House of Commons Hansard #109 of the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was animals.

Topics

Economic Recovery Act (stimulus)
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker Denise Savoie

It being 1:30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

The House resumed from October 1 consideration of the motion, and of the amendment.

Universal Declaration on Animal Welfare
Private Members' Business

1:30 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to rise to speak in favour of Motion No. 354. The motion calls on the government to support the development of the universal declaration on animal welfare and to promote its adoption at the United Nations and in other global fora.

Before I begin, I would like to thank my colleague from the Liberal Party, the hon. member for Scarborough Southwest, for bringing the motion forward. I would also like to acknowledge the work done on behalf of this issue by my hon. colleague from Burnaby—Douglas. He has introduced motions on this subject in previous parliaments. He is a man of great compassion and a strong sense of justice. I know his concern for animal welfare stems from these deeply held convictions.

The universal declaration on animal welfare was first conceived back in the year 2000. Three years later, at the Manila Conference on Animal Welfare, the draft text for the declaration was adopted. Since then, the declaration has been endorsed by the governments of 13 states, including the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, India and the Philippines. The World Organization for Animal Health and the World Veterinary Association have signed on in support as well.

Therefore, I think it is fair to say that this declaration has been a long time coming. It has the support of a growing and wide number of states around the world and non-state organizations alike.

It is time for Canada to show global leadership on this issue, as we often call on it to show in other issues, and to take a stand against animal cruelty and to support the universal declaration on animal welfare.

I would like to talk a bit about the declaration. The declaration calls for states to take all appropriate steps to prevent cruelty to animals and to reduce their suffering, to treat them humanely. It calls for the development of standards for animal welfare governing the treatment of farm animals, companion animals, animals in scientific research, animals in recreation and wildlife.

The preamble to the declaration sets out what I think is a very important framework for assessing the welfare of animals. It refers to five freedoms: freedom from hunger, thirst and malnutrition; freedom from fear and distress; freedom from physical and thermal discomfort; freedom from pain, injury and disease; and freedom to express normal patterns of behaviour.

I do not think anyone could argue that these five freedoms represent anything but a reasonable, comprehensive, scientifically sound standard for preventing animal cruelty and promoting animal welfare.

For thousands of years, human beings not only coexisted with animals on the planet, they were also interdependent. Animal domestication has been around for 30,000 years since men and women domesticated wolves and turned them into their best friends: dogs. Fifteen-thousand-year-old rock paintings show the earliest evidence of beekeeping. The relationship between humans and animals has developed over thousands of years. It has been mutually beneficial, and humans have treated animals with affection, compassion and respect.

I know of no farmer, no rancher, no animal keeper, no person who would argue with the principle that animals should be treated humanely. In fact, I believe all these groups take great pride in knowing how their animals are treated and they benefit from the treatment of their animals in a humane manner. No one benefits when animals are caused fear and distress or suffer from injury or disease. It is only careless or callous acts that cause these things and neither are worthy of us as human beings.

At the heart of the universal declaration on animal welfare is that animals are sentient. Sentience is the capacity to have feelings, to experience suffering and experience well-being. Sentience implies a certain level of conscious awareness. There are obviously degrees of sentience, but the scientific consensus is that all vertebraed animals and also many forms of aquatic animals possess some degree of sentience.

I know there are many pet owners in the House. I personally am the lucky owner of a four and a half year old yellow Labrador named Zoe. I know I am not the only one who does not need any scientific research to tell us that animals have feelings, that they experience suffering, that they experience well-being and need comfort.

I would like to share with the House some examples of the positive effect when we learn to treat animals with respect.

As the New Democrat public safety critic, I have toured a number of correctional facilities over the past few months. I have seen the challenges that we face in delivering adequate treatment to a prison population that overwhelmingly suffers from addiction, mental health problems and other spiritual maladies that come from isolation and loneliness. I have also seen some very positive examples of how a modern, effective corrections system should be run, with some innovative rehabilitative programs.

One such program I witnessed was during my recent trip to the women's facility in Abbotsford, British Columbia. This program operates in partnership with the local SPCA. It is a great example of the value of community involvement in our corrections system. The SPCA brings in dogs that are in its care and allows them to be kennelled, groomed and taken care of by the women inmates at the facility. There is a wonderful interaction to see between the female inmates and the animals. It is a beautiful thing to see the kind of compassion, warmth and humanity that is expressed when animals and humans come together in such a fashion.

With this program, the women volunteer. They perform a valuable service to a worthy community organization and they learn or relearn the importance and rewards of being caring and compassionate to a fellow living creature. In turn, they get the comfort, the caring and the reward that comes from animals that return that same care and concern. This clearly demonstrates the positive power of dealing humanely with animals.

I can give another example from our corrections system, although this story does not have a happy ending.

