments are understandable.

I cannot get too fired up about Bill C-17 because basically these are acceptable provisions that we must look at carefully. However, I do not give my blessing to all these amendments. Some serious work will have to be done, and that is how we have always proceeded in the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. We will have to examine each of these amendments to the criminal code closely, because I think that they will very definitely have repercussions. The part of Bill C-17 which has perhaps got people talking the most, which has captured their interest, is the first part, which deals with offences under the heading of “Cruelty to Animals”.

Upon reading the bill, I immediately had certain questions and concerns. I listened carefully to the explanations from the government side. I can say that, on the face of it, my many questions have not been answered.

Nor are the minister and the government members answering the questions that legal specialists, farmers or industries that work with animals have with respect to this part of the bill. This entire section will have to gone over very closely in committee.

As far as the bill's provisions relating to cruelty to animals are concerned, there are some arguments on both sides. I will try to summarize them, and to reach a conclusion at the end.

Legally speaking, there is recognition of the importance of readjusting the provisions of the criminal code, but it seems the legislator has yielded to pressure from the animal defence people, imposing penalties that are judged too severe. This is a legitimate objection, looking at the penalties imposed on offenders.

The Barreau du Québec has issued an opinion on this part of the bill. It finds it shocking and inappropriate that these new provisions are to come under part V of the criminal code, “Sexual Offences, Public Morals, Disorderly Conduct and Cruelty to Animals”, because there is a risk of reducing the importance of offences toward people.

The Barreau du Québec calls for the creation of a specific statute apart from the criminal code, or at the very least that these offences be grouped together in a specific section of the criminal code.

I believe that the objective of the Barreau du Québec is to ensure that the criminal code, which is relatively easily followed by an informed reader at the present time, does not become any more complex than it already is. Hon. members will note that I have said “an informed reader”. This is certainly not as easy a read as a novel, but there is a certain logic in the criminal code, in its structure and in the sentences, the way sentences are determined and so on. Adjustments would have to be made, but that logic would have to be retained. I think I am echoing the Barreau du Québec's position by saying that perhaps these offences ought to be grouped together in a specific section of the criminal code.

A reading of the bill will show that a definition of “animal” is given. I heard a member of the Canadian Alliance answer another member's question as to whether or not humans were covered by this law. This was not covered in the definition of animal, at least I hope so.

The definition satisfies the legal world. It is fairly clear. One wonders why the legislator put it in subclause (8) at the very end of the definitions. The definition of an animal should be put at the very start, ahead of the consequences of cruelty to an animal. This is normally the way it works; the definitions are at the start of a bill. I see no reason why it should be otherwise in a specific section of the criminal code.

This section should start with the definition of the word “animal” before proceeding to the heart of the matter, that is, who commits an offence, how it is committed and what are the offences involved, as in the bill.

The Barreau du Québec also said that the important point with this bill is the one concerning the means of defence made available to offenders. Lawful excuse, as provided in paragraphs 182.1(1)( c ) and 182.1(1)( d ), addresses concerns expressed by the animal industry, namely the context of an experiment or an accepted industry, be it for profit such as a slaughter house or recreational such as hunting.

However, having heard certain comments by the animal industry, we do not think this bill addresses their concerns. And rightly so. I will come back to this a little later on in my speech.

There is a new provision regarding the offence of failing to provide adequate care. Even the legal experts think that this offence should be dropped from the bill, because it is not based on any tangible evidence and thus runs counter to the spirit of the criminal code.

With no material evidence to go on, it will be very difficult to prove this offence beyond all reasonable doubt. Given the legal principle that there must always be a point to what lawmakers say—when I refer to lawmakers, I am of course not referring to the Minister of Justice—this means that if we include in the criminal code a provision for which it will never be possible to produce tangible evidence, we will never be able to use this provision, and lawmakers' work would be pointless, which goes against a basic legal principle. The House knows what I mean.

As for the reception of the legal community, it is quite favourable. The animal industry, however, has some serious questions. It feels that the earlier provisions in the criminal code have not really been reproduced, and that there are loopholes. Amendments should be made to the legislation to better serve this industry, whether it be lucrative or recreational in nature.

Some hon. members have referred to the farmers in their ridings. There are farmers in my riding also, and even wild animals in captivity. There are, of course, questions to be raised with regard to this bill.

