House of Commons Hansard #122 of the 36th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was animal.


Manitoba Claim Settlements Implementation ActGovernment Orders

11:05 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division at the report stage of the bill. Call in the members.

And the division bells having rung:

Manitoba Claim Settlements Implementation ActGovernment Orders

11:05 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The recorded division stands deferred until 6.15 p.m. this evening.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

September 26th, 2000 / 11:10 a.m.

Vancouver Centre B.C.


Hedy Fry Liberalfor the Minister of Justice

moved that Bill C-17, an act to amend the criminal code (cruelty to animals, disarming a peace officer and other amendments) and the Firearms Act (technical amendments), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

11:10 a.m.

Erie—Lincoln Ontario


John Maloney LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to speak to Bill C-17 which is an omnibus package that proposes amendments in a number of areas of the criminal code.

In a nutshell, these amendments will improve the criminal law in a number of areas, such as tougher laws to protect animals from cruelty, better protection for peace officers acting in the line of duty, and improvements to respond to concerns from firearms businesses with respect to the administration of the firearms system. Other amendments will provide greater procedural safeguards to persons with disabilities who are victims of sexual exploitation.

I would now like to focus on the parts of the bill amending certain current provisions of the criminal code having to do with cruelty to animals. These amendments have attracted considerable public interest and I will start with them.

For over 10 years humane societies have been asking ministers of justice to improve and strengthen the law on cruelty to animals. Humane societies are established by provincial legislation and have the statutory mandate to prevent cruelty to animals, to relieve animals in distress and to educate the public about animal cruelty and welfare.

Many humane society officers are designated as peace officers and have the power to investigate and lay charges of cruelty under the criminal code. These are the organizations that are largely responsible for administering the criminal law and provincial laws in this area. These are the people who know when the system is not working and they in fact told ministers of justice for over 10 years that the system was not working as well as it should.

Let us be clear from the start about what cruelty is. Cruelty is about the infliction of unnecessary pain or suffering on animals. It is the causing of avoidable pain, the causing of pain for no reason or through extreme neglect. Society rightly abhors such conduct. Who would choose to harm an animal if they did not have to?

Cruelty to animals is not about the appropriate standard for animal care in various specific contexts such as farming practices or slaughter methods. These activities are directly regulated by specific laws and regulations both provincially and federally and are understood to fall outside the criminal law. Our law recognizes that animals can be used for a variety of purposes to satisfy certain human needs if they are treated humanely and with respect at every stage. That is what Canadians expect.

After reviewing this area of law, the minister and her department consulted with the public and interested groups in September 1998. We sought their views on the modernization and strengthening of the current laws. The response was really quite significant and took us all by surprise.

Thousands of Canadians wrote in and signed petitions telling us that they wanted animal abuse treated more seriously. To this day the Department of Justice continues to receive many letters every week, sometimes hundreds, applauding the government for introducing this bill.

I would also like to note that support for modernization and tougher penalties came from national and provincial veterinary associations and from many provincial attorneys general. Members of the House may be interested to know that last November, just weeks before the bill was introduced, the Ontario legislature passed a resolution with all party support that urged this government to strengthen our laws on animal cruelty, to do the very thing that Bill C-17 does.

The Ontario government continues to be very interested in stronger animal cruelty laws. As recently as last week Solicitor General Tsubouchi, who had previously written to the minister and urged the government to strengthen the animal cruelty laws, continued to emphasize the need for stronger penalties against cruelty to animals at the launch of the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Violence Prevention Week.

What has all these organizations and individuals concerned? If I may, I will remind members of the House what cruelty is and how it happens all too frequently in the country.

Across the country dogs have been beaten with hockey sticks and golf clubs, thrown off balconies and dragged behind cars. Cats have been mutilated, burned, tied to railroad tracks and left for oncoming trains. Animals have been trained to be aggressive and forced to fight each other to the death for entertainment and economic profit. I need not horrify members with further gory details.

In some but by no means all cases, charges are laid. Even where charges are laid, prosecutors often choose not to proceed in all but the most extreme circumstances. In the rare cases where a conviction is obtained, the penalties range from a small fine to, on rare occasions, a brief stint in prison, typically a few days or weeks. Canadians think we can do better than this, that we can prevent some of these acts with stronger deterrents and tougher penalties.

However, all members should know that it is not only the animals that will benefit from such measures. Canadians are perceptive and they realize a society that cares for its animals also shows more respect and compassion for its people. They know already that the people who abuse animals may already be doing the same or worse to the people in their lives. It is common sense, if people are never made to account for their violence, that violence may be more likely to escalate.

Simply put, violence is violence. A person determined to cause pain and suffering often does not care who or what the victim is. Animal cruelty is another form of violence in our society. If we do not treat it seriously then we fail to tackle the problem of violence in all its aspects.

As I mentioned, there is also a particular correlation between animal cruelty and domestic violence. This is supported by a growing number of studies involving battered women which show that a clear majority of their batterers also abuse pets in their home. They also show, sadly, that around half these women report that they stayed in the abusive household longer than they otherwise would have out of fear for the safety of the pet. Animal abuse clearly figures into a larger pattern of violence and abuse.

Animal abuse in the home can also have a devastating impact on children. We all know of the natural bond that children form with animals. A child that witnesses its beloved pet being beaten by a parent will be psychologically traumatized. That child may well be more likely to be abused if a parent is abusing a pet. There is also data that suggests that children could be more likely to grow up committing violent offences themselves, imitating what they witnessed their parents do at home. If a child manages to avoid a life of crime, he or she may suffer from learning problems and social and developmental difficulties.

If we take the issue of animal abuse seriously, if we make a reasonable effort to identify and punish it, we will stand a better chance of preventing violence and other forms of mistreatment with respect to human beings.

With that background I will briefly outline the main features of the amendments relating to cruelty to animals. One thing the amendments do is modernize and simplify the law. The law right now is confusing and incoherently organized. The basic structure is a result of piecemeal amendments to 100 year old provisions. There is overlap between sections and outdated distinctions are built into the law.

Bill C-17 will modernize the language of existing offences, eliminate archaic distinctions and provide uniform protection for all animals. It also proposes a rational and coherent set of offences, for the first time distinguishing between intentional cruelty and cruelty by criminal neglect. The person who loves his or her animals but has too many to keep well fed commits a different kind of crime his or her than the person who senselessly brutalizes an animal. In short, the amendments will make the law more logical and easier to use by law enforcement, prosecutors and judges.

The main thrust of the amendment is penalty enhancement. Even the most heinous and barbarous act today carries a maximum six months in prison or a $2,000 fine. It is little wonder that the police do not often expand their limited resources on cruelty charges. I have heard time and time again from Canadians that penalties must be higher to deter this behaviour and to denounce and punish those who simply will not abide by societal standards.

The bill would give prosecutors more choice on how to proceed, based on the seriousness of the circumstances. In really serious cases the prosecution can proceed by indictment and the maximum penalty will be five years in prison. It takes a strong statement from parliament to get some people to understand that cruelty will not be tolerated and to get cases brought before the courts.