Correctional Service Canada operates six prison farms. These prison farms are located at institutions across the country, from Alberta to New Brunswick. These farms employ inmates to produce local organic food for the institutions and for the surrounding community.

We all know the health, economic and environmental benefits of locally produced food. Beyond that, the farms are a setting for inmates to interact with animals in a positive way. Working with animals has a profound rehabilitative effect. That is why animals are regularly used in hospitals and nursing homes and in community programs dealing with autism and other psychological issues.

With rehabilitation programs in short supply in our prisons, these farms are a shining example of what we can achieve. In partnership with the community, when we expose inmates to positive interactions with animals, they learn emotional closeness, they learn caring and they learn compassion. They get to relearn patterns of behaviour that are gentle and that are humane.

Inexplicably though, the government has decided to close these farms. I am proud to join with the National Farmers Union, the Canadian Labour Congress and a number of food security and social justice organizations in calling for the government to reverse this short-sighted decision.

I believe we can tell a lot about a society by how it treats its most vulnerable. Mahatma Gandhi expressed it best, “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated”.

I am proud to support this call for a universal declaration on animal welfare and urge all members of the House to adopt this important motion on behalf of all Canadians.

Universal Declaration on Animal Welfare
Private Members' Business

1:35 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the debate on the issue of animals and animal cruelty in particular.

The motion before the House today, which is in the second hour of debate, calls on the government to support the development and adoption of a universal declaration on animal welfare at the United Nations, as well as at all relevant international organizations and forums. I am aware that a couple of minor amendments that were requested were acceptable to the member, but the essence of the motion is unchanged.

I thank and congratulate the member for Scarborough Southwest who brought the motion before the House. I am a strong supporter of private members' bills and motions because they give an opportunity for all hon. members to pick an area where they have a passion and a need to make a difference and bring to the floor something that will encourage more attention to the important issues of the day in the eyes of many Canadians. This particular issue, obviously, has caught the attention of many Canadians.

I know the member. We served on a committee together and I know she has done her work because she always does. She comes to committee prepared to do the job. With the materials that she has provided to all hon. members and with the collegial dialogue that she has had through the House over this period of time to finally get it to this stage, I know that she has earned the respect of her colleagues and the support for this motion. I congratulate her for that.

For Canadians who may not be aware, the universal declaration on animal welfare is an agreement among people and nations to recognize that animals are sentient. That is going to be heard in the debate. That means that they can feel pain, suffering and pleasure as well. It is to respect their welfare needs and to end animal cruelty for good.

I was involved in the last bill that was before this place on animal cruelty. It was a very simple bill that had to do with increasing the penalty structure for those convicted of animal cruelty. It was a small step. We assured Canadians that was not the last step, because there were problems with a more comprehensive bill.

I am sorry that the government has not set animal cruelty issues as a priority. I am sorry that it has not brought or developed a bill or at least asked a parliamentary committee to study the issue of animal cruelty. Canadians across the country responded to Parliament by saying that this was an important issue.

We have this motion and it should reignite that commitment that we have as a Parliament to addressing the issues of animal cruelty. This universal declaration on animal welfare would be structured as a set of general principles that acknowledge and emphasize the importance of animal welfare.

The purpose of these principles would be to encourage nations to put in place or, where they already exist, improve animal welfare laws and standards. The universal declaration on animal welfare would be a prescriptive piece of binding legislation and, therefore, not concerned with attributing legal rights to animals. Ostensibly what we are talking about is to declare our commitment, understanding and solidarity in regard to the issue of animal cruelty.

Animal welfare concerns the physical and mental well-being of sentient animals. It involves considerations on how animals evolve in their natural environment and it is a description of the state of animals and the effect on them of care or mistreatment. However, any definition of animal welfare should be guided by the five freedoms as stated in the draft of the universal declaration on animal welfare.

This motion asks us to support this declaration because it is needed to help animals and, by doing so, help people as well. The livelihoods of over one billion people depend on animals. It is part of the petition that many members have been giving in this place in support of this initiative.

The implementation of this declaration would also improve the condition in a number of areas that members or Canadians might not be aware of.

One such area is environmental sustainability. Taking better care of animals would mean putting more thought into land use, climate change, pollution, water supplies, habitat conservation and biodiversity. It is extremely important and it paints a picture of the linkages among the key priorities that most industrialized countries have. Many of these issues are before our Parliament at this time. This kind of initiative is complementary and should be supported.

Another area is human health. Treating animals well would reduce the risk of food poisoning and disease crossing over from animals to humans. Companion animals has also been shown to have a therapeutic effect. I do not think I need to explain that when we see how many people, the disabled, the blind, et cetera, have animals for comfort and for guidance.

Another area is disaster management. Taking animals into account during emergency preparation and response would help the people affected to recover their lives and livelihoods afterward.

