Mr. Speaker, once again, here we are speaking to Bill C-10B. Of course, the first speech I made on Bill C-15B established that we had proposed a number of amendments, unfortunately rejected at the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.
Fortunately, however—and it is rare for those of us this side to be able to say this—the Senate accepted the Bloc Quebecois amendments. As a result, it has been made possible at last to include the definitions of subsection 429(2) of the Criminal Code in this bill.
At last, all industries involved with animals, whether research, hunting or any other, now have a legitimate excuse to do what they have always done, while being totally secure about their dealings with animals.
This, as hon. members are aware, was necessary. In this connection, we congratulate the government for the progress made, despite the length of this process, to achieve the goal of animal protection. There will now be a new section in the Criminal Code. Animals will be struck off one section in which they were considered things. At last there is a section specifically on animals: 5.1.
It is not enough simply to look at what kind of a case an attorney might make. The definition of cruelty to animals was spelled out in a section. But now, there are legitimate means and especially means of defence under section 8 that are common law defences. It is in fact an explicit defence that is set out in the current legislation for anything regarding means of defence provided in section 429(2).
I commend the committee. Unfortunately, I could not attend all the committee meetings. At first, the Liberal members of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights agreed with us on the amendments and the concept of having explicit defences.
As I said earlier, I do not understand why this was rejected. Unfortunately, I was not at the committee. What made the committee members change their minds on including these explicit defences? Was it the evidence they had already heard or the evidence from animal industry people who appeared before the Senate committee and are probably the same people who expressed their concerns at the House committee?
It was simple. If the Bloc amendments and my amendments had been accepted, Bill C-15B would already be passed. All this is a waste of time. Fortunately, the bill will be passed as desired.
I have a lot more respect for the members of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, because they openly said they were concerned the bill would not be explicit. It was based on a manner of saying that implicitly, there are defences. But it was clear in the section that explicit defences were being provided.
The legislator does not talk needlessly. If something is included in this section and was not consistent with section 8 of the common law, then the legislator was not talking needlessly. I have a hard time understanding why my colleagues voted against these amendments in the end. They said that section 8 of the common law applied implicitly. That is true, but why were defences included that are specific to section 429?
I tried to get explanations through the questions I was able to put to witnesses, who shared my concern. Fortunately, today, while the result is not ideal—the Senate did not include all the amendments put forward by the Bloc Quebecois—but the cornerstone, the most important aspect, that is the defence under section 429, was taken into account.
I must add that the Bloc Quebecois has supported from the start the creation of a new section 5.1 to protect animals and prohibit cruelty against animals.
I want to come back to committee work. Early on, we heard between 20 and 30 witnesses, who told us various things. They said they too wanted tougher penalties for cruelty in order to protect the animals. But what the husbandry industry wants most of all is the assurance that all they have been doing all those years will continue to be considered as defences. Naturally, these defences may be common law defences under section 8, but also be defences under subsection 429(2).
Witnesses answered our questions. A concern was expressed. If implicitly there were protected, why have wasted all these months before finally understanding? The government finally understood that, with respect to the rights explicitly provided for in the Criminal Code, no amendment was put forward to take them away, but to include them. We must realize that if the provisions concerning animals are moved to a new and separate section 5.1, I think it is clear and obvious that they have to be included.
I would be curious to know whether this was achieved through lobbying or if someone finally realized that implicitly and explicitly is not the same thing.
If today it is explicitly provided for under section 429, the credit goes to the Bloc Quebecois and myself, as the member for Châteauguay. I fought long and hard in committee to put that point across. Clause by clause, I took the time to explain that these amendments were necessary. Why were they rejected? That is incredible.
Today we are obliged to revisit this important bill, now amended, as it might have been earlier. That is why I mentioned the work of the committee. That work is interesting while one is doing it. When it comes to the clause by clause study, all the effort by the witnesses who came to make things clear and explicit is swept aside.
Some of the hon. members only attend for the votes and do not even listen to the witnesses. Why is that? Because they come to vote unanimously along the party line. But in this case, the party line was faulty. We can see that today.
By way of the Senate, this House is now ready to accept my amendments, including the very cornerstone.
How is it possible that these same hon. members, who are sitting today on the same committee, have gone back in time to when the bill was introduced, and now they have changed their minds? All the explanations have been given once or twice. During clause by clause study, these amendments were presented as well.
There was some logic. I recall the Minister of Justice of whom I asked questions on several occasions. He would rise and say, “To the hon. member for Châteauguay, I say it is implicit; the animal industry, the hunters, researchers, all the people concerned will be able to continue in the same way”. That was the minister's response.
