Mr. Speaker, this is my first time rising since the events on Friday. I want to state for the record my solidarity, and the solidarity of all parliamentarians, with the people of New Zealand and the Muslims who were killed and injured at the two mosques in Christchurch.
I rise today to speak to Bill C-84. The bill proposes to amend the Criminal Code to strengthen the laws around bestiality and animal fighting. As members will recall, proposed amendments to Bill C-84 will, among other things, address a gap in the law identified by the Supreme Court of Canada in the case of the Crown v. D.L.W. That decision and its interpretation of the bestiality provisions led to calls for law reform to address a gap identified by the court; that is the common law meaning of bestiality was limited previously to simply penetrative acts.
The bill's proposal to identify bestiality as “any contact, for a sexual purpose, with an animal” would address that very gap. Although some may view this provision as a modest step, it is an important one that needs to be taken, and our government is very appreciative of the non-partisan approach that members from all sides have taken to advancing this needed reform in an expeditious manner through Parliament. We would like to note, in particular, the unanimous support the bill received at second reading and in committee.
I would also like to express my sincere appreciation to the witnesses who appeared before the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights and to the members of that committee for their comprehensive review of this bill.
After listening to the testimony presented during the study of Bill C-84, the committee adopted three key amendments based on the expertise of witnesses who expressed their support for this bill. These amendments will provide for improved animal protections by authorizing the courts to issue a prohibition or restitution order when a person is found guilty of a bestiality offence. The amendments will also eliminate the requirement to destroy birds used in cockfighting.
Finally, these amendments will ensure that the names of those found guilty of engaging in a sexual act with an animal, or, in other words, those found guilty of the bestiality simpliciter offence, are added to the national sex offender registry. This amendment was proposed by the hon. member for St. Albert—Edmonton of the official opposition.
The issue of animal rights and welfare is an important one right around the country and in particular to the constituents in my riding of Parkdale—High Park. I have listened closely to the concerns of those residents. We are committed, as a government, to doing better on this issue by supporting this important bill.
I have heard in my riding, for example, from constituents such as Josie Candito, who has spoken to me repeatedly and testified while we studied the bill at committee, about the link between animal abuse and the abuse of children and women. What we know on that very point is that it is not clear that every animal abuser ends up abusing children and women. However, what is absolutely clear, and what the facts demonstrated at committee, is that people who abuse women and children have in their history an antecedence of having abused animals. This is a critical point because the bill targets that.
What we also heard from people like Anne Griffin and Tracey Capes, both of whom came before the federal/provincial animal welfare working group on Parliament Hill, are their thoughts regarding the bill and our government's continued efforts and progress to protect animals.
However, the one thing that my constituents have consistently reiterated is that there is still more work to be done to protect animals. They have told me that our next steps must be informed by a national consultation regarding the most important issues to Canadians or a high-level analysis by the federal government, taking into account the broad perspectives on an issue as vast as animal welfare. I have told them, the current Minister of Justice has told them and the former minister of justice has told them that Bill C-84 is an important first step toward our government's goal of more comprehensive protection for animals, and we indeed intend to continue this important work.
In my time today, I will review some of this important testimony and discuss how these amendments bolster the objectives sought by this crucial legislation.
As mentioned, the first amendment adopted by the committee would authorize a court to issue an animal prohibition or restitution order for each of the three bestiality offences found in section 160 of the code.
The object of this prohibition order is to prohibit offenders convicted of bestiality from possessing, having the care of or control over, or residing with an animal for any period that the court deems appropriate up to a lifetime prohibition. A lifetime ban may indeed be necessary in certain circumstances, having regard to the seriousness of the offence and the degree of responsibility of certain offenders. This was a helpful suggestion originally made by one of the important stakeholders who testified before the justice committee, Ms. Camille Labchuk of Animal Justice.
The restitution order specifically would require the offender to repay an individual or an organization the costs of caring for the injured animal as a result of a criminal offence. This would also make the offender more accountable for the consequences of his or her actions.
The proposed amendment builds on section 447.1 of the Criminal Code, which authorizes the court to issue such orders for persons convicted of animal cruelty offences. Right now, when someone is charged with a bestiality offence under section 160 of the Criminal Code, such orders can be issued only at the time of sentencing as a condition of a probation order or conditional sentence. These orders are limited in duration to the term of the imposed conditions and expire after that.