The bill could easily be improved, if there were a certain political will. It is not a bill, at least as far as the Bloc Quebecois MPs are concerned, that will have us tearing out our hair if the wording is not the same as in the criminal code.

The purpose of the bill is to improve and to update the approach being taken to animals, compared to the practice a few years ago. Hon. members will understand that the minister cannot be asked to reproduce word for word what was in the criminal code. It is being changed precisely because it did not correspond to everyday reality.

Nevertheless, there were certain things in the sections they want to do away with, including subsection 429(2) which refers to legal justification or colour of right to justify certain actions by the owner of an animal. These are not carried over into Bill C-17; there is nothing like them.

There is reference to “lawful excuse”, but this is very broad. How are the courts going to interpret “lawful excuse”? As legislators, we must provide the courts with as much guidance for their interpretation as possible. We are not doing our job properly if we leave things the way they are. I believe what we mean by “lawful excuse” needs to be clarified.

We have heard some of the major questions raised by owners. Is the practice common among farmers with horned animals of removing the horns of the beasts considered to Cause an animal “pain, suffering or injury”? Would the courts interpret it this way? This is not clear. The government should be clearer in its legislation.

For example, those who raise animals of prey trim their beaks, others cut the tails of certain animals. Does this come under the offence of causing “pain, suffering or injury?” Doubtless it does not. I think we should not give the courts any room for interpretation. Owners and farmers are quite right to have reservations, doubts and questions about these problems.

There is also the whole issue of researchers who use animals. People may oppose this, but medicines have been developed as the result of testing, in a prescribed manner, I concede.

We already have a code, which could perhaps be better structured, be better tracked to see what is done in the industry. Nor can animal research be completely prohibited and certain possible justifications for the people who are going to use animals not included in the bill. Thought should also be given to all the organizations for the defence of animal rights. I think that everyone is aware of their perhaps extreme position, but on the other hand, there are researchers who use animals.

There is also the issue of criminal intent. I believe very sincerely that there should be more clarification on this in the bill.

All this is to say that we support the spirit of the bill, but a fair balance must be found between the purpose of the legislation and its usefulness. This is not the first bill the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights will be considering in order to find the fairest possible solution. Once again, it is not a very controversial bill as far as the Bloc Quebecois is concerned.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

Reform

Leon Benoit Lakeland, AB

Madam Speaker, I think it is important that I rise today to speak to Bill C-17. First I will talk a bit about what the bill includes. It is one of those omnibus bills which includes things that should never be grouped together. I encourage the government to decouple the issues in the bill so that we are dealing with like issues only in one particular piece of legislation instead of such wide ranging issues.

In the bill we have issues ranging from cruelty to animals to disarming a police officer, to a whole group of miscellaneous issues including those under the Firearms Act. They are completely unrelated.

When many of us came here in 1993, particularly those of us in the Reform Party which is now the Canadian Alliance, we expressed concern, and we have expressed it many times since, about omnibus bills and the need for decoupling unrelated issues so that we could have debate on the particular issues before the House and could vote on a bill without having to vote against a bill because we could not support one part of it when there may be other sections that we fully support.

The government uses this tactic. The intent is to make it difficult for opposition members to vote against a bill because parts of it are difficult to vote against. This tactic is not reasonable for the government to use. I request that it break the bill down into three or more bills so that we could deal with it in a reasonable fashion and have debate on related issues. The most important part is that we could vote on issues that are at least in some way related. Unfortunately that is not the case with this piece of legislation.

When we look at Bill C-17 it is hard to disagree with its stated intent, the main part of the bill, cruelty to animals. How many people would not support a piece of legislation which in a reasonable fashion protects animals against abuse? I do not think we would find one member of any political party in the House who would not support that. That is not the issue when we are dealing with this bill.

There are some areas of concern in the legislation. One part of the bill is the disarming of a police officer. I think we would find very wide support in the House for that portion of it. With some changes I think we would find that almost everyone in the House would support that portion of the bill. I cannot speak for everyone else, but that is what I have heard from the debate so far and from speaking to some people from other parties regarding the legislation. I think there is pretty wide support for that part of the bill.

There is an issue in the miscellaneous section which I think has been overlooked and to which we must pay attention and speak on today. I am referring to the issue of once again having the government expropriate property from Canadian citizens with no compensation. There is a section in the bill which does exactly that. It will expropriate property and cause people to destroy property so that it is worthless, with no compensation.