Poverty and hunger is another area of implication. Improving animal welfare would also improve productivity.

Social development is another area. How we treat animals effectively would help to determine how we treat each other.

Animals are very important. I have had so many letters from constituents about this issue and they want us to support this. They want us to make a commitment, not just to adopt this universal declaration, but to take the first steps toward appropriate legislative changes that would reflect not only our value but our commitment. Talk is cheap. What we need after this is action. I hope the hon. member will play a constructive role, as she always has, in working with all hon. members to come forward with constructive ideas on how we can act legislatively to reflect our commitment to this declaration.

In Canada, the universal declaration is supported by many organizations, including the World Society for the Protection of Animals, the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies, many of its member societies, the Animal Alliance of Canada, the Global Action Network, the SPCAs in British Columbia, Ontario and Montreal, and the SPA in Quebec.

Almost two million people worldwide have signed a petition to support the universal declaration of animal welfare, and worldwide organizations, including the World and Commonwealth Veterinary Associations, the Humane Society International, the Compassion in World Farming, the American SPA and the Royal SPCA in England.

When we look at this, it is a modest grouping of words but it means so much. It means that this House is being asked to take a leap of faith that joining with countries around the world to support the universal declaration on animal welfare will represent a foundational decision that this House makes, a value system, establishing that value system on which we can build, as I said, through other legislative initiatives, which I think are necessary because in our legislative system right now we do not have effective, up-to-date animal cruelty legislation.

Our history on that kind of legislation has been somehow to confuse farming animals with domestic house animals, like cats, dogs, et cetera. The problems have been enormous. I would encourage the government that when we come forward with animal cruelty legislation, if the government ever becomes moved to come forward with such legislation, that we would deal ostensibly with the spirit of the universal declaration, that we are talking about animals that are there for companionship. When we see those new stories of these severe cases of animal cruelty, the public reaction tells all Canadians just how important it is that we do need to have changes in our laws.

I believe this is a starting point and I believe the member has done a great service to the House. I think she has acquitted herself very well as an early member of Parliament. I congratulate her and wish her well when this passes this week.

Universal Declaration on Animal Welfare
Private Members' Business

1:45 p.m.

Conservative

Tilly O'Neill-Gordon Miramichi, NB

Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to stand today to address the House on this issue.

I am particularly pleased that the sponsor of this motion has agreed to the amendments proposed by the government. It is the Government of Canada's view that pursuing the continued development of science based standards of animal welfare is a noble goal and that a universal declaration on animal welfare, should it come to be elaborated as an international document, would represent a set of general principles that would help guide all countries, including those lacking in adequate animal welfare legislation, toward taking measures to ensure the appropriate treatment in the handling of animals.

As has been mentioned before, Canada supports the development in principle of a universal declaration on animal welfare because we are committed to making continual progress to improve animal welfare.

It is important to reiterate, however, that while we are supportive of this aim, we must be cautious about the manner in which it is pursued. It is for that reason that we suggested the amendments to the original motion, which have since been accepted, because, before taking steps on the international stage, it is important to thoroughly consider all implications of our action.

Since no internationally agreed upon language for a universal declaration yet exists, it would be premature at this stage for Canada to express its support for the adoption of an eventual document.

International text can change significantly during negotiations and, until the wording is made clear, it is impossible for Canada or any other country to conduct a thorough analysis of the implications that the text might have.

That is why we suggested that the motion be amended such that the House express its support for the development of a universal declaration but not prematurely for its adoption.

I am glad that the honourable sponsor of this motion has been agreeable to this. Similarly, I am pleased that the words “in principle” have been inserted into the motion. This phrase provides the government with valuable flexibility, such that the government can promote the aims of a declaration to the best of its ability, but is not pledging itself to supporting any text that is developed, in the unfortunate event, for instance, that the final text were to be inconsistent with Canadian domestic policy.

This decision is prudent and is consistent with international practice. Indeed, the phrase “in principle” has been used by a variety of international actors already when discussing a universal declaration on animal welfare.

In May 2007, for instance, the World Organization for Animal Health, of which Canada is a member, decided to support, in principle, the development of a universal declaration on animal welfare. In March 2009, the Council of the European Union similarly invited the member states of the European Union to support, in principle, the universal declaration initiative.

Thus, as we can tell, the words “in principle” represent important and accepted language on the international stage when making broad statements of support such as this one. I think it is important that we have included these words here.

Finally, I am thankful that the amended motion does not refer to the United Nations. As was outlined in the first hour of debate on this motion, it is the government's view that the United Nations is not the most appropriate forum to address this issue. The United Nations is not mandated to address issues relating to animal welfare. Instead, it focuses its work on other areas, namely peace and security, economic development and human rights.

Canada's commitment to the United Nations, which was discussed during the first hour of debate, is significant.

