moved that Bill C-84, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (bestiality and animal fighting), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, it is with great pleasure I speak to Bill C-84, an act to amend the Criminal Code, bestiality and animal fighting, which brings forward important updates to the Criminal Code. Our government remains steadfast in our commitment to ensure our laws protect our most vulnerable and reflect our commonly held values. The bill is exactly about that.
As a government, we have brought forward important amendments to the Criminal Code, including by increasing efficiencies in the criminal justice system, cleaning up outdated and unconstitutional provisions, clarifying sexual assault laws and strengthening the impaired driving regime. These changes, along with those proposed in Bill C-84, reflect my ongoing commitment to ensuring our criminal laws remain clear, comprehensible and contemporary.
I am proud of our efforts in this regard and will continue to pursue law reform that is evidence-based and ensures our criminal justice system extends the strongest protections to Canadians, especially the most vulnerable.
Before I begin to outline the details of the bill, I would like to acknowledge the advocacy of many honourable members in the House, including in particular the member for Beaches—East York for his leadership and for initiating a very important discussion on this issue in his private member's bill. I would also like to thank the several organizations and numerous Canadians who have written in and advocated for many years. The bill is a result of their hard work.
Bill C-84 focuses on filling gaps in the Criminal Code and preventing violence and cruelty toward animals. It reflects significant consultation with child and animal protection groups, as well as agricultural and animal use stakeholders, and brings forward changes that reflect a common ground approach to addressing these important issues.
Clause 1 would add a definition of “bestiality” in section 160 of the Criminal Code to include “any contact, for a sexual purpose, between a person and an animal.” This responds to the decision of the Supreme Court of Canada in R. v. D.L.W. in 2016, where the court held that the bestiality offences in section 160 of the Criminal Code were limited to sexual acts with animals that involved penetration. In arriving at that determination, the court examined the common law definition of bestiality, which originated in British law and was subsequently incorporated into our Criminal Code.
The broadened definition would increase protections for children, as well as other vulnerable individuals who may be compelled to engage in or witness bestiality, and animals, by ensuring the criminal law captures all sexual acts with animals, not just those involving penetration. By virtue of the definition's “sexual purpose” focus, legitimate animal husbandry and veterinary practices would continue to be excluded from the scope of the offence.
In its decision, the Supreme Court noted that courts must interpret the law, not change the elements of crimes in ways that seemed to them to better suit the circumstances of a particular case. Rather, it is Parliament's responsibility to expand the scope of criminal liability, should it elect to do so.
In the wake of this decision, child protection advocates as well as animal welfare groups expressed serious concern with the effect of the decision and called for law reform. I agree the gap identified by the Supreme Court requires a parliamentary response, and we are doing just that.
As mentioned, this bill responds to the Supreme Court's decision in D.L.W., by defining bestiality as “any contact, for a sexual purpose, with an animal.” This would ensure all contact between a human and an animal for sexual purpose would be prohibited. This would send a clear and unequivocal message to those who would wish to harm animals. This amendment would also provide increased protection to children who would be exposed to or coerced to participate in abusive conduct, as well as other vulnerable persons who may be compelled to engage in such conduct.
The proposed definition focuses on the broad term of contact for sexual purpose. The phrase “for a sexual purpose” has a well-established meaning in Canadian criminal law. It is used in a number of different instances in the Criminal Code, and I am confident the use of this consistent terminology will cover the offences in question.
In its entirety, the proposed definition is clearer and reflects Canadians' understanding of what this offence entails. It is also consistent with calls from animal welfare groups and agricultural stakeholders, including the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies and the Canadian Federation of Agriculture.
At the same time, this definition will ensure that those involved in legitimate animal husbandry activities, including breeding livestock and veterinary medicine, will not be captured by these offences.
Currently, the Criminal Code has three main offences related to bestiality. Bill C-84 does not change the nature of the penalties related to these offences which, on indictment, carry maximum sentences ranging from 10 to 14 years in jail.
I would also like to note that the changes proposed in my criminal justice reform legislation, Bill C-75, will increase the maximum penalty on summary conviction for both offences to two years less a day. Such changes will contribute to a more efficient criminal justice system by encouraging proceeding by way of summary conviction where it is appropriate to do so.
There is a strong public safety rationale for Parliament to expand the scope of these offences, particularly as it relates to enhancing protections for children and other vulnerable persons. Research continues to demonstrate a well-established link between animal sexual abuse and sexual abuse of children, as well as other forms of violence.
I would note that the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies organized a conference in 2017, the purpose of which was to look more closely at these issues. The final report provides an overview of these issues. I commend the federation for its important work to promote a greater understanding of the severity of these issues.
We also see these links in criminal cases. Canadian criminal law shows that when sexual abuse of a child involves an animal, the extent of this horrible behaviour is most often severe and frequently includes a pattern of vicious treatment of both the child and the animal. With this bill we are ensuring that those in law enforcement, including prosecutors, have the tools they need to achieve justice for the victims of these despicable acts.
I would also like to discuss a second set of reforms contained in Bill C-84, which marks an important step in providing comprehensive protections for all animals. These additional measures will strengthen protections for animals by broadening the scope of the animal fighting offences in the Criminal Code.
There are currently two offences in the Criminal Code that specifically address animal fighting. The first is paragraph 445.1(1)(b), which prohibits encouraging, aiding or assisting at the fighting or baiting of animals. This is a hybrid offence with a maximum penalty of five years on indictment or a maximum of 18 months' imprisonment and/or a fine, not exceeding $10,000. Bill C-75 will also increase the maximum penalty on summary conviction to two years less a day.