That stems from a deep rooted problem in the country that Canadians do not have the right to own property. There is nothing in the constitution that says Canadian citizens have a right to own property. It is an issue to which we have spoken many times since we have been here. I think it is an important issue to raise again.

It is all wrong. It is part of what is wrong with the species at risk act. In that piece of legislation property can be expropriated from citizens. The use of property could be denied. There may or may not be any compensation, but certainly the minister has made clear that under that piece of legislation there is no guarantee of fair market value compensation. It has been made very clear that there just will not be fair market value compensation.

In the species at risk act the problem arises from the fact that we do not have the right to own property enshrined in the constitution. It comes to the forefront. That is a big part of the problem in that piece of legislation, as it is in this one. I certainly cannot support that part of the legislation. I just do not believe it is proper for a government to expropriate property from individuals without fair market value compensation. That is exactly what would be done in the miscellaneous section of Bill C-17.

We have heard a Bloc member of parliament speak to the disarming of a police officer to some extent. Others will speak and have spoken to that issue, but I want to focus on the part of the bill that deals with protecting against animal cruelty. It is very clear that probably there is not one member in the House who would not agree that we want to protect animals against abuse.

Many of us have pets. I am in Ottawa almost half the year. When I came here in 1993 my family replaced me with a miniature schnauzer named Lady. My family figured it was a pretty good deal, which kind of concerns me. The Liberals think it is a pretty good deal too. She is just such a sweet little dog, sometimes. Our family loves her dearly.

Many people have pets they feel that kind of attachment to. Who would not want legislation to protect against abuse of our pets and of animals we feel are very important to us. That is not the issue.

The issue is that in this piece of legislation there are flaws which have led to a concern expressed by hunters, anglers, farmers and ranchers in particular. I will refer to legal opinions which people from all these groups have obtained from their lawyers on this issue. They are concerned that as the legislation is written now it could harm farmers, ranchers, hunters and anglers in their activities. I will refer to that real concern.

Before I read from the first letter which mainly concerns farm animals, I would like to talk about the care farmers and ranchers take with their animals.

I have had neighbours on the farm who have complained that their wife or husband, the person who looks after the animals, cares more for the animals than they do for their spouse. That is kind of a farm joke. At calving time farmers are out there watching to make sure their animals give birth safely. They are out there in the middle of the night checking to make sure that calves are not lost, frozen or harmed in some way.

Farmers and ranchers take good care of their animals. Of course that is how they earn their living and there is a monetary reward for doing a good job, but also it is just because they care for their animals. They genuinely care for their animals.

I must express concern when we have a piece of legislation that seems to ignore that fact and does not seem to recognize that a vast majority of farmers and ranchers do an absolutely wonderful job. The last thing they would want to do is to inflict any kind of pain on their animals or to allow pain to be inflicted on them. Yet farmers and ranchers once again have to defend themselves against a piece of legislation put forth by the government. Bill C-17 could interfere in the way they look after their animals. That is a concern.

I am going to read from some documents. The first is from the county of Vermilion River No. 24. That county is very close to where I live in east central Alberta. The area has a very large number of cattle and other farm animals. Enough farmers and others have talked to the councillors about this legislation that they have taken the time to write to the minister about this issue. I was at meetings with the council on a couple of occasions where this issue was brought to my attention. I brought it to the attention of our caucus and members of other parties as well.

I am going to read the short letter from the county of Vermilion River to explain where it is coming from on this issue. It reads: “The County of Vermilion River No. 24 Agriculture Service Board recently reviewed the proposed changes to Bill C-17, under section 182 animal cruelty provisions. The Agriculture Service Board understands that the intent of the changes of Bill C-17 is not to alter the animal care practices currently being used by livestock producers throughout Canada. Presently livestock producers operate lawfully under a vast array of federal and provincial laws, regulations and voluntary codes of conduct. The County of Vermilion River No. 24 Agriculture Service Board does not condone the mistreatment of animals. However, the current wording of C-17 could put livestock producers involved in legitimate and lawful livestock production at serious risk of criminal prosecution. The County of Vermilion River No. 24 Agriculture Service Board would ask that amendments be made to Bill C-17 which would ensure the protection of law-abiding livestock producers from unfair criminal prosecution. The livelihoods of Canadian livestock producers are at stake”.