This was pointed out by Sergeant Teena Stoddart, from the Ottawa Police Service, when she testified before the committee. That means there is a gap in animal welfare measures, since the courts can issue such orders for animal cruelty offences but not for bestiality offences.
The committee also heard from several other witnesses on this issue, including, as I mentioned, Ms. Labchuk, executive director for Animal Justice; Ms. Barbara Cartwright, CEO of Humane Canada; Dr. Alice Crook from the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association; and Professor Peter Sankoff from the University of Alberta, Faculty of Law. They all agreed on the need for this amendment to this important bill. Indeed, this amendment is entirely consistent with the objectives in the bill, and we on this side of the House are pleased to support it.
I would now like to turn my attention to the second amendment adopted by the committee, which provides for the repeal of subsection 447(3) of the Criminal Code.
The current subsection requires a peace officer who finds birds at cockfighting premises to bring the birds to a justice of the peace so the JP can order they be destroyed. That provision requires the automatic destruction of birds, but does not apply to other animals, such as dogs. It is very much a vestige of the distant past when animal fighting primarily involved only cockfighting and resulted in the roosters being so severely injured that they needed to be destroyed.
Nowadays, however, there are better ways to solve this problem in order to eliminate any legal loopholes in animal protection. Ensuring the welfare of these animals is a key objective for the provincial and territorial legislation and for the general powers set out in the Criminal Code.
First, the provinces and territories have jurisdiction over matters concerning animal welfare. That includes passing legislation dealing specifically with the seizure of animals in distress and the care they must receive, where possible, as well as the administration of humane euthanasia if necessary.
Second, some witnesses and parliamentarians believe that the criminal law does not address the seizure and automatic destruction of mistreated animals in an appropriate manner.
In fact, Madam Camille Labchuk, executive director of Animal Justice, testified before the committee that the automatic destruction of birds found in a cockfighting ring in the previous version of the section was “completely needless, and it ties the hands of authorities when there may be a better option for the birds.”
Ms. Labchuk further testified before the committee. She said:
We think the fate of any bird seized should be decided on a case-by-case basis. This is already done for dogs and other animals rescued from fighting rings. There is no principled reason that roosters or birds forced to fight should be automatically killed. It may be appropriate to rehabilitate them. It may be appropriate to send them to a sanctuary, where they can receive lifelong care and still enjoy a high quality of life.
It should be noted that Ms. Labchuk's position was broadly supported by other witnesses, including Ms. Cartwright, the CEO of Humane Canada.
All 10 provinces and the Yukon Territory empower peace officers and animal welfare inspectors to seize animals in distress. Furthermore, where appropriate, the legislation provides for the animals to be humanely destroyed.
Nunavut and the Northwest Territories allow peace officers and animal protection officers to seize dogs, and these territories have legislation requiring general rehabilitation for the dogs, as well as humane euthanasia where appropriate.
In addition to these protection measures, the Criminal Code also confers general powers on peace officers and public officers to seize offence-related property while executing a search warrant. Section 487 of the Criminal Code therefore authorizes peace officers to seize an animal, where circumstances warrant.
Once more, pursuant to section 489 of the Criminal Code, things not specified in a warrant can also be seized where a thing has been obtained by the commission of an offence, used in the commission of an offence or something that will afford evidence in respect of an offence under any act of Parliament. Accordingly, repealing subsection 447(3) would leave no gap in the law, which is an important point. Instead, repealing it would leave the matter of seizure and the question of whether care or euthanasia would be appropriate to be dealt with under applicable provincial laws and by persons trained specifically in such matters.
I would now like to draw the attention of the House to the third amendment adopted by the committee. This amendment would add the bestiality simpliciter offence, in subsection 160(1), to the list of designated offences for which an offender must be automatically ordered to register and comply with the requirements of the National Sex Offender Registry, pursuant to the Sex Offender Information Registration Act, or SOIRA, as it is commonly called.