The five year maximum penalty is appropriate for this offence. It is important to remember that the maximum penalty is reserved for the most serious crimes committed by the worst offenders.

I invite members to compare this penalty with that for assault, which also has a maximum penalty of five years. Assault can be committed simply by spitting on someone or pushing someone who did not consent to be touched. If bodily harm is caused in the course of an assault then the maximum penalty jumps to 10 years. I certainly think it is appropriate to have the same maximum sentence for torturing and mutilating an animal as that which exists for simple assault.

Another sentencing measure in the bill relates to the court's power to prohibit an offender from owning or having care and control of an animal subsequent to a conviction. Right now the courts can order a convicted offender not to own or possess animals for up to two years.

It is commonly felt, including by some judges, that the two year maximum is too short. Prohibition orders can be very effective by preventing future harm without being overly punitive. Even some provincial animal welfare statutes are stronger than the criminal code and let the court decide what time is appropriate. The bill will therefore give courts the much needed discretion to fix the appropriate time limit on prohibition orders.

Another new sentencing feature is the power of the court to order the convicted animal abuser to repay reasonable costs to the humane society that cared for the animal in question. Restitution orders have the potential to greatly assist humane societies in fulfilling their statutory mandates to care for abused animals. These organizations receive little public funding but they play a vital role in taking in and caring for animals. Humane societies should be reimbursed the reasonable costs they expend in performing this valuable function.

Restitution orders are also a valuable sentencing mechanism because they help instil a sense of responsibility in an offender by holding him or her accountable for the damage or injury the crimes have caused.

With regard to what kinds of acts constitute crimes, the bill carries over existing offences and actually eliminates a few offences that overlap with others. Bill C-17 strengthens the law in many respects but actually creates only two new offences. It will be an offence to brutally or viciously kill an animal. Assuming that a person has a legitimate reason to kill an animal, right now the law places no limits on the way in which animals can be killed. The law only requires that unnecessary pain or suffering not be caused in the course of a killing, but a quick and painless killing is not necessarily synonymous with a humane or acceptable one.

For instance, it is not acceptable to kill an animal with explosives or to leave it to be run over by a train, even though the animal may die instantly. These things actually happen. Killing an animal in a particularly brutal or vicious way is a special kind of crime which may in fact be just the sort of conduct that causes the greatest risk to society. It reveals the most depraved and sadistic intent. Evidence shows that many serial killers acquired their taste for killing by practising on animals.

All members of the House should support this measure, which is aimed squarely at brutality and which gives the police and the courts the tools they need to arrest and punish these individuals, who may be extremely dangerous.

The bill also introduces a new offence of training an animal to fight other animals. Certain acts related to animal fighting are already crimes in Canada but are very hard to prosecute. Humane society investigators rarely come across a fight actually taking place. The training of fighting animals, dogs and cocks in particular, is cruel to those animals and sometimes to other animals such as kittens which may be used to train dogs to attack and kill.

The people who engage in this activity train dogs to be aggressive and deadly. Although it is not seen by most of us, there does seem to be evidence of active cock fighting and dog fighting rings in Ontario and British Columbia. This new offence will provide investigators with a new tool in their efforts to identify and shut down this insidious practice.

These are the main features of Bill C-17 as it relates to animal cruelty. The bill responds to what can only be called overwhelming public support and interest in better legal protection for animals from unnecessary pain and suffering. The government is pleased to make these amendments to recognize that animal cruelty is a crime of violence and should be taken more seriously than it has been for the sake of the animals and for our communities.

Some members may not know that the government has heard a number of concerns from certain groups representing farmers, hunters and animal researchers. They are concerned that these proposals, the way they are currently drafted, are vague and imprecise and could therefore impinge upon their businesses or livelihoods. I take this opportunity to thank these groups for having shared their concerns and their ideas with members of the minister's staff and Department of Justice officials at numerous meetings over the course of the spring. Such interventions are a helpful part of the law reform process.

As an aside, I point out that hunters and farmers are in fact vocal supporters of strong animal cruelty laws. The overwhelming majority of farmers, hunters and others who use animals do so responsibly and humanely and in accordance with the law. They are among the first to denounce those who fall below acceptable standards. The concerns heard relate to uncertainty about the interpretation of certain words and the application of the provisions.

In my view some of these concerns are based on a number of misunderstandings about the legal impact of the amendments and fail to recognize the existence of fundamental criminal laws, rules and principles which are not written in the criminal code. It is not difficult to understand, if lawyers and judges can disagree about the interpretation of some laws, that other Canadians may also be reasonably uncertain.

It is important for members of the House and for those concerned to remember that there are already laws against cruelty to animals, laws which our courts have interpreted and applied time and time again. The bill does not create a new regime where none existed before.

Aside from changing penalties the bill makes only very slight changes to the law we already have. The criminal law has never been used inappropriately to target the humane treatment of animals in normal human activities. This is because the law and the courts already recognize that there are many valid reasons for the use of animals and that those reasons sometimes require the animals to suffer or be killed. The bill does not change that. In short, what is lawful today will be lawful the day after the bill becomes law.

The Minister of Justice is determined that the criminal law be clear and accessible to everyone, not just to criminal lawyers and judges. It has been said before that our criminal laws already recognize the humane treatment of animals in the course of legitimate and normal activities such as farming, hunting, fishing and animal research. As parliamentary secretary I would like to assure those involved in such activities that the government will include a statement in the bill to that effect when it is before the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.

At committee all concerns can be discussed in greater detail. We are prepared to make sure that if further clarification or modifications to the principles of Bill C-17 are required so as to improve the law and more clearly set out its objectives, we will make them. We can work together to produce a law that everyone is happy with and can support.

While I have devoted the bulk of my remarks to the cruelty of animals component of Bill C-17, I want to speak to another proposal in the bill which responds to concerns related to police safety.

The bill will create a new offence of disarming a peace officer. Every member should support this measure. Police officers are required as part of their duties in investigating crime to enter situations that are potentially dangerous. That danger can be suddenly increased tenfold if a suspect grabs the officer's weapon. Suddenly there is a life threatening situation. In fact we are told by the Canadian Police Association that the taking of an officer's firearm has sometimes resulted in the murder of the officer. We are pleased to report to the Canadian Police Association that the government has responded to its concerns on this very important issue.

The names Scott Rossiter, Michael O'Leary and Aurele Bourgeois may not be familiar to members of the House. They were all shot with their own police weapons. Rossiter, a constable from Ingersoll, Ontario, was shot by a suspect in 1991. Constable O'Leary and Corporal Bourgeois were disarmed in the course of trying to arrest two kidnappers in 1974. The offender then shot the two policemen. I will not comment further at this time except to say that if proof of the need for a specific offence of disarming a police officer is needed, these three examples provide that proof.

These are the highlights of this omnibus package. The government is committed to ongoing review of the criminal law and to the maintenance of effective legislative measures to protect society and its members. As part of this effort the legislation contains a series of other measures to address concerns about the legislation, adjust offences and punishments, modernize the statute and correct oversights enacted in previous legislative initiatives.

We will continue to monitor the legislation and bring forward further changes as the need for them becomes apparent. I look forward to the support of all members of the House for this important criminal code omnibus legislation.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

11:25 a.m.