The letter is signed by the reeve of the county, Peter Green. He also includes a legal opinion on Bill C-17, particularly dealing with the livestock cruelty provisions. It is an overview of their concerns. The briefing document, which includes comments from the legal opinion, was sent to the Minister of Justice.

The risks of the bill are listed. It states “leaving aside the government's best intentions, if Bill C-17 is left as it is”, and therefore they acknowledge that the government has the best of intentions in this regard. They believe that, as do I. Leaving that aside, they said they have concerns about the risk to farmers, hunters, anglers and other people.

Farmers risk criminal prosecution for such common practices as dehorning, beak and tail trimming, castrating and hot iron branding given in the wording of 182.1(1)(a).

Meat plants which engage in religious slaughter risk criminal prosecution for not stunning livestock prior to killing, according to the wording. The second concern is slaughter for religious purposes and the process that must be followed to respect those religious beliefs. They have a real concern about those not being upheld as a result of the bill.

Biomedical researchers in food, cosmetics, medicine and chemicals risk criminal prosecution from procedures which result in any pain or suffering according to the bill.

Anglers risk criminal prosecution for even putting a worm on the hook as a result of the changes in the bill.

Hunters risk criminal prosecution for wounding or using a bow. Likewise trappers risk criminal prosecution for using live holding traps as a result of the legislation.

Those are the risks listed in the legal opinion. It is a long list. Practices which are considered to be perfectly normal could be altered and could be forced to be set aside as a result of the legislation. I do not think that is the intent the government had.

I am asking the government to look at these concerns and to fix the legislation. We will be more than co-operative in that regard. These concerns have been sent to the minister. We sent proposals to the minister. Several people have sent proposals to us which have also been sent to the minister. We do not want to make a political issue out of this. We want it fixed. That is why I am taking this very co-operative approach.

I do not want to go through all the other concerns that are listed. I believe that the concerns of farmers and ranchers certainly in our part of the country as expressed are legitimate. I think they have accurately identified real problems with the way the legislation is written. The legislation has to be either set aside or amended so that the hardship that could be forced on ranchers, farmers, hunters, fishermen and other people can be taken into account.

That is the letter from the county of Vermilion River. I will not read through all of these documents, but I want to read portions of a letter and a background document including a legal opinion sent to me by the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters. This is not just a western Canadian problem; it is a problem right across the country. Farmers farm and ranchers ranch right across the country, but people also like to hunt, fish and take part in other activities which have been generally considered to be acceptable.

I think a lot of Liberals would find those activities to be acceptable. If they do not, then they should state that. They should say no, they do not agree that people should be allowed to hunt. They should say no, they do not agree that people should be allowed to trap. They should say no, they do not believe that farmers should be allowed to do things with their animals which they normally have done in the interests of good animal husbandry. If they do not believe that, they should come out and say it. If they do not believe it is right for certain religious groups to kill livestock in a way that is laid out by the religion of those groups, then they should come out and say that.

If it is not the Liberals' intention to interfere in normally accepted processes, then they should say, “Okay. We have made a mistake. We have a bad piece of legislation here, so let us fix it up”. That is all I am asking.

I really do not think this should become a political ball that we throw back and forth. There should be co-operation on this issue. There is certainly co-operation from me and members of my caucus. I think members of the governing party will show the same kind of co-operation in this case. This issue is not one which would favour one political party over another. We are trying to protect the very people who could be harmed by the legislation should it pass.

I want to refer briefly to a couple of the things the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters put forth in its letter. The letter states in part: “Make no mistake, an outspoken national animal rights organization has labelled Bill C-17 revolutionary and as such, Canada is poised to elevate the interests of animals in the law. The justice department officials themselves have recently made remarkable claims that the current law recognizes animals' interests. Let us repeat some of our major concerns on C-17”. There are three concerns listed in the letter. “There is absolutely no need to move cruelty and care provisions from part XI to part V of the criminal code”. I agree. It is important to note that moving those from part XI to part V gives animals a status that somewhat equates to people. I do not think that is generally accepted by Canadians.

Madam Speaker, I see you are indicating that my time is up. In summary, my family and I love our little dog Lady, and many times when we watch her play and interact with us we wonder just what she does know, but we do not believe that she equates to a human.

I have a concern when a piece of legislation appears to somehow equate a pet or other animal to a human. I agree with so many groups that have written to me saying that we must change that, put it back to the way it was. Let us work in a co-operative way to fix this legislation.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

3:55 p.m.