This legislation, enacted in 2004, created the National Sex Offender Registry to help Canadian law enforcement agencies investigate sex crimes by registering specific information on sex offenders. When an offender is found guilty of a designated sexual offence, the court must order the offender to register with the National Sex Offender Registry and comply with the SOIRA for a period of 10 years, 20 years, or even indefinitely. Offenders found guilty of other designated infractions may be ordered to register with the registry and to comply with the SOIRA if prosecutors established the intent to commit a sexual offence during the commission of an offence like breaking and entering in relation to a dwelling-house, in paragraph 348(1)(d).
Currently, the designated sexual offences include subsection 160(2), compelling the commission of bestiality, which was added in 2011, and subsection 160(3), bestiality in the presence of or by a child, which was included in 2004 in an enactment of the Sex Offender Information Registration Act, known in English as SOIRA.
The justice committee received testimony and studies on the link between animal abuse and bestiality and acts of violence against persons, particularly women and children. I alluded to this at the outset, and it bears repeating. We do not know definitively that all animal abusers end up abusing women and children, but we know that for people who abuse women and children, their antecedents include abuse of animals in all instances. That was the evidence before the committee.
For example, the justice committee heard about the innovative work conducted by the Canadian Violence Link Coalition. It was launched to “study and bring forward all of the different academic research that's going on and that supports the links between animal violence and human violence.” The work of the Canadian Violence Link Coalition follows a multidisciplinary, multi-sector and collaborative information-sharing approach in strengthening the response to animal abuse and neglect and establishing its link to the abuse of humans.
During her testimony, Ms. Cartwright commented, “While not all abusers are serial killers, all serial killers are animal abusers.” The evidence I have been referencing is that of Ms. Cartwright, before the committee. The evidence demonstrates that abuse of humans is a common step up from animal abuse for individuals who have a propensity for serial violence.
Ms. Cartwright's remarks were reiterated by other experts, including Sergeant Teena Stoddart, who spoke about research reported in the International Journal of Law and Psychiatry showing that, out of a group of 943 inmates selected at random, half of sex offenders and one third of child molesters had abused animals as adolescents. The same study also confirmed that child molesters use animals to attract and win over their victims. By making inappropriate sexual contact with the animals, the molesters desensitize the children and normalize sexual contacts between adults and children.
There is growing international research in this area, but we were pleased to learn of new Canadian data collected by Amy Fitzgerald of the University of Windsor, primarily on the link between animal abuse and interpersonal and spousal abuse. I have to admit I was surprised to hear that Canadian research shows that these violence links are worse in Canada than abroad, according to similar international studies.
More specifically, women who are victims of violence also report that their animal is in the same situation.
This violence link is further supported by the testimony of Ms. Lianna McDonald, executive director, and Ms. Monique St. Germain, general counsel, of the Canadian Centre for Child Protection. They spoke about the growing online proliferation of child sexual abuse images, of which the most explicit and extreme images depicting sexual assault against children involve bestiality.
Having regard for the evidence demonstrating the very strong relationship between violence toward animals and violence towards humans, we believe that adding a bestiality simpliciter as a designated offence is consistent with the underlying objective of the SOIRA and with the existing designation of the two other bestiality offences.
I would like to close by addressing one last point, which was raised during the study of Bill C-84. Some committee members and witnesses feel that this bill does not go far enough and that a comprehensive reform of the animal cruelty regime is overdue in Canada.
As the minister mentioned in his testimony before the committee, our government remains open to dialogue and discussion as to the best way to address these vast and complex issues.
That said, we are equally mindful of testimony received at the committee on the importance of moving these reforms forward as soon as possible, particularly because they are designed to close a gap in the law and enhance protections for the most vulnerable members of society. Moreover, it is very important to keep in mind that Bill C-84 is a targeted response to two specific issues that enjoy widespread support from all the key stakeholders in this area of the law. Those stakeholders submitted a letter to the Minister of Justice. Ten of the most important stakeholders, from agriculture to hunting to veterinary care, all support the aspects of this bill.
Bill C-84 is a meaningful and much-needed step forward. We are confident that we can move this critical piece of legislation ahead today and in so doing come one step closer to enhancing protections for the most vulnerable members in our society. On that basis, I would urge all members to support the swift passage of this important piece of legislation, Bill C-84.