Randy White Reform Langley—Abbotsford, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to stand in the House to speak to Bill C-17. I have several concerns with the bill which as the official opposition we are obligated to bring forward.

One of the issues facing us in this bill, among other bills brought into the House of Commons, is the fact that it is basically an omnibus bill. It contains many changes. Some are technical amendments. Some affect the Firearms Act. Some affect the criminal code, and so on and so forth.

We have talked about this numerous times in the House of Commons. Once again I advise the government that when bills are brought into the House it would be far better if they were simpler, more understandable bills, each dealing with an issue that can be tackled as an issue isolated unto itself.

The items directed for change are good changes. I will go through what I agree with and what I do not.

As my colleague opposite indicated, there is obviously reason for concern among some groups. He also indicated that those concerns were not that serious and that there may be some misunderstandings about the bill. The fact is, if the changes and aspects of the bill are unclear, he knows full well what will happen. The lawyers and the legal industry will get it and once again our legislation will be developed in the courtroom.

It is important to understand that we have to make changes to the legislation in that area. We will be looking for these changes in committee. If we do not receive those changes or at least clarifications so that the legal industry does not play with this in the courtrooms, then my opinion on the bill may very well change.

At this point there are three main provisions in the bill. The first is that it amends the criminal code by consolidating animal cruelty offences for brutally or viciously killing an animal or abandoning one. It will no longer be a property crime. I do not think there is much disagreement in the House as to whether or not that is necessary. It certainly is in this day and age. We have seen time and time again where cruelty to animals seems to go unattended to by the courts. It has been basically a misdemeanour up until now. I commend the government for that action. I agree with it.

The bill also creates the offence of disarming or attempting to disarm a peace officer. I wish this would have been a subject unto itself in legislation because there is more to this than just that aspect of it. However, I commend the government for that aspect of the legislation, as it is truly necessary. I know the police forces and peace officers appreciate this kind of action coming from the House of Commons.

The amendments to the Firearms Act are incorporated by expanding the class of prohibited handguns that are grandfathered and modifying the employee licensing requirements. I think that as well has been accepted and taken with a fair bit of understanding and appreciation.

Let us look at what is really new in the bill under those three categories. The bill raises the penalty for intentional cruelty to animals from the current six months to five years. That is an upward limit. There is no minimum penalty, which in a way is too bad. I think minimum penalties also enhance legislation, not just maximums. When we go into the courts of this land, maximum penalties are seldom applied.

I might add, however, that in my long time spent looking at issues such as conditional sentences, I have seen many cases where women have been sexually assaulted and their attackers have received conditional sentences, sentences of much less than the current sentence the government is proposing for cruelty to animals.

I should say to the government that when we look at it from that perspective, I would suggest that the government should go back and look at conditional sentences. It should try to take the action whereby violent offenders cannot get conditional sentences. When we look at it in perspective, with cruelty to animal bills everyone will understand and appreciate that there has to be some kind of comparison for the time and the crime.

The current legislation lifts the cap on the fine, which is currently at $2,000. I do not think the legislation as I understand it identifies whether or not there is an upward limit to that or whether the dollar values of the fines are open. We will be asking the following question when it comes to committee: is the level of fine open-ended or designated? I would like the parliamentary secretary's comments on that.

There is a potential for a lifetime ban from owning an animal for those convicted of cruelty to animals. I like that. I think it is about time that we set some standard in this country. I can recall case after case in British Columbia where people have mistreated animals. In fact sometimes many animals have been mistreated in one place not just one animal. These people have had more animals within their care shortly afterward. That was wrong. In one case that I recall, it was the second time around for an individual in British Columbia when he was again caught by the SPCA for brutality to animals.

Those found guilty of cruelty to an animal now have to pay the bill for the vet services to treat the animal. This is a great move. However, I want to put some relevance back into this and into other legislation. In this case we are holding responsible an individual who has been convicted of being cruel to animals for the cost, for the responsibility of trying to fix the situation by fixing the animal.

When we talk about the Young Offenders Act, for instance, we say “Where it is applicable, why not hold parents accountable for the damages caused by the young offender?” The government virtually panics when we talk about this. Yet if an animal has been hurt, the government turns around and says that it will hold the people responsible for its injuries. Consistency in the House in government legislation would be more appropriate, and the government should look at that.

The bill acknowledges that animals have feelings and are deserving of legal protection from negligence or abuse, which I think we can agree with.

It is a separate criminal offence to take away or to attempt to take away a police officer's weapon and it is punishable by imprisonment, to a maximum of five years. I agree with that, but I think minimum sentencing should be put into the legislation. I know that historically in our courtrooms the minimum sentences come out of those kinds of convictions. I would not like to see legislation like this go to waste. If such a situation does occur, and it does occur, as my colleagues across the way said, it should not go to waste on a conditional sentence, on a suspended sentence or on a one year sentence. I would suggest to the government that it put a minimum in place.

The legislation will adjust employee licensing requirements in order to better reflect appropriate firearms safety training for employees who handle restricted and prohibited firearms as opposed to non-restricted firearms. I think that is good as well. I do not think there would be much argument with that.

Who likes the bill? It would be difficult to find any pet owner who would disagree with it. The SPCA and organizations like that have been long awaiting such legislation. I am sure the police will be happy. Cruelty to animals should have been a crime some time ago. It is good to bring in this legislation on the eve of an election, but I doubt very much if it will receive royal assent before the election. Let us just hope that when the government brings in a useful bill like this we go all the way with it before an election takes place. The police will get more protection, which they need.

Who does not like the bill and why? It is the job of the official opposition to find out who does not like the bill.

The groups that have approached us and said they do not like this bill include: Fur Institute of Canada, the Canadian Outdoor Heritage Alliance, Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters, Western Stock Growers Association, Ontario Farm Animal Council and Canadian Property Rights Research Institute. Why do they not like the bill? My colleague across the way has alluded to the fact that some groups are unhappy. I think that is the case in this situation, where we have to register wider unhappiness, go to committee and give these groups some assurance that they will be protected.

While the parliamentary secretary did say “Yes, they are protected. There have never been any problems before so there will not be any problems in the future”, he has already said that there are some misunderstandings about the bill. I know from past and personal experience that when this gets into a courtroom the legal industry will have a field day with it unless it is made clear.

Let us look at the concerns. The genesis of the changes to the cruelty to animals legislation is to no longer treat cruelty to animals as a property crime. The new provision would move cruelty to animals to part V of the criminal code under sexual offences, which would be renamed sexual offences, public morals, disorderly conduct and cruelty to animals.

Animal cruelty provisions are currently contained in sections 444 to 446 of part XI of the criminal code. This section of the criminal code protects a person from being convicted of an offence if he acted with legal justification of excuse, colour or right. Agricultural groups, anglers' and hunters' groups, and the Fur Council of Canada want cruelty to animals to remain in sections 444 to 446. They fear that by moving the cruelty section to sexual offences it will make it easier for them to be prosecuted. They argue that those who lawfully and legitimately harvest animals for business will not be protected if the cruelty section is changed.

