Mr. Speaker, I am glad to rise to speak on this bill. When I first came to Parliament nearly three years ago, animal cruelty was an issue that was indeed top of mind for me, something I was very concerned about. That concern was driven by what I had seen as a municipal councillor with both the city of Pickering and the Region of Durham, where again and again animal abuses were not prosecuted, where we saw that the laws that existed in Canada were completely ineffective and did nothing to deter animal abuse.
Of course when I came here to Ottawa and learned that it had been 1892 since last our legislation with respect to animal cruelty was changed, I wanted to embark on trying to modernize it, on trying to work with Parliament to get to a point where we could get those who are involved in the animal use industry and those supporting animal welfare to meet in the middle, to find a compromise and to find effective legislation.
Before we even got to that point, Parliament had already dealt with Bill C-17, Bill C-15, Bill C-15B and Bill C-10, then getting to Bill C-50 in the last term of Parliament. So for nearly 10 years Parliament had been wrestling with this issue.
The problem with the existing law rests in a number of different places.
One is that it treats animals as property, essentially affording as much protection to an animal as would be given to a chair in our house. For most Canadians that is not acceptable. It is a Victorian notion we have grown out of. It also did nothing to protect stray or wild animals that could be viciously killed for any reason. It gave no protection against brutally or viciously killing even domesticated animals. It did nothing to stop training animals to fight one another or receiving money from those fights.
It was clear that we needed to take action. Bill C-50 at that point came forward. It was an opportunity to bring the different groups together to look at why legislation had failed in the past. In fact, by the fall of 2004, shortly after that June election, as many as 30 animal industry groups came together representing a broad range from agriculture to fur and to animal research. They sent a letter to the then justice minister urging a quick passage of the reintroduced government bill.
That was Bill C-50. It represented compromise. It represented an acknowledgement that in the animal use industry there were legitimate uses that should be permitted, whether or not for agriculture or whether or not in hunting, but on the other side it recognized that we have a lot of work to do to better protect animals and to provide animal welfare.
Unfortunately, we did not get the opportunity, because of the brevity of the last Parliament, to pass Bill C-50. It had broad support, not only from industry groups and animal welfare groups but from this Parliament. I expect it would have passed, but we ran out of time.
In this Parliament I have put forward a private member's bill, Bill C-373, and we also have a bill that moved more quickly through the Senate, Bill S-213, which is before us right now and which we are talking about this evening.
Let us talk for a moment about Bill S-213 and the deep concerns I have with this legislation. First of all, the main thing the bill does, and in fact really the only thing it does, is deal with sentencing. This is a huge problem, because sentencing represents only a very small fraction of the real problem.
In fact, when we look at it, we see that less than one-quarter of one per cent of animal abuse complaints lead to a successful conviction. That is what this bill deals with: one-quarter of one per cent. If we hold Bill S-213 out as some kind of solution for animal cruelty, we are being dishonest. The only thing it deals with is that enormously small percentage of successful convictions. If we are serious about animal cruelty, certainly we must do more.
We also know that Bill S-213 will not make it easier to convict perpetrators of crimes toward animals. It will not make it easier to punish the people who commit crimes against animals or neglect animals. It will not offer protection against torture for stray or wild animals. It will not make it a crime to train animals to fight one another. In short, Bill S-213 just does not get it done.
If it were just a placebo, if we could just pass it and move on and hopefully get to my bill or some other version of what Bill C-50 was in order to pass effective animal cruelty legislation, then that would be one thing. My fear is that it will do more than that. My fear is that if we pass this placebo bill that does nothing, that addresses only one-quarter of one per cent of the problem we are dealing with in regard to animal cruelty, it will be held out as if we have done something.
I have listened to many speakers talk about animal cruelty. They talk about what happened in Didsbury. They talk about the terrible abuses that occur in our country today and go unpunished and they hold this out as some kind of solution. It is not.
If we do that, if we turn to Canadians and say that we have a solution for animal cruelty and it is Bill S-213, we are misleading them. Worse yet, it may destroy the ability to actually bring forward effective legislation. So if this does not do anything, why move forward?
I would like to talk for a second about some of the things my Bill C-373 should be able to do, or I would encourage the government to bring in a bill in the same vein.
An effective bill on animal cruelty should allow for the prosecution of negligent animal owners. It should protect the rights of those who work and must kill animals for their livelihood, such as anglers, hunters, trappers, farmers and biomedical scientists, et cetera, but it must prosecute individuals who harm animals without lawful excuse or who do so in a malicious way.
An effective bill must offer protection to pets and farm animals as well as stray and wild animals. It must make it illegal to train animals to fight one another. It must make it a crime to kill an animal with brutal or vicious intent, whether or not the animal dies immediately. This is one of the problems with our current law.
This would ensure that the perpetrators of grievous crimes, those who make the headlines, are actually brought to justice. We need to take that one-quarter of 1% into a figure we can be proud of and demonstrate that we are actually doing something.
Why do something about animal cruelty? The first thing that would come to mind, obviously, is hopefully because we would care, because we would have some compassion toward animals, because we would feel they deserve dignity and our protection. One would hope that this argument would be enough reason to protect animals.
However, there are other reasons. Certainly as Parliamentarians we have to consider the will of the Canadian electorate. We have to consider the will of those we represent. Anecdotally, we would all say, Canadians by a large measure want to see effective animal cruelty legislation, but SES also conducted a poll on behalf of the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies in which 85% of respondents said they supported legislation that would make it easier for law enforcement agencies to prosecute perpetrators who commit crimes against animals, including wild and stray animals.
This means that 85% of Canadians said that existing legislation does not cut it. And Bill S-213 does not cut it. In fact, a petition was before the House with nearly 120,000 signatures, an enormous number, and it said that Bill S-213 did not do it, that it was placebo policy and it was essentially entrenching all of the same problems that we have today. The petition said that we needed to modernize our laws and, whether or not that is Bill C-373 or some other bill that accomplishes those aims, we should move forward with it.
The third reason we should care about animal cruelty, if those first two are not compelling enough, is that it is a precursor to violent behaviour against human beings.
In fact, Dr. Randall Lockwood, a Washington, D.C. psychologist who is also the vice-president of the Humane Society of the United States and one of the world's leading experts in the field of animal cruelty, states, “While not everyone who abuses animals will become a serial killer, virtually every serial killer first abused animals”. Of course this has been brought to the attention of the justice minister. He has been talked to about it and is made sick by this, it is said. It will continue to be brought to his attention until something is done.
We have every reason in the world to take action and yet we have not. In fact, we are still arguing about dealing with a non-measure that we are going to try to hold out as action. That is why groups like the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies, the International Fund for Animal Welfare, the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association and so many others oppose Bill S-213 and urge the passage of Bill C-373 or other such effective legislation.
It is time that we listen to those voices, that we listen to voices of reason. It is time that we pass something that, frankly, should be motherhood. It is time to take effective action on animal cruelty and stop playing games or trying to pretend we are taking action. We need to stand up and either vote for Bill C-373 or have the government bring forward effective animal cruelty legislation.