Thank you, Chair and honourable members, for allowing me this opportunity to speak about an issue that is of utmost importance to the World Society for the Protection of Animals, and to Canadians.
WSPA is the world's largest international alliance of animal welfare organizations. We work in partnership with more than 850 organizations in 170 countries. Our global partners include the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the American Humane Association, the American SPCA, and many others. WSPA holds consultative status with the United Nations and observer status with the Council of Europe. We work to improve animal welfare standards around the world through field work and advocacy.
WSPA Canada is based in Toronto. We are a Canadian charity and have more than 30,000 supporters across the country, and hundreds of thousands worldwide. If one takes into account the supporters of our member societies in Canada, we represent the voices of over 200,000 Canadians.
WSPA joins its member societies, the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies, the Ontario SPCA, and other international groups, such as the International Fund for Animal Welfare, in opposing Bill S-203. It is suggested that this bill was introduced to improve the protection of animals, yet not a single animal protection group in the country supports it. We oppose this bill because it is not an effective improvement to the current animal cruelty provisions in the Criminal Code, which haven't been significantly revised, as you know, since first enacted in 1892. This antiquated bill does not address the deficiencies in the current legislation, which allow so many animal abusers to slip through the cracks unpunished.
As you know, the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies was already before this committee. They've calculated that less than 1% of animal abuse complaints made across the country lead to a conviction. Bill S-203 increases sentencing penalties; this is the only change it makes. We do not support this bill because we do not believe these increases are very useful if law enforcement officers are unable to prosecute animal abusers in the vast majority of cases. What difference does increasing penalties make if offenders cannot be successfully prosecuted?
Bill S-203 requires the court to prove that someone wilfully intended to neglect an animal. We have heard from SPCAs across the country that the burden of proof is too high, and that it is one of the main reasons so few complaints about animal abuse lead to convictions under the Criminal Code. Prosecutors have not been able to convict people who have starved their animals, because they cannot prove that the owners intended to cause harm, even though any reasonable person knows that animals, like people, need food daily and suffer when they are hungry, and that an emaciated body clearly indicates that an animal has been starved for a long period of time. The inactions or actions of the offender should be sufficient to convict them in these cases.
We believe the language in Bill C-373 makes this offence much clearer and will, therefore, improve conviction rates in cases of neglect.
Bill S-203 does not make it an offence to breed, train, or sell animals to fight each other to death, so long as the person is not found actually present at the fight. I'm sure you understand that illegal blood sports are not exactly publicized. Dog fighting should be prohibited as explicitly as cock fighting is in this bill. It is our submission that training dogs to fight and being in possession of dog-fighting equipment should both be prohibited. We believe this is necessary to crack down on the people who are participating in and encouraging this brutal blood sport. Great Britain's Animal Welfare Act takes it even further by making it an offence to profit, publicize, and promote any animal fighting.
Like the antiquated legislation currently in force, Bill S-203 provides less protection for unowned animals, even though stray, feral, and wild animals suffer just the same. So it's not an offence to kill, maim, poison, or wound unowned animals without a reason or a lawful excuse. It is legal now, and would continue to be legal, to beat a stray dog with a baseball bat, so long as the dog dies quickly. WSPA strongly believes that all sentient animals should be equally protected from being killed, maimed, poisoned, or wounded, in addition to being protected from suffering and neglect.
If the government is serious about tackling crime to build stronger and safer communities in Canada, it should not ignore the strong relationship between crimes against animals and crimes against people. Research shows that people who abuse animals are more likely to commit future acts of violence against people. Some of the most notorious serial killers abused animals before they murdered people. Their first crimes against animals should have served as an early warning that they were predisposed to harming people next.
The government has the opportunity to pass effective legislation that not only addresses animal abuse effectively, but can also help stop a cycle of violence in our communities. I do believe that if people are taught to respect the sanctity of animal life, it will contribute to the respect for the sanctity of human life as well.
I have summarized our main concerns with this bill, but there are many other problems, which I won't elaborate on, including the fact that it retains the illogical categorization of animals and the strange definition for cattle that is currently in the Criminal Code. As well, Bill S-203 still distinguishes animals as property, and it categorizes offences against them as property offences. Unlike inanimate objects, animals have the capacity to feel pain and suffer. Since their sentience is why we have legislation to protect them, this very basic fact should be reflected in the language of the law and how these types of offences are labelled and how the offender is punished.
Your committee has heard a lot of unfounded hysterical fears that the amendments animal protection groups support, such as those that are in Bill C-373, will somehow affect the right to hunt, trap, and go fishing. Some stakeholders have accused this bill's opponents of having an ulterior motive, such as an underlying animal rights agenda. Comments like these are absolutely absurd.
WSPA and the many other groups that are supporting Bill C-373 are simply advocating for legislation that effectively protects animals from horrific acts of cruelty, abuse, and neglect. Amendments like the one Bill C-373 proposes strikes a great balance between effectively convicting and punishing those who abuse animals, while protecting those who legally use animals.
During his deputation to your committee, Senator John Bryden acknowledged that his bill dealt only with one part of the problem, but that additional amendments should be made later. The committee is therefore being asked to pass deficient legislation on the grounds that some stakeholders would be uncomfortable with the changes sought by other stakeholders. Should we not be asking instead whether there is any validity to their concerns? If these stakeholders are concerned that the right to use animals is not adequately protected, then the solution, I would think, is not to maintain loopholes in the law, but to clarify the rights of these groups.
WSPA would gladly support this bill if it could be amended to resemble Bill C-373, which is essentially the same bill as the previous bills, Bill C-50, Bill C-15B, Bill C-10, which were twice passed by the House of Commons. Those bills were based on nearly 10 years of consultation, received broad-based support--that's support from all different groups that use animals, including support from all political parties--and also received strong public support.
This bill is clearly flawed if people who starve animals to death, bash stray dogs with bats, and train dogs to fight can slip through the cracks unpunished. This bill does not address the current loopholes, archaic language, and inadequacies in the original legislation. It retains them.
Bill S-203 does not deliver what Canadians are demanding from their government. Canadians do not view animals in the same way as people did in the Victorian era. They want modern, effective, and enforceable legislation that protects animals from reckless acts of cruelty. We have waited a long time for strong legislation to protect animals, but I'm afraid the proposal that is before your committee right now is just not worth that wait.
On behalf of WSPA, I'm asking you today to oppose Bill S-203. It's taken more than 100 years to make changes to our animal cruelty law. Let's make sure the new legislation is worth the wait.