I am no expert on that aspect of the criminal code and, thankfully, I am not a lawyer, but as a layperson in the House of Commons and as opposition justice critic, I know that when those issues go before the courts it will one day be the case of an individual harvesting animals who will say “I told you so way back when. Why did you not make it clear?” Therefore, we will be moving an amendment at committee stage to have animal cruelty provisions maintained in sections 444 to 446 or to make the necessary changes to section 182(1) to comply with the concerns of farmers, hunters, agricultural groups, the fur trade and others who harvest animals.

I would like the parliamentary secretary to take note of that. I would appreciate the parliamentary secretary getting back to us to determine whether or not he feels the scenario I have laid out in the House of Commons is applicable and accurate.

The second point on the cruelty to animals section of Bill C-17 that causes concern is the amendment to the bill that proposes to take out the words wilful and wilfully as a defence if a person is charged. This would make prosecution easier but not proper in many instances where one is involved in the legitimate slaughter of animals or the raising of animals for legitimate use or harvesting. If the words wilful and wilfully are removed, this would leave the requisite of criminal intent for animal cruelty undefined and thus would leave legitimate animal harvesters in jeopardy.

I almost sound like a lawyer. Heaven forbid.

We will be moving an amendment at committee stage to ensure legitimate individuals involved in animal operations are not unduly subject to criminal intent. In all seriousness I would suggest again to the parliamentary secretary that the issue be looked at, because unless we are satisfied that this issue is not a legitimate concern, and at this point we are not, we will not be moving ahead with the bill.

A third part of the bill that causes legitimate animal operations concern is the amendment which proposes that criminal intent for animal cruelty can be simply civil negligence. Agricultural groups would like to see the terms wilful neglect or marked departure from the exercise of reasonable care maintained, not something like civil negligence, which could be used to prosecute farmers trying to carry out normal farming operations and cattle management, et cetera.

Mr. Speaker, you will hear more today about that aspect from people who are farmers. They can put much more practical conversation into the bill because they live with these concerns day in and day out. These are not concerns of just one or two farmers; these are concerns of farmers within associations and of the associations themselves.

We will introduce an amendment at committee stage to ensure there is recognition of the need to protect legitimate farm operators from prosecution.

The fourth part of Bill C-17 is of concern. Under what is called animal care provisions, the bill proposes convictions when there is any pain, suffering or injury to an animal. Currently the criminal code prohibits unnecessary pain. It is only common sense that removing the word unnecessary could open up a whole area for conviction. As some have pointed out, putting a worm on a hook could become a problem for fishermen. This is unrealistic and too open to interpretation to prosecution.

One has only to look at one's own interpretation of what is realistic and unrealistic. When we talk about unnecessary pain, animals cannot really identify unnecessary pain. That is determined by individual people. The concern, and rightfully so, of these groups is whether or not their operations will be questioned by many others about what is unnecessary pain. Will it next be that farmers, hunters and anglers are in courtrooms defending themselves, at very large expense, on the question of unnecessary pain?

In committee we will move an amendment to re-establish the word unnecessary to protect anglers and others who are conducting a sporting activity. I know the government will want to avoid this by saying “Do not worry, trust us, this has never happened before”. However, when the government opens up a new bill for amending legislation, the slate is basically clean and we start off at a new day. When such words as unnecessary pain are removed or reintroduced, the question comes up in the courtroom.

The fifth area of concern is the provision in Bill C-17 which states that anyone who kills an animal or, being the owner, permits an animal to be killed brutally or viciously, regardless of whether the animal dies immediately, is guilty of a criminal offence. This part is very subjective and is open to too much latitude. This part is ambiguous and must be defined more clearly. We will move an amendment in committee to remove any ambiguity in this area.

I do not think this in any way, shape or form is paranoia on behalf of any group. These are legitimate concerns.

One thing I opened with is the difficulties and complexities with omnibus bills. There are many things in the bill we support, but because of the ambiguity and the size of the bill, rather than us right up front saying great job, good job, there are some complexities in the bill that some groups are concerned about.

I would ask the same thing as my colleague the parliamentary secretary asked, that all members of the House work together in committee to make sure that these concerns are taken care of. Let us not leave it to the courtrooms of our country. It has never been an acceptable way to do it.

There you have it, Mr. Speaker, some suggestions and comments, some ideas on legislation that goes a long way in my mind to helping with a serious problem in any country, and that is cruelty to animals, and with another problem, that of protecting our police. One area that has to be looked after is the area of insecurities and concerns of those who feel this legislation may draw them into a nightmare in the courtroom. I am sure the government does not want that. I am sure my colleagues want reassurance that it will not happen.

In one way I would like to say to the government, not a bad job after seven years in office. It is not a bad job considering that an election will probably be called before this bill gets royal assent. Perhaps we can bring this bill in after the election without the complexities the government has put into it.

On two fronts of the bill I commend the government. However, I do insist that the insecurities of those who have legitimate concerns be dealt with in committee. There will be a very tight scrutiny of the bill there.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

11:50 a.m.


Gordon Earle NDP Halifax West, NS

Mr. Speaker, at the outset I ask for the consent of the House to split my time with the hon. member for Churchill.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

11:50 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Does the House give its consent for the hon. member to split his time?

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

11:50 a.m.

Some hon. members


Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

11:50 a.m.


Gordon Earle NDP Halifax West, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to address Bill C-17. The bill amends the criminal code with respect to cruelty to animals, disarming a peace officer and other amendments and makes technical amendments to the Firearms Act.

At the outset I would say generally that the NDP is opposed to omnibus legislation. The matters contained in the bill have been lumped together and have very little in common. They deserve to be dealt with as separate pieces of legislation. Having said that, however, the bill deals with very important issues and we will be supporting the bill.

As has been indicated, the bill amends the criminal code by consolidating animal cruelty offences into one section and introducing new offences for brutally or viciously killing an animal or abandoning one. It creates an offence for disarming or attempting to disarm a peace officer. It also makes a number of technical amendments. The bill also amends the Firearms Act by expanding the class of prohibited handguns that are grandfathered and modifying the employee licensing requirements.

I want to dwell upon a couple of very important points in the bill. I will leave some of the other points to my hon. colleagues.

Cruelty to animals is certainly a topic of concern for a lot of people. The changes to the criminal code dealing with cruelty to animals stem from a public outcry over a large number of highly publicized cases involving animal abuse over the past few years. The hon. member opposite mentioned a number of these incidents in alarming detail.

As a result, animal welfare groups, humane societies and the public have been calling for tougher measures to protect animals and punish abusers. The justice department issued a discussion paper entitled “Crimes Against Animals” in 1998 and received thousands of responses from the public.

While some might view cruelty to animal provisions as a low priority, we are fully aware that studies have shown an alarming connection between animal abuse and other forms of serious violent offences, in particular domestic violence. A significant percentage of those who are violent toward animals later perpetuate violence against people. It does not take a lot of in-depth knowledge to understand why that is the case.

When we see a lack of appreciation for life, no matter what the level of that life may be, it certainly has an impact upon society. Children who are used to, who become used to, or who are not admonished for cruelty to animals will certainly grow up with an attitude that it does not matter if they hurt a living entity.