Reform

Gurmant Grewal Surrey Central, BC

Madam Speaker, I rise on behalf of the people of Surrey Central to speak at second reading of Bill C-17, the government's proposed changes to the criminal code and Firearms Act.

This is a non-partisan issue. I have only heard Canadian Alliance members one after the other address the issue. Not a single member from the government stood to address this important issue. Perhaps they are not concerned about it and that is the way it is.

In any event the bill has three parts. The bill will first of all make it a criminal offence for anyone to disarm or attempt to disarm a peace officer without that officer's consent. Our nation's police associations have been calling for this. We in the official opposition commend the government whenever it listens to Canadians, which of course is a very rare event. In this case we in the Canadian Alliance are proud to support Canada's front line police officers. We will support this part of the bill and will work with the government to have it passed into law.

The second part of Bill C-17 amends the Firearms Act by expanding the class of prohibited handguns that are grandfathered and modifies the employee licensing requirements. The refinements to the Firearms Act are pure and simple tinkering. They are only cosmetic changes.

The Canadian Alliance calls for a complete overhaul of the Firearms Act. We support the two amendments to the Firearms Act. However, if the government really wants to fix the Firearms Act, it will have to implement the over 200 amendments proposed by this side of the House at report stage and implement all of the amendments proposed by the standing committee on justice.

The third part of Bill C-17 is the Liberal government's proposed amendments to the criminal code, which will consolidate cruelty to animal offences. The Canadian Alliance is anxious to support measures that will protect animals in Canada. We Canadians love our animals, be they wildlife, pets, or birds, all of the little creatures that get cold and hungry in our winters.

In Surrey we have squirrels, alley cats, groundhogs, coyotes and birds in our neighbourhoods, co-existing with us. They make us and our children laugh. They tear at our hearts on a rainy day. We all feel sad, very badly indeed, whenever we hear about an innocent animal harmed by a human being. If it is an unintentional harm to an animal, we share the sadness felt by the person who caused the hurt to the creature, for that person feels very bad as well.

When a person is cruel to an animal, that person invites the wrath of the House and of all the powers we have in this place to come to the aid, the defence and the protection of our brethren in the animal kingdom.

On behalf of the people of Surrey Central, I am proud to participate in this debate to pass the part of this legislation that will fight cruelty to animals.

The weak Liberal government is proposing to place brutality to an animal, viciously killing an animal and abandoning an animal in one section of our criminal code. This bill proposes to no longer treat cruelty to animals as a property crime. The new provision will move cruelty to animals to part V of the criminal code, under sexual offences, which would be renamed “Sexual Offences, Public Morals, Disorderly Conduct and Cruelty to Animals”. Animal cruelty provisions are currently contained in part XI of the criminal code. These sections protect a person from being convicted of an offence if that person acts with the legal justification of excuse or colour of right.

Agricultural groups, anglers, hunters' groups and the Fur Council of Canada oppose moving the offence. These groups fear that by moving the cruelty section to sexual offences, they may be wrongly prosecuted. They argue that those who lawfully and legitimately harvest animals for businesses will not be protected if the cruelty section is changed.

The Canadian Alliance will be moving an amendment at committee stage to have animal cruelty provisions maintained in part V or to make the necessary changes to the criminal code to comply with the concerns of farmers, hunters, anglers, agricultural groups, the fur trade and others who harvest animals.

The Minister of Justice contends that individuals who conduct an agricultural business or one involved with animals are not affected by this legislation. The Liberals say that if one is not violating the criminal code as it currently reads in conducting their agriculture business, Bill C-17 does not change the way they conduct their business, whereas agricultural groups, the anglers, the hunters' federation and the Fur Council of Canada do not agree. They do not buy that.

Canadians are mistrustful of the Liberal government that has delivered so many broken promises such as the GST. A government is not judged by the promises it makes. Rather, a government is judged by the promises it keeps.

These Canadians, these fur traders, farmers and hunters, feel the bill goes much further than reflecting society's disgust with those who would abuse pets. They feel that this legislation is the precursor to further attempts to alter the way they currently operate their respective businesses. These three groups of Canadians have raised legitimate concerns about the impact the bill could have on their operations now and in the future.