Presently, this offence fails to capture a number of other associated activities with participating in the deplorable activity of animal fighting. Accordingly, Bill C-84 proposes to broaden the scope of this offence to include a wider range of activities, including encouraging, promoting, arranging and assisting at, receiving money for, or taking part in the fighting or baiting of animals, including prohibiting any of these activities with respect to the training, transporting or breeding of animals for fighting or baiting.
These are important changes and will ensure that all aspects of animal fighting are prohibited, ensuring that all persons in the chain of this criminal behaviour can be held accountable. I note, in particular, that the proposed changes also target the financial incentives associated with this crime and, in so doing, will act to discourage those involved with this unacceptable behaviour.
The second existing offence prohibits keeping a cockpit, which is section 447, and carries the same penalties as animal fighting. It too will see its maximum penalty on summary conviction increase through Bill C-75. This offence, as it exists in the Criminal Code, is extremely narrow in scope, a reflection of its historical origins when cockfighting was the primary form of animal fighting.
However, we know that, unfortunately, dog fighting has grown in prominence today. Bill C-84 amends this offence to ensure it extends to building, keeping or maintaining any arena for the purposes of fighting any animal. The fact of the matter is that all forms of animal fighting are cruel and abhorrent, and so our laws should appropriately extend to all animals. Simply stated, there is no legitimate or reasonable societal purpose to engage in animal fighting. This behaviour is cruel and must be stopped.
This is another important step our government is taking to ensure our criminal laws are contemporary and address conduct that is deserving of criminal sanction. It is important to note that animal fighting has often been linked to organized crime, including illegal gambling and the illicit trafficking of drugs and weapons. The changes we are bringing forward in Bill C-84 will improve the ability of law enforcement to prosecute criminals, track cases of animal fighting and protect public safety. By broadening the offence to include additional activities, we are ensuring that law enforcement is equipped to detect and intercept the crime at whatever stage it is discovered.
I would like to take a few minutes to speak specifically about dog fighting. Given its clandestine nature, it is difficult to collect statistics on the prevalence of dog fighting in Canada. In fact, dog-fighting operations often go undetected until law enforcement officers discover them while investigating other crimes. That said, we know that in May and October 2015 and in March 2016, the Ontario SPCA major case management team, the Ontario Provincial Police and the Chatham-Kent Police Service partnered together to end suspected dog-fighting operations. These three joint investigations led to the execution of 11 search warrants on three properties in Lanark County, Tilbury and Kent Bridge, Ontario. This resulted in the seizure of 64 pit bull dogs, documents, pictures, veterinary supplies, electronic equipment and hundreds of items related to the training and fighting of dogs.
The Ontario SPCA reports that dog fighting is undeniably taking place in Ontario. The Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals reports that dog fights can last one to two hours and end only when one of the dogs is too injured to continue or has died. The dogs involved often suffer from deep puncture wounds, broken bones, and in many cases die from blood loss or infection.
As I mentioned, dog fighting, a terrible form of animal cruelty, is also linked to a wide range of other crimes, including illegal gambling and drugs and weapons offences. The primary motivation for dog fighting is gambling and participants often wager thousands of dollars, showing how lucrative it is for those involved.
I would also note that, according to the Ontario SPCA, when police raid dog-fighting events, they often find children present. Exposure to this type of abuse desensitizes children to violence and may itself be a form of child abuse. I am proud that we are taking important steps to limit and prevent this horrible abuse to animals and children. The proposed reforms to the offence, targeting arenas coupled with the changes to the animal-fighting offence, will target those who take part in training or receive money to train dogs to fight and who employ terrible techniques to increase the viciousness and ferocity of these animals. This so-called training can include abusively suspending a dog from a tree or a pole by its jaw and encouraging the dog to grab bait and hold on as long as possible in order to increase the lethality of its bite.
No animal should have to die as a form of human entertainment. It is unspeakably cruel and offends Canadians' values at the deepest level.
I am proud of these necessary changes we are bringing forward to protect animals from horrible situations of abuse. It is important for me to reiterate that this bill in no way interferes with any legitimate animal use. This bill seeks to protect public safety and ensures that we are doing more to prevent violence and cruelty toward animals.
We are focusing on aspects of protection that enjoy broad support and reflect our shared values. Again, the broadening of these offences will not interfere with legitimate animal uses, such as the training and work of service dogs, medical research, hunting, fishing or indigenous animal harvesting rights. Animal fighting and bestiality are in no way legitimate activities.
Before I conclude, I would like to reiterate that this bill is the result of significant consultation and there has been broad support expressed for these reforms. As mentioned earlier, the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies and the Canadian Federation of Agriculture have called for these changes. The Canadian Veterinary Medical Association and many agricultural stakeholder groups have also advocated for these amendments to address animal fighting and bestiality.
As parliamentarians, many of us hear from concerned citizens who are urging action to modernize our animal cruelty offences. Similarly, in our consultations, a number of provinces have called upon Parliament to take action to address the gap identified by the Supreme Court in D.L.W. I am confident that this bill addresses these concerns.
I recognize that some would want the bill to go further by proposing additional reforms to animal cruelty laws. I believe it is critically important that we take steps now to address these particular issues, for which I believe there is broad support. Our government is committed to all of the appropriate protections that are extended to the most vulnerable, and we will continue to review this as part of our broad review of the criminal justice system.
There have already been some suggestions made, including by animal rights organizations, on the ways that we can strengthen this bill. As I have said with respect to other legislation, I welcome constructive suggestions that reflect the objectives of our proposed reforms and look forward to a fulsome and productive debate. I therefore urge all members to support this bill and help ensure its swift passage.