A few weeks ago, when the Minister of Foreign Affairs went to the United Nations to deliver Canada's statement to the world, he highlighted this commitment and put particular emphasis on our efforts to promote peace and security, to protect human rights and to make necessary reforms to the architecture of the United Nations itself in order to help it better reflect the realities of the 21st century.

Given the very serious challenges facing Canada and the international community, challenges with which the United Nations must deal, it is appropriate at this time that we not attempt to further stretch the already expansive responsibilities of the United Nations by asking it to take on matters of animal welfare.

I am therefore thankful that the wording of this motion has been amended to make it more inclusive of other forums and to remove its focus on the United Nations, given Canada's ongoing efforts to improve the focus and effectiveness of the United Nations in its mandated areas of activity.

It would be appropriate for a universal declaration on animal welfare to be developed at an institution more directly suited to the area of animal welfare. Thankfully, as we have noted, there is such an institution, the World Organization for Animal Health.

In its capacity as an active member of the World Organization for Animal Health, Canada has been working for over half a century now to co-ordinate its activities with those of a global community, including through the development and implementation of international standards. It is appropriate for Canada to continue its approach on animal welfare through this framework.

Allow me to conclude this speech by reiterating Canada's commitment to animal welfare, both domestically and internationally, and by expressing my thanks to all hon. members for their co-operation in this matter.

Universal Declaration on Animal Welfare
Private Members' Business

1:55 p.m.

Liberal

Michelle Simson Scarborough Southwest, ON

Madam Speaker, as this marks the end of the debate on Motion No. 354, I would like to begin my remarks by thanking all of the members who rose to speak to this motion. I would also like to thank the member for Yorkton—Melville who on behalf of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs brought forward an amendment to my motion. I obviously preferred my original motion as I do believe that the United Nations is an appropriate organization for this resolution. The government, as we heard during this debate, does not.

That said, I believe that the House of Commons' adoption of the spirit, values and beliefs outlined in Motion No. 354 supercedes debating forums in which it is delivered. I therefore agreed to the hon. member's amendment. I also believe this amendment and subsequent debate demonstrates a healthy cooperation among all parties in the House. Such cooperation is increasingly less frequent these days. However, I am very pleased that the motion may serve as a small example of what a spirit of cooperation can achieve in our collective support for a universal declaration on animal welfare.

Animal welfare is a sensitive issue. Not all of us in the House may agree on the best way to go about enacting laws to properly protect animals, but we all believe they should be protected. There are competing points of view, those of pet owners, farmers, developing nations and the rights of our native peoples. At the heart of it, the universal declaration on animal welfare is a start as it demonstrates our belief that animal welfare is essential.

As I mentioned in my previous speech, the declaration is an agreement among people and nations to recognize that animals are sentient, suffer, have welfare needs, and to ultimately end animal cruelty worldwide. The declaration will be structured as a set of general principles that acknowledge and emphasize the importance of animal welfare. The purpose of these principles is to encourage all nations to put in place or enhance existing animal welfare laws in standards.

The declaration is supported by a growing list of governments from countries around the world including all 27 members of the European Union. There is also a great deal of support from the public. Thousands of Canadians have signed petitions in support of a UDAW. Many of these petitions have been introduced in the House of Commons. The declaration is actively supported by Canada's foremost animal protection organizations including the World Society for the Protection of Animals.

The implementation of the declaration is an important step and will act as a catalyst for change in the following ways: by raising the status of animal welfare as an international issue; by encouraging those in industries which utilize animals to keep their welfare at the forefront of their policies and practices; and by inspiring positive change in public attitudes and actions toward animals.

I am heartened by the tone of the debate that has transpired. The declaration will be a key toward improved animal welfare legislation worldwide and a step closer to ending cruelty to animals globally. This first step is only one of many in a long road, but it is a critical one, one we must take for this extremely important cause.

I urge all members to support the motion, so that Canada can join a growing list of countries on the world stage in support of animal welfare.

Universal Declaration on Animal Welfare
Private Members' Business

2 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker Denise Savoie

The question is on the amendment. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the amendment?

Universal Declaration on Animal Welfare
Private Members' Business

2 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Universal Declaration on Animal Welfare
Private Members' Business

2 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker Denise Savoie

I declare the amendment adopted.

(Amendment agreed to)

The next question is on the main motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Universal Declaration on Animal Welfare
Private Members' Business

2 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Universal Declaration on Animal Welfare
Private Members' Business

2 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker Denise Savoie

I declare the motion, as amended, carried.

(Motion agreed to)

Universal Declaration on Animal Welfare
Private Members' Business

2 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker Denise Savoie

It being 2:02 p.m., the House stands adjourned until Monday, November 16, 2009 at 11 a.m., pursuant to Standing Orders 28(2) and 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 2:03 p.m.)