I did my first degree, a B.Sc. in agriculture, with honours in animal sciences. From that point of view, I can understand their concerns. There is no reason why the Liberals cannot accommodate the interests of the stakeholders and the industry affected by the legislation. Why not?

The government should say what it means in its legislation. Canadians cannot accept that words in a media scrum or in regulations will take care of things. I have gone through a copy of the bill. It is only a few pages long but the regulations after the bill come as a big pile of papers. It is the regulations that control the intent of the bill. Sometimes the intent of the bill is different.

Canadians want clarity. Because these groups are concerned, the government should spell out for them in its legislation exactly what the government means.

Let me talk about penalties described in the bill. The bill raises the penalty for intentional cruelty to an animal from the current six months to five years. Also, the bill will lift the cap off the fine, which is currently $2,000. There is potential for a lifetime ban from owning an animal. Those found guilty of cruelty to animals would be forced to pay for veterinarian services to treat the animal. The bill acknowledges that animals have feelings and are deserving of legal protection from negligence or abuse. We hope that the new maximum five year penalty will be imposed. As in other instances, the minister has failed to put teeth in our law and propose minimum penalties. Hopefully the Canadian Alliance can have the Liberals fix this matter at the committee stage of the bill's progress through the House.

There is more work for the government to do. Like so many of their attempts to legislate, this is only half a job. They are botching the job. We want to support this legislation and at the same time we want it to be right. It is a good thing that we are here to hold the flashlight for this weak Liberal government that lacks vision.

The terms mentioned in the bill are not defined. The government, in one bill, is mixing various issues that do not have much correlation. The bill is like mixing apples and oranges. The bill is half cooked. It is like a bitter medicine mixed with a little sugar.

We will propose amendments during the committee stage that will attempt to clarify and bring consensus to the bill.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

4:05 p.m.

Reform

Gary Lunn Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Madam Speaker, I would like to ask the hon. member for his comments. We have concerns, but what about actual cruelty to animals? Could the member elaborate on where he stands with respect to animal cruelty? When animals are being injured in very inhumane ways, what does he think we should be doing in those cases?

Criminal Code
Government Orders

4:10 p.m.

Reform

Gurmant Grewal Surrey Central, BC

Madam Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his question. It gives me the opportunity to express how I feel about cruelty.

I am a person with a very soft heart. At home when I have some insects such as spiders or flies in the house, I take five or ten minutes to catch them, put them in a container, carry them outside and let them enjoy nature's freedom.

I am quite tough on the issue of those people who are injuring animals or inflicting pain on animals. It is fun for some people but that is not the way we in the civilized world should behave.

Again, in this bill the definition of cruelty is not mentioned anywhere. For example, with respect to those people who fish, probably in the view of other people they are causing pain and suffering to the fish they catch, as a fish is a living animal, but those people enjoy it. Other people are complete vegetarians who do not eat meat at all. Another extreme is those who butcher animals.

I believe cruelty is a relative term. For some people something is cruel and for others it is not, but if there were a Liberal member speaking on this bill I would stand up and ask what the definition of cruelty is in this bill. Also, there are so many other terms that should be included in this bill. The sad part is that the government members are not giving any interest to this. At this time there is only one member listening to this debate. I wonder why the members are not showing an interest.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

4:10 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

I must remind the hon. member that we do not comment on the presence or absence of members in the House.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

4:10 p.m.

Reform

Bill Gilmour Nanaimo—Alberni, BC

Madam Speaker, I would like to ask the hon. member for his views, because it is extremely difficult to find a line, on what we are going to have to do as legislators, between someone who is obviously cruel with a puppy mill or something, which most Canadians would clearly say is over the line, and the other side. On the other side, it may be a mousetrap, rat poison or an agricultural issue like the branding of cattle, which is a standard practice in the industry.

How does the member see us finding that legislative balance so that we end up with legislation that is firm and shows the legal system where we stand? If we leave it loose and open we know we are going to end up having the judiciary set the rules instead of Parliament. Perhaps the member could give us his views.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

4:10 p.m.

Reform

Gurmant Grewal Surrey Central, BC

Madam Speaker, the hon. member's question is one that pertains to many other bills as well. Sometimes in the House we get one page or two pages of a bill. In this case, for example, we have only two pages of the bill, or if I may say so, maybe about eight pages of the bill. Certain things, which become very important, are not defined at all in the bill. No line has been drawn as to what means what, as to what the terms and conditions are. The government leaves it for interpretation either by the judiciary or in the realm of regulation.