It is sad to see in our world today a lot of desensitizing as to how we relate to fellow human beings. We see so much violence on television. We watch some of the TV programs. It is amazing the degree of violence we can see being perpetuated through TV, through movies, and even now through a lot of the video games that children play. There are games played where people shoot, kill or harm individuals. One may say it is just a game, but I think it is slowly creating an atmosphere where children become insensitive to harming one another.

Look at what is happening in wartorn countries around the world. We see situations such as Sierra Leone, where children's arms and legs are amputated. I often ask myself how one human being can be so cruel to another human being. I am afraid that people who harm animals and who are insensitive to the pain that animals feel are capable of doing the same thing to fellow human beings.

It is very important that the issue be addressed. The proposed amendments on animal cruelty will raise the maximum penalty for intentional cruelty to five years in prison and will not set limits on fines. It is important to have a serious penalty for such an offence.

It will give judges the authority to order anyone convicted of cruelty to animals to pay restitution such as veterinary bills and shelter costs to the animal welfare organization that cared for the animal. It will prohibit anyone convicted of cruelty to animals from owning an animal for however long the judge considers appropriate. There are some very serious penalties for a very serious offence. Another very important aspect of the legislation that merits some comment is the disarming of a police officer. We know that the job of a police officer is a very important one. It is a job that a lot of people would not want, yet we look for our police officers when we need them. These people often put their lives on the line in the course of duty. A police officer may have to stop a car on a busy highway. When the officer moves up to the car he or she may end up facing death because the driver has a firearm and is out to harm them. There are many situations of domestic violence where police walk into a situation and their lives are literally put at risk.

The legislation concerning the disarming of a police officer is very important and significant to the well-being of our police officers. It will create a new offence for disarming or attempting to disarm a police officer and will set the maximum penalty for that at five years imprisonment. This is intended to highlight the seriousness of the offence and is supported by many policing organizations across the country, including the Canadian Police Association, which lobbied strenuously for this particular provision.

The NDP supports this provision. We feel it is important to support those who put their lives on the line for society, including police officers, firefighters and people in our armed services. These people are not appreciated in the way they should be and this legislation goes one step in moving toward the proper appreciation for this kind of function.

I am very pleased to stand and support the legislation and the underlying principles that are involved in the kinds of amendments that have been proposed. Those principles underscore our respect for life and for living entities, whether they be animals or human beings. The respect for the role of the police officer is necessary if we are going to make this the kind of society in which we want to live.

When police officers perform their duties, their side arm is a very important tool. It is not necessarily one that they would use on every occasion, but it is something that they have been trained to respect and have been given proper instructions on how to use it. It is a necessary part of their equipment in law enforcement. When someone attempts to disarm a police officer, it puts them at a very serious disadvantage. They cannot deal properly with the situation they are faced with because they are busy worrying about trying to keep that firearm out of the hands of someone who is probably going to use it to the disadvantage of the police officer.

These principles are very important. The NDP stands in support of this legislation and urges all hon. members in the House give their support to it.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders



Bev Desjarlais NDP Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, my colleague for Halifax West made a point of addressing specific areas of the bill. When we discussed how to proceed with bringing forward our thoughts and concerns on the bill, it was interesting to note that we had to look for a way to tie all of the different aspects of the bill together. One of the things that has been stated by many members is the concern about all of the different issues that have been brought together in this one bill.

For parliamentarians and Canadians who want to address an issue, who want to see where it is and what legislation is there, it is much easier to go to a bill or legislation that applies specifically to the issue. This bill combines an act to amend the criminal code, cruelty to animals, disarming a police officer and technical amendments to the Firearms Act. This reminds me of the old Sesame Street rhyme “Which of these things belongs together, which one is not the same”. I tried to see how we tied them all together. I guess we can in the fact that they deal with the Firearms Act. We talk about disarming a police officer, and we might use a firearm to shoot the animal. This is the point we are at with this bill.

Once again the government has failed to be open with Canadians, simply by mushing a lot of things together when each of these areas warrants discussion in its own right. Disarming of a police officer certainly warrants legislation which specifically deals with that area, to make sure that it gets dealt with properly.

Without question the amendments to the Firearms Act, because of all the other things that have happened out there and the bad feelings over the firearms certification and registration program, give an uncomfortable feeling to the people who were not totally satisfied with that piece of legislation. Concerning the issue of cruelty to animals, there is concern that this legislation is going to impact on areas that it is not intended to. I hope that is clarified when it goes to committee.

When it goes to committee, it is important that the committee and this House ensure that Canadians have the opportunity to be involved in the discussion that happens. If that means going into areas of the country where there is a major concern about the issues we are dealing with in the bill, then we have to do that.

It was previously mentioned that there is concern that the bill will apply to areas of legitimate hunting and trapping practices. Hunters, trappers and those in the fur trading industry are concerned. They are in an area that has been targeted for years by animal rights protesters. There is concern that this bill will have an underlying motive of attacking their livelihood. They need to know for sure that such is not the case. To do that means allowing them to have a say at committee. If that is not the intent of the bill they need to have that concern alleviated. If it is the intent of the bill, then it needs to come out in an upfront manner.

It is my understanding it is not the intent of the bill at this point. When it goes to committee, as I said, we will weed things out to find out exactly where it is at. However, it is important that Canadians and the ones affected specifically by this bill get the opportunity to have their say and have their fears alleviated.

In other words, the bill can leave no misunderstanding as to its intention because it has a grave impact on the fur industry, on the hunters and trappers and also on the farming industry. Although we know that the practices are done in the most humane way possible, there are always those out there who do not believe that animals should be killed in any way, shape or form for food or whatever other uses there may be. If there is any risk that their livelihood is going to be threatened, they need to be able to have a say in this.

There is another area—because this is mushed together—that is extremely important to comment on. My colleague mentioned it. I know there are small changes taking place under sexual offences, public morals and disorderly conduct and small changes that define the terms child and illegitimate child. Once again, would it not have been more forthright to have these listed separately so that they would be recognized?

I find it disrespectful in all areas of this bill to mush everything together. I believe when we spend time in this House we want to be forthright with Canadians, we want to make sure things are clear and we want Canadians to understand the law and respect it. By introducing omnibus bills like this Canadians have less and less respect.

Again, the changes to the heading of Part V of the criminal code which are being replaced by the following and by having all of these sections fall underneath it is not representing the legislation as it truly is and is misleading to Canadians. The one thing that we can surely do is be clear with our legislation and be clear with the laws so that Canadians can respect the justice and the laws in this country.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Peter MacKay Progressive Conservative Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise and take part in this debate on behalf of the Progressive Conservative Party. I must say I have listened intently to all speakers on this bill. It has been a useful exercise to hear the various perspectives.

I think we would find almost to a person that the legislation will receive a great deal of support. However, one overriding issue in the government's decision to bring in this legislation is the fashion in which it has chosen to do so. As the previous speaker, my colleague from the New Democratic Party, indicated, this is really a cross-threaded bill. It is a bill that mixes issues that really do not belong together. Not to diminish at all the importance of this, I cite, as an example, that the only way in my mind that I can tie this bill together would be to suggest that somehow a person wrestled an unlicensed gun away from a police officer and used it to dispose of an animal in a cruel fashion.

