Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Dear colleagues, I am happy to be here to discuss the bill on service animals.
It's always a pleasure to be with you, colleagues. We're here, as you know, to discuss yet another piece of criminal justice legislation that the government believes will contribute to making Canadian communities safer.
I thank you in advance for this committee's hard work and commitment to do a thorough and rigorous review of important bills, both government and private members'. I hope that my remarks today will assist you somewhat in the review of Bill C-35, the justice for animals in service act, referred to colloquially as Quanto's law.
Quanto, as many of you will know, was an Edmonton police dog that was fatally stabbed on October 7, 2013, while assisting police in apprehending a suspect. The tragic killing of this beautiful law enforcement animal struck a chord with a lot of Canadians, and many in the police, legal, and community groups called for greater recognition and protection of service animals.
Bill C-35 fulfills a 2013 commitment in the Speech from the Throne to enact a law such this in recognition of the daily risks undertaken by animals used by police to assist them in enforcing the law and protecting society.
Quanto's killing was also the most recent instance in which a police service animal was killed in the course of a police operation, and there are other examples that I'm sure you will be studying.
In addition to proposing to create a new Criminal Code offence that would specifically prohibit the killing or wounding of a law enforcement animal, Bill C-35 would also extend specific protection to trained service animals that assist persons with disabilities and military animals that assist the Canadian Forces in carrying out their duties.
The members of this committee, I'm sure, are aware that the person who killed Quanto was subsequently convicted under existing section 445 of the Criminal Code for the wilful killing of a dog, along with other offences arising out of the same set of events on October 7, 2013.
The criminal responsible was sentenced as a result to a total of 26 months in prison on various charges, of which the sentencing judge attached 18 months specifically for the killing of Quanto. The court also banned him from owning a pet for 25 years and banned him from driving for five years. In sentencing the offender, the judge stated, “The attack on this dog wasn't just an attack on a dog. It was an attack on your society and what is meaningful in our society”.
The government agrees wholeheartedly with this sentiment and believes that the creation of a specific Criminal Code offence, coupled with a specially tailored sentencing regime, would contribute to the denunciation, both general and specific, as well as deterrence of such crimes. These are well-known sentencing principles, I know, for this committee.
I would like to take a moment to review with you just what Bill C-35 proposes in terms of amendments to the Criminal Code.
Just to turn quickly to the substance of this bill, the bill would clearly define which animals would fall within its ambit.
Secondly, the legislation sets out the element of the new offence. The prescribed conduct is the killing, maiming, wounding, poisoning, or injuring of a law enforcement animal while it is aiding a law enforcement officer in carrying out the officer's duty and a military animal while it is aiding a member of the Canadian Armed Forces in carrying out that member's duties or a service animal performing its tasks.
The necessary mental element is wilful and without lawful excuse, a common standard used in the Criminal Code, in order that accidental or negligent conduct would not be criminalized by this new offence. Obviously, there is a great deal of discretion within the courts for findings of fact based on evidence.
Finally, thirdly, similar to the existing section 445 of the Criminal Code, “Injuring or endangering other animals”, the new offence would be subject to a maximum penalty of five years imprisonment when the accused is prosecuted on indictment and 18 months imprisonment or a $10,000 fine for a summary conviction. So there's a hybrid element to the offence.
It is the sentencing regime that distinguishes this new offence from section 445, and it does so by introducing a provision, section 718.03, which expressly directs the sentencing court to give primary consideration to denunciation and deterrence as sentencing objectives in respect of this new offence.
This provision will apply whether the animal in question is a law enforcement animal, military, or service animal. However, with regard to an offence committed against a law enforcement animal, Bill C-35 would require the sentence imposed for the offence to be served consecutively to any other sentence imposed on the offender for an offence committed at the same time. And as is the case where a law enforcement animal is killed while assisting a law enforcement officer in carrying out his duties, and the offence is prosecuted by way of indictment—so there is a selection here—the offender would be liable to a mandatory minimum penalty of six months. This joins the some 60 other mandatory minimum penalties already found in the Criminal Code.
During second reading of this bill I was pleased to note there was broad support across party lines for it. I see this as one of the more non-partisan issues and non-partisan legislation that may come before this committee. In fact, there is a great deal of support for the enactment of the provisions in the Criminal Code that deal with the intentional injuring and killing of law enforcement animals, military animals, or service animals.
At the same time, I acknowledge that there will no doubt be questions raised with regard to the proposed mandatory minimum penalties, where a law enforcement animal is killed while assisting a law enforcement officer engaged in enforcing the law and prosecuted by indictment. To pre-empt the questions that I know will come, I believe that a mandatory minimum penalty is warranted in these instances, both for general and specific deterrence and denunciation of this type of offence involving service animals. Like members of the military, members of the police, some of whom are members of this committee, these are service animals that are in harm's way—it's the only way I can describe it. They are doing a duty that is a higher calling expected of an animal, in the same way that police officers, of course, assume a certain degree of danger and liability.
Therefore, with respect to the mandatory minimum penalties imposed by this bill, I would ask the committee to take note that this provision was carefully tailored in several ways.
First, the prospect of the mandatory minimum penalty being imposed only arises in regard to the intentional killing of a law enforcement animal while aiding a law enforcement officer in carrying out those duties.
Second, the potential application of the mandatory minimum is further limited by the fact that it would only apply where the crown prosecutor proceeds by way of indictment. Prosecutorial discretion is always exercised, with a careful eye to proportionality, constitutionality, and totality, the same considerations used by a judge. Where the crown elects to prosecute this offence as a summary conviction, the mandatory minimum penalties, obviously, don't apply.
Finally, in terms of the length of the mandatory term of imprisonment, the six-month term of imprisonment is at the lower end of the range.
I would pause here to underscore, as I mentioned earlier, that the judge who sentenced Quanto's killer specifically imposed an 18-month sentence of the 26 months that were handed down for the killing of that service animal.
Bill C-35 also proposes to amend the Criminal Code to require that a sentence imposed for an assault on a police officer, or certain other peace officers, will be served consecutively with other sentences imposed on the offender arising out of the same set of circumstances.
We are strongly of the view that attacks on those officials who work on our behalf to protect society also represent an attack on our society and that such a provision is justified to express society's denunciation of such conduct and as a general deterrent.
To conclude, Mr. Chair, I would be pleased to answer questions by you and members of the committee with regard to this important bill.
I again thank you for the work of this committee. I'll take the opportunity to thank all those members of police, military, and those who use service animals for things such as comfort and mental health counselling that we are now seeing through canine and equine companionship, which is an extraordinary use of animals in society.
For the furtherance of the principles of justice, we had a recent example of a dog in the Edmonton Police Service which accompanied a child who was obviously feeling the trauma of a sexual assault. That dog was allowed to be on the stand with that young girl while she gave her testimony. I think this is the type of innovation that actually brings great credit to our justice system, and it shows and highlights some of the great people we have working alongside those animals to further the interests of justice.
Thank you, Chair.