I am chair of the scrutiny of regulations committee and I can tell the House that the regulations put forward by the government are a big mess. Some of the regulations that should not exist today have been in the pipeline for 25 years. Those regulations violate the terms and conditions of many issues. They should not exist.

However, those regulations continue because from time to time we and the committees have been stonewalled by the ministers, the departments and the government.

I believe that Canadians expect much more clarity and precision from the government so that when a bill comes before the House it shows that there is something really concrete in it. It cannot mix apples and oranges as it has done in this one and it has not defined many terms, conditions and definitions in the bill.

I believe that that is the way this is going. It is very unclear and very unprofessional. It shows that the government really does not care about fixing things. Sometimes it just wants to get political brownie points and that is not fair.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

September 26th, 2000 / 4:15 p.m.

NDP

Louise Hardy Yukon, YT

Madam Speaker, I want to take this chance to comment on this because in my riding the issue of cruelty to animals is the one which I have received the most mail on in my three and a half years as a member of parliament.

It is significant to mention that the letters are from trappers and hunters who support the legislation against cruelty to animals. These are people who have been targeted over the years and have been accused of cruelty and inhumanity. In fact, they are people who make their living in the most humane way that they know how and carry out their jobs in that manner. It is a very difficult living to make.

I also received letters of support for this legislation from other people. The thoughts that came through most clearly were people's true concerns that we use animals and take their lives so that we can live and eat, particularly in communities that live on a subsistence of hunting, fishing and trapping and when we do it that it be done with the regard for other lives in this world, not just our own and that people who live that way not do it cruelly and do it for reason. They also wanted people to know that they did not look at it as inhumane or cruel to animals.

I really wanted to bring it up because it is important to note that the support has come from young people, from old people, from first nations and from the conservation and humane societies in my riding.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

4:15 p.m.

Reform

Gurmant Grewal Surrey Central, BC

Madam Speaker, it is a concern which is very near and dear to our hearts. We believe that humanity is one aspect.

I have been getting letters from my constituents as well. One was from a person who had been driving on a freeway behind a truck loaded with poultry. Some of the birds fell out of the truck, some had been put in small cages and it was hot. That was inhumane. We believe that is why we have this legislation.

We strongly believe in and support the intent of the government, but we are not comfortable with the way it has put things together in the bill.

I believe there is not one single Canadian who likes to see cruelty to animals. We all want the same thing. We want the objective to be achieved, but in a professional way so that we do not compromise the interests of our agricultural community, the animal husbandry community, the poultry farmers and other people who deal with animals on a regular basis.

The government should come up with a middle of the road approach whereby cruelty to animals is prevented while at the same time taking care of the interests of farmers, the agricultural community, hunters and others.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

4:15 p.m.

Reform

Gary Lunn Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to talk about Bill C-17, the cruelty to animals legislation. As stated before, there are three sections of this act which I will touch on briefly.

One section would make it a very serious criminal offence to attempt to disarm a police officer. I think all members in the House will support that. It is a very positive concern. There are some technical amendments with respect to the Firearms Act. Again, we have no problem with that.

I am very supportive of legislation that makes it tougher for people who are cruel to animals. I will raise a few concerns in a positive way.

I look back at an incident that happened in Victoria when I was elected as an MP. It outraged the entire community. My riding is Saanich—Gulf Islands which is very close to Victoria. In this case, a person had been following a vehicle that stopped at a red light. They say it was road rage, but for no reason he took a golf club and almost killed the dog in the back seat of the vehicle which was in front of him because the vehicle was not moving. It was tragic.

He was charged under the current criminal code section 445. I remember the public was up in arms. To the credit of Judge Higinbotham of the Victoria provincial court, I thought he dealt with the matter quite appropriately. It was quite a severe sentence. I believe, if my memory serves me correctly, it was something in the order of 18 months because that was not acceptable behaviour within our society.

I also acknowledge that in the current sections with respect to cruelty to animals under the criminal code, I believe there is lots of room for improvement. Section 445 is the relevant section where if somebody does injure dogs, birds and other animals that person is guilty of an offence punishable upon summary conviction.

The government has recognized that we can improve these. I question whether it is appropriate to move this cruelty to animals section from property offences over to the sexual offences section in the criminal code. I personally do not believe that is an appropriate move although it is not the end of the world.