These issues do not fit together in any semblance. Therefore, the bill should be divided and put into a more proper perspective, one Canadians would understand and appreciate in a more real way. In my submission it diminishes the importance of these individual issues to try to force them together and to force Canadians and parliamentarians to contemplate them at the same time.

The consolidation of the current criminal code with respect to the cruelty to animals provisions, which are put in place by the bill, are certainly those that are needed. They are needed to modernize the current law as it pertains to this aspect of justice. It is something that has emotional and visceral reactions from those in the private sector.

Obviously, there are concerns, which have been touched upon, that the bill might go too far in its definition of cruelty. I hope to touch on those issues with respect to a balance and the counter-arguments that have been brought forward by those in the hunting, fishing, angling and farming vocations. It may go too far in the responsibility that is attached, for example, to property owners. However, that is not to say that these issues cannot be addressed and ironed out at the committee, which is the proper and just fashion in which to do so. I say that, somewhat tongue in cheek, on the understanding that the committee will be given an opportunity to really debate and to put forward reasonable amendments that the government will be amenable to.

We know that has not been the case most recently. We saw an example of a bill, perhaps the most important bill in this session, being jammed through the committee without any discussion whatsoever or without any opportunity by opposition members to bring forward amendments. It will leave this place on a rocket. It will be pushed through with closure. While the government House leader used to stand on his desk and rail like a banshee against the prior government, he is now using these same tools, which were so offensive to him when he was in opposition, to do the same thing, only worse. The only real examination of the youth criminal justice bill will occur in the other place. It is encouraging to see that members of the reform alliance and the Bloc are so appreciative of the work that will be done in the other place and I look forward to their support.

Turning our attention to Bill C-17, the amendments to the criminal code will remove the reference to “illegitimate child” and ensure that the evidentiary protection afforded to other victims who testify at trials is also provided by some of the changes. Amendments with respect to persons with disabilities who have been victims of sexual exploitation are very important and practical changes. The Conservative Party is entirely supportive of these amendments.

With respect to the Firearms Act, the expansion of the class of recently prohibited handguns that are grandfathered and the changes to clarify the licensing requirements of employees in the firearms business are practical changes that are necessary and that arguably should have been in place in the first instance. Again, I hearken back to my earlier comments on what that has to do with cruelty to animals. What does it have to do with respect to changes to definitions in the criminal code? There is real confusion in the bill.

An omnibus bill is a hybrid that brings in several aspects of legislation that have no tie-in. What it does, in effect, is force divisions among all parties with respect to their ability to support certain issues, because there is no relation.

The cruelty to animals aspect is perhaps what is most prevalent and most controversial about the legislation. The Department of Justice reviewed provisions in 1998, and a consultation paper entitled “Crimes Against Animals” was distributed to allow groups and individuals to suggest modifications that would be required to deal effectively with cruelty to animals. No one in his or her right mind would oppose or in any way try to delay provisions that would protect harmless animals, in most instances, animals that are either in the wild or in captivity. These provisions in essence bring about a greater recognition, through the criminal code by sanctions, that this is something that society will not tolerate. This is an action that is abhorred and is certainly not acceptable.

It is, as was alluded to, something that changes the attitudes with respect to animals being deemed as property. The reasoning is of course that it is now recognized as a common symptom of a deeper mental illness. Individuals who involve themselves in cruelty to animals, as hon. members know, very often go on to involve themselves in other types of crime perpetrated against humans and property. It is seen as an escalation when a young person who is abusive to animals later goes on to commit crimes against other children and adults. There is an escalation of criminal behaviour when people start by abusing animals. There is mounting scientific evidence that verifies this link between animal abuse and, often, domestic violence and violence against other humans.

The public, the police and many interest groups have been calling for more effective federal legislation and federal law to deal with cases of animal abuse. There are numerous examples, too numerous to cite and often too heinous in their description, that verify and justify a change in the legislation.

Currently in cases such as we have seen, under the old provisions an offender could receive only six months in jail or a $2,000 fine. I would suggest that this is an inadequate response given the gravity and sometimes the symptoms and specific facts of a case. The old provisions did not truly express denunciation of and deterrence for those involving themselves with cruelty to animals. There was also a provision to have a ban on the ownership and possession of certain animals. That as well could be increased.

In this country we know there are still a lot of instances of animal fighting taking place. There are instances of animals such as racehorses and greyhounds used for racing being treated poorly in their confines.

Mr. Speaker, as a person who has followed criminal law, you well know that having legislation here sends an important message that raising the ceiling of the reaction of the criminal justice system will in fact change the attitude. It expresses the government's and the public's non-acceptance of cruelty.

The Minister of Justice has explicitly linked animal abuse to rape and to child abuse, citing U.S. studies which pointed out that those who torture animals are more likely to involve themselves in similar cruel activities. I agree with the minister. There is mounting evidence that this type of mindset has to be disavowed. Serial killers such as Jeffrey Dahmer, who brutally dismembered humans and even practised cannibalism, abused animals as a child, so again there is some suggestion that this type of mindset develops very early. Increased sentences with an increased response from the criminal justice system is something that the Progressive Conservative Party would support.

The sentencing changes, depending on the charge, are anywhere from two years' imprisonment to a maximum of five years when the crown proceeds by indictment, or six to eighteen months or a fine of not more than $2,000 when it is a summary charge. This is certainly more representative of a deterrent type of response.

Further changes also involve payment of additional costs incurred for the care and convalescence of an animal. Payment would be made to any individual or organization that cared for the animal and would include such things as veterinarian's bills and shelter. Again, this is a direct correlation between the harm done and the person who perpetrated the offence. It brings about greater accountability and greater direct responsibility and, I would suggest, is more demonstrative of condemning the action. It gives the person a greater understanding of the harm done. The same principle is behind restorative justice. It is a more personal connection between the offender and the unlawful act. These are positive steps, which our party supports.

However, we need to study the bill closely at committee so that we do not in some instances potentially criminalize farmers, hunters, trappers or fishermen engaged in their normal way of life. Presently the bill is loosely worded in some of the provisions. Some of the amendments that will be required would tighten this up and would make it more operable in a practical sense.

Under the proposed legislation farmers feel that they could be prosecuted for common practices such as branding or dehorning of cattle. Castration of cattle would be another element we will have to discuss at the committee.

Some anglers are convinced that fishermen could be charged with regard to tactics including baiting. This proposed legislation would surely be a real impediment to fishermen who need to bait hooks in order to catch fish.

The Canadian Jewish Congress has expressed worry that Bill C-17 might interfere with Jewish ritual slaughter methods.

Biomedical researchers are worried that their work might also lead to criminal prosecution.

There are instances that we have to turn our minds to. That discussion should properly take place at the committee.

Some of the groups have requested that the language in the legislation be clarified, particularly with interpretations of phrases such as these I am quoting from the bill: “unnecessary pain, suffering or injury” and “brutally or viciously” killing an animal.