But I prefer the response the minister is giving me now, because now it is clear. We will not be obliged to use section 8, the common law provision. It can be done using specific defences and it is sometimes necessary to use this article; that is obvious.
Still, in other specific cases, section 8 would not have made it possible to arrive at the same result. Luckily, section 429 will finally be included in the new section. Why is it important to include it explicitly?
First, it will ensure the support of the Bloc Quebecois, because this is a very important bill. We must protect these animals. We have all seen films of puppy and kitten mills, and the harm that can be done to animals. Unfortunately, we were in an uncomfortable situation. We supported the principle of amending the Criminal Code in order to provide for harsher penalties and to include a new section.
However, due to the government's stubbornness, we were forced to vote against it. Then, we were forced to tell our constituents exactly why we had done so.
During the speeches, people said, “Yes, you support the amendment and animal protection and the imposition of stiffer penalties. But why did you vote against the bill at that time?”
When we met people, we realized that even lobbyists for animal rights groups understood the amendments we wanted to make. The government wanted to do even more than people were asking it to do. The goal was to stop such cruelty. People came to my office and told me, “Sir, we agree with your amendments. People must realize that the entire House could vote in favour of such important legislation”.
I never understood why, but there was an underhanded attempt to hurt the animal industry. I am pleased that lobby groups got involved, not just those wanting to protect animals from such cruelty. The entire animal industry, including producers and breeders, also wants to protect the animals.
They came to give evidence and said, “Of course we want people who are cruel to animals to be punished”. People who are cruel to animals do not need protection. People sometimes know of a cruel neighbour but, because of this neighbour, the entire industry is perceived as being cruel to animals. Sometimes, the animals are raised, taken to slaughter and killed for food.
They were put in a situation where a group of individuals or a slightly zealous crown attorney could have brought charges against the animal industry, because the new legislation was flawed. There were no provisions to protect that industry.
It was simply and implicitly told, “You have the right to these means of defence”. In Canada and Quebec, what would happen to researchers using rats and mice. There is a need, however, for this, and standards were established to ensure that animals do not suffer. This industry has strict standards and it respects them.
These people could end up facing prosecution. Why? Because of a poorly drafted piece of legislation which was missing a crucial element, namely providing specifically for these rights of defence.
I am very pleased to have the opportunity today to speak to these issues again, even though it should have been done earlier. I want to say a word about the power of those people who come to testify before a committee. This shows how important it is to come and meet the members to make them aware of various specific aspects. Those who came before our committee know a lot more about animals than the 301 members do. There are perhaps some members in the House who work with animals, but they are not the majority. I am not one of them since I am a lawyer. I do not know a lot about animals, but I do want to protect them.
We obviously need a solid piece of legislation. Now, with more specific provisions regarding the rights of defence, attorneys will have more forceful arguments when they go to court because the rights of defence are specified. Prosecutions will then focus on those people who really are cruel to animals. This important bill has more teeth. It provides for stiff fines and possible imprisonment. It also provides for follow-up.
This raises awareness, especially if such a bill has the unanimous support of the House.
I heard my colleagues from the Canadian Alliance say that they were against this bill, just as I did when it was not clear enough. I want to remind my Alliance and Bloc colleagues of the work that was done to vote against this bill when it was poorly drafted. However, I supported this particular aspect because it was important for the animal industry throughout Canada and throughout Quebec. I now hope that government members understand that.
On such a technical issue, that was the way to go. It was up to the members of the committee not only to talk to the justice minister but to make their colleagues understand how crucial this was. Surely there are members who represent rural regions where animal industries can be found or urban areas where research companies, pharmaceuticals companies and other companies using animals for research purposes or simply for providing food are doing business. Hunters should not be forgotten either. These people have rights, and not only vested rights. We should avoid referring only to “vested rights”. In a society like ours, in 2003 and soon 2004, we have to be able to say that cruelty to animals is now prohibited.
Why should this bill now be agreed to by everyone? Why should it be unanimously passed in the House? Because the implicit defences are now explicitly recognized. The time has come to send a clear message to everyone. I know that the animal industry will now support this bill, just like the Bloc Quebecois and hopefully the Canadian Alliance and the Progressive Conservative Party.
The House should overwhelmingly support this bill in order to send a clear message to the public. Cruelty to animals is over. I hope that the penalties will be tough enough and that we will have the money to fully prosecute lawbreakers.