A sexual offence is one of the most intrusive invasions into one's privacy that one could ever imagine. That section should be left as a very serious section. I am not minimizing this at all but probably a better way to have gone would have been to tighten up these sections on cruelty to animals in the property sections of the criminal code.

The government has selected to go this way. We have heard the concerns of some people. They are worried about people who are in the ranching and cattle industry. We have trappers, especially those people in the aboriginal and Inuit communities who live in the far north. A large part of their livelihoods is based on fishing. It is open for broad interpretation. I do not think anybody's intentions are misguided but there are some concerns as to how it will be interpreted at a later date.

If there is an opportunity, we will be putting amendments forward to hopefully tighten these up. I think it is in the interest of all Canadians. Quite often we see legislation that is left open and loose and is not defined as well as it could be. It ends in lengthy court trials, appeals which then go to higher courts to interpret the legislation. If we can do anything to rectify that before the legislation is passed that would be a positive step.

For example, there is the sealing industry. It has been open to debate for years. For sealers it has been their livelihood. It has been a way of life, both economically and culturally for a lot of people in Atlantic Canada. They use what is called a hackpic to club the adult seals over the head. Some might argue that would be a violation under this section of the act and some people would probably believe that it is, but there is lots of evidence to support that it is the most humane way.

As the member for Yukon stated, there are people from where she is from who are in the trapping industry. She stated that they try in the most humane way possible to carry out their livelihood and they have been doing it for years. We have to be cognizant of those situations.

There is room in the bill to make some of these improvements. I would have rather seen the sections that we are dealing with amending sections 444 to 446 in the criminal code, but that is not going to happen.

I want to impress upon people following this debate that it is an important piece of legislation. I am absolutely opposed to people who are unnecessarily cruel to animals. It is just not acceptable. It should be a criminal offence and people should be dealt with accordingly by the courts. That is not something that society is going to tolerate.

Possibly the concerns that we have will be addressed when we vote. To get some of these amendments through which we think will improve the legislation will be a positive step.

I am particularly pleased that the section on disarming a police officer is in the bill. I know some argue whether the two should be combined in one bill. I understand that. It probably would make some sense not try to combine everything in one bill rather we could have separate bills. I would have rather seen that section on disarming police officers with a lot of other sections in the criminal code which need improvement and which Canadians are waiting for, for example, property offences. There are many suggestions where we can improve on that.

Canadians are looking for changes to our criminal code where we put the rights of victims ahead of that of the criminals. There are many instances that suggest that we are not. I know the victims are very frustrated, threatened and feel they do not have a voice.

It is interesting that we are taking steps to make sure that interests of animals are taken into account and that we are bringing in tougher measures against people who are inhumane to animals. Again, that is a positive step subject to some of the concerns that we have.

It would have been much more acceptable had the government, since its election three years ago, chosen to deal with some of these other issues. We are in the process of debating the changes to the Young Offenders Act and will be voting on them very shortly. We are debating the Group No. 1 amendments at report stage. The government has done little more than tinker with the Young Offenders Act. It has done very little as opposed to its major overhaul of the section in the criminal code dealing with cruelty to animals.

I question the wisdom of the government on its priorities, which may be somewhat skewed, when it will not address these other concerns. We have put amendments forward to deal with these concerns. We think it will strengthen the bill. All members of the House, all 301 of us, are all opposed to cruelty to animals. All of us have heard horror stories. Society is not going to accept that type of behaviour and such people need to be dealt with.

It is to the government's credit that it has brought in the section with respect to the disarming of police officers. That is a very positive clause in the bill. Some may question whether this is the bill that it should be in, but regardless of that it has been brought in and I think that is a positive step.

Having said that, there are a few other areas that some of my colleagues have mentioned. They have done things such as imposing a lifetime ban on owning an animal. I guess that is subject to the interpretation of the courts. Some would question whether that is an appropriate use.

I want to say in the broadest terms that bringing in legislation that will let society and our courts be a lot tougher with people who are abusive of animals is a move in the right direction. There are some concerns. Hopefully they will be addressed and we can move forward, as we have some very positive amendments that will strengthen the bill, and not have to leave it to the interpretation of the courts at a later date.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

4:30 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

It is my duty, pursuant to Standing Order 38, to inform the House that the question to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment is as follows: the hon. member for New Brunswick Southwest, CHST.