They want some protection from other practices. I am quoting some examples from the correspondence that I received, such as: identification, medical treatment, spaying or neutering; provision of food or other animal products; hunting, trapping, fishing and other sporting activities conducted in accordance with the lawful rules relating to them; pest, predator or disease control; protection of persons or property; scientific research unless the risk of injury or serious physical pain is disproportionate to the benefit expected from the research; and finally, training and disciplining of an animal.

There certainly is a great deal to contemplate when we are considering this legislation. Poisoning of an animal or using a mousetrap, potentially, not to put too fine a point on it, is something we have to consider when putting provisions into a criminal code that could cause serious ramifications for an individual. It is the same sort of thing as creating any kind of new offence.

That leads me to the point with respect to changes to the Firearms Act. We know now that as of December 1 law-abiding citizens who have properly licensed themselves, who have properly licensed handguns in the past, who have been through training sessions and who have done everything in accordance with the law, would become criminals simply not by licensing a long gun. We have to be very careful when we go down the path of criminalizing ordinary citizens. That is without getting into all the other ludicrous aspects of this long gun registry, which is costing hundreds of millions of dollars and will not affect dangerous crime at all.

The existing legislation touches as well on some traditional practices of hunting, fishing and farming. Yet they do not fit into the category of mean-spirited violence. It is imperative that animal cruelty legislation be clearly designed to target only those who engage in brutal practices against animals.

The justice minister has been contemplating an amendment that would exempt farmers, hunters and animal researchers from the bill. A change is certainly needed to provide legal security for lawful practices of animal related professions.

One must consider the genuine need for clarity and progressive legislation in this area. It is careless legislation that endangers individuals and that is something that I think most Canadians find very disheartening. It is obvious that little consideration was given to the broad effect of this bill and the impact it may have on certain professions. Discouraging as well is the lack of foresight, in that this bill was brought forward in an omnibus fashion and it deals with many other issues that confuse these important issues.

The elements of the bill that touch upon disarming of a police officer have also been given a fair bit of discussion and contemplation. I would suggest that this is one aspect that is very straightforward. It is one that has the enthusiastic and overriding support of police across the country and of many groups. I know that Grant Obst, the president of the Canadian Police Association, Dave Griffen, the executive director, and supporters of the association, who were here on the Hill this past weekend participating in the police memorial service, are very enthused that the government has chosen to bring this legislation forward. It is something they have lobbied for. It is something that they feel will have an immediate impact.

It goes without saying that it is very important to give specific recognition in the criminal code with regard to a person in an agitated state trying to take a weapon from a police officer. Any time there is a firearm or a weapon involved there is the imminent chance of bodily harm; there is the imminent chance that a person could lose his or her life. If a person chooses to try to disarm a police officer, for whatever reason, there is grave danger afoot.

We know that oftentimes a police officer using a weapon is doing so in the gravest circumstances, in order to try to de-escalate or control a situation. There is grave danger and harm when a person tries to interfere with a police officer, either by taking his weapon or by interfering in the use of a weapon by a police officer.

The Progressive Conservative Party is very supportive of this particular legislation. It is something that we feel is necessary to send a strong message to the public and a strong message to those who would engage in that type of serious, dangerous conduct. Police officers themselves, I think, will receive some comfort in knowing that it is a bill that will give specific recognition to that offence in the criminal code.

If officers are deprived of their weapons or are unable to carry out arrests effectively, it very much interferes with their important work. This new section does define weapon for the purposes of subsection (1) as “any thing that is designed to be used to cause injury or death to, or to temporarily incapacitate, a person”, and would include such things as firearms, obviously, and pepper spray and batons. It is deemed a hybrid offence. It has a maximum penalty of five years imprisonment and the crown of course can elect to proceed by indictment or by summary conviction.

As I alluded to, the president of the Canadian Police Association, Grant Obst, and his organization initiated this process and have been leading the proposed movement to bring about this specific offence. They “welcome the introduction of this new law and encourage its speedy passage by parliament”. Those are very supportive sentiments. Those sentiments are shared by the Progressive Conservative Party. We will be supporting this aspect of the bill.

Although the government could certainly do more for police, particularly in the areas of funding, speedy passage of legislation as it pertains to criminal gangs and organizations, and the seizing of stolen property, I would suggest that this is an important, practical response to a need that exists, a response to a void that exists in the criminal code.

There are other amendments that I spoke of earlier with respect to the definition of child. Removing the negative and unnecessary connotations that stem from the term illegitimate child is something that I think is certainly politically correct but it is also something that is important to those individuals born out of wedlock who have carried this unfortunate moniker.

With regard to sexual exploitation of persons with a disability, adding this to the criminal code is a specific recognition in language. Again, it is something that I feel is important not only to the legal community but to those who for reasons not brought about by themselves find themselves deemed persons with disabilities who are in the court system and are faced with these types of designations. I feel that victims of sexual exploitation will receive and should receive the same evidentiary protections that are afforded to others. Again, this is a very practical and common sense amendment that takes place in the criminal code, one we are completely supportive of and embrace in this legislation.

The technical amendments for the firearms are straightforward. They deal with licensing requirements. I think the employees and businesses that deal with these regulated items are supportive of this for the most part. It is legislation that should have and could have been included in the original bill, as unpopular as that bill was. This aspect was left out. For employees who handle or could handle firearms or prohibited or restricted weapons or prohibited devices of any kind, it brings about, in the course of duty, requirements for being authorized and licensed with respect to restricted weapons. These proposed amendments set out similar licensing requirements that pertain to others who handle firearms.

Again I would suggest that although it is necessary, it is certainly an indication that the government was somewhat negligent in its initial drafting and that it is backpedalling on other aspects of the bill.

We have seen now that the government is extending the dates with respect to the fees associated with licensing. The legislation is something that will continue to be contentious and could well wind up as an election issue in the coming days or weeks when the Prime Minister and his spouse decide to pull the plug.

Overall we are supportive of most aspects of the legislation singularly. However, we are forced to deal with them jointly in the legislation because of the manner in which it has been brought forward. As I have indicated in my remarks, there are very positive and very practical elements to all of this. It is just unfortunate that the government has chosen to bring about legislation in this way and to do so in such a fashion.

One might also question the priority given to the bill. This is not to diminish the importance of any element of the legislation, but we also have important legislation that would offer tax relief and legislation aimed at bringing about or trying to fulfil a promise the government made seven and a half years ago to redraft and rework the youth criminal justice act. That simply has not come about because the government does not like to compromise.

The government does not like to work with the opposition even when there are reasonable requests and reasonable efforts made to improve government bills, or ideas that originate on the opposition side as we have seen in many instances. The government's response is usually not to embrace those ideas but to reject them in the first instance, and then in a very Janus faced fashion turn around and call them its own. We have seen that happen on many occasions. That is the Janus-like persona of the government.

We have seen it on free trade. We have seen it on the GST, privatization, helicopters, and the Pearson airport. The government said one thing in opposition. Then, lo and behold, when it was rewarded by the electorate for making these statements it crossed the floor, formed the government and reversed itself, swallowed itself whole and condemned the very ideas it purported to support when in opposition.

This is something for contemplation by the electorate, something that no doubt will be discussed and debated during the course of a campaign. Although I do not hear much hue and cry from the opposition to rush headlong to the polls, it is quite obvious that the Prime Minister feels it is to his optimum advantage at this time. Therefore, with his persona, he is very quick to use that advantage.

Canadians will have to assess whether it was necessary. They will have to assess the timing of it. They will also want to assess his record. They will want to assess what accomplishments he can point to in his government's mandate in the short time it has been here, just over three years since the last election.

The bill has provided the impetus for Canadians to hear from members of the opposition what they think of the legislation. Also it is an opportunity to talk generally about the government, its mandate, its priorities, and to assess whether those priorities are in line with those of Canadians who are suffering at this time because of problems with health care and in the education system.

My colleague from Madawaska—Restigouche talks often about student debt, individuals with seasonal employment situations who are struggling to get by and to feed their families, and individuals across the country who find themselves mired in the justice system because the wheels of justice turn so slowly.

Perhaps there will be more time on other occasions to discuss these greater issues, but at this time the Progressive Conservative Party looks forward to dealing with the bill at committee level and dealing with the other issues in a more comprehensive fashion at some time in the near future.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.


Bill Gilmour Reform Nanaimo—Alberni, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-17, an act to amend the criminal code regarding cruelty to animals, disarming a peace officer and other amendments, and technical amendments to the Firearms Act.

We have heard a number of people in various parties talk about this omnibus bill. We have had this before. The government will introduce a bill with some good points, some points that require discussion, and some points that we do not agree with. Then people have difficulty understanding what is the issue since there is such a grab bag of different subjects.

In this bill disarming a police officer is lumped in with cruelty to animals. It would be far easier if we could get a very straightforward bill dealing with one issue. We could then discuss it, deal with it and get it through the House. When it is such an omnibus bill containing a grab bag of different issues it is extremely difficult because there are some good and bad points and it is either yea or nay.

We agree with the Firearms Act refinements. We agree with the disarming of police officers issue. They are good points. The government should be commended for putting them in the bill. These are issues that people have been crying for for years to be dealt with. Police officers particularly have been wanting the legislation in place. I agree with it. However, by lumping cruelty to animals into the bill the waters get muddy because there are no clear definitions.

We hope we can get the bill into committee where we can discuss it. Most of us agree that cruelty to animals is simply not on. We have read the stories of the puppy mills. We have heard of 50 or 100 cats being in one house. Obviously we disagree with that. I have seen horses and cows in some barns where they are slowly growing up to the roof because the manure gets two and three feet high and people do not clean the barns. We clearly do not want to put up with that.

The difficulty occurs when it gets into ordinary agriculture practices like branding, dehorning and hunting. The definitions in the bill have to be laid out specifically for hunters and fishermen. What about aquaculture? The legislation is so loose that we need to step forward in committee to bring forth some clear and solid definitions. We need some tight legislation that lays it all out. Let me take trapping, for example. Leghold traps were banned. We have humane trapping. Perhaps that is in the bill; perhaps it is not. We need to have that cleared up.

When people abuse animals is it the start of a chain of events? Do they start by kicking a dog? Five years later are they kicking a person? Fifteen years later are they kicking their wives? Psychologists say this progression exists. We need to look at it. If cruelty to animals is the beginning of a long chain of events, it has to be stopped.

We have talked many times about wording in legislation. Often the government will leave it very loose. This is extremely dangerous because we are leaving our laws open to interpretation by the courts. We have an option as parliamentarians. We can leave it loose to be interpreted by the courts, or we can tighten it up and say what we mean. In that way we as the elected people in the House would say the way it should be. We are the elected officials. We should deal with the legislation, make it concise and make it tight so there is not a lot of room for the judicial system and it knows exactly what parliament means.

That is what we need. The bill is fuzzy in terms of agriculture. What is abuse? What is cruelty? What is a regular practice? Unless it is clearly defined we will leave it up to the courts again.

This is not where we want to be. This is not where the Canadian public wants to be. They want parliament to run the country, not push it off to the judiciary.

In closing, we agree with a number of parts of the bill such as the firearms aspects, but there are a number of concerns in the cruelty to animals area we wish to discuss. We would like to get the bill into committee, call witnesses, hear from the experts, see how tight is the legislation, and deal with it at that time.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.


Dale Johnston Reform Wetaskiwin, AB

Mr. Speaker, I listened to my colleague speak about the cruelty to animals aspect of the legislation. Certainly I agree with his assessment that those who inflict cruelty on innocent, defenceless animals should be dealt with.

However, I am wondering about the definition of what causes pain and suffering. Would my colleague like to comment on the concern I hear from people in the agricultural community I represent that common practices with livestock, such as dehorning and castration of bulls and branding for identification, may be construed as cruelty to a defenceless animal?

In order to carry out these operations on farm animals, we have to restrain them in such a way that the operation can be done and the brand is readable. In the part of the country I come from the hot iron brand is still very much a legal way of identifying our livestock. It is the one permanent method that works. Ear tags and such things are ways of identifying cattle as well, but even the application of an ear tag on an animal may be construed as cruelty to animals under the bill. I am extremely concerned about that and would like to voice the concerns of constituents that have talked with me in this regard. Would my colleague like to comment?

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.


Bill Gilmour Reform Nanaimo—Alberni, BC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague has had representation from people in his riding. I suspect most members in the House have heard the same representations as well as different concerns about different aspects.

My colleague made an excellent point. This matter has to be dealt with in committee. We need to hear from the agricultural groups. Different representations need to be made.

What happened in the past? Let us look at the Inuit. Let us look at what we have done to their livelihood by the change in the fur industry. It changed a whole way of life. If we act in a knee-jerk fashion in terms of this legislation, if we act without knowing the full impact of the legislation, we can change the lives of our agriculture people.

I agree with my colleague that we have to get the experts and all worker groups together. If a common practice for farmers sounds nice to people living in Toronto or Vancouver, we may want to have a second look at it since people in the cities tend not to understand what goes on in rural areas. A knee-jerk reaction may end up doing great harm to the hunting, farming, trapping and fishing.

I cannot stress more that the bill has to go to committee to be well analyzed. Experts will appear before the committee to describe the ramifications of the different parts of the bill.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.


Ken Epp Reform Elk Island, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to stand in the House of Commons to speak to Bill C-17. I echo some of the comments made by previous speakers who decry the system of having an omnibus bill that covers a whole bunch of things. It always reminds me of being offered a bowl of pudding that has a little gravel in it. It is nice eating the pudding, but when one chews on a piece of gravel it hurts.

There are a number of things in Bill C-17 that quite obviously need substantial change, substantial improvement. In the end, as is the process in this parliament and by this Liberal government, we will have the task of voting yes or no on a bill containing a number of things. It will then be thrown back at us in a very negative way, because we voted against the bill for a completely different reason.

With an election coming up, one cannot help but think the worst twist will be put on some of the things people do in the House in order to try to discredit them. That is very unfortunate. The Canadian public, the people who vote for us, should certainly have the right to know about these issues and should know our stand on them. We should not have accusations thrown at us. If I vote against the bill for such-and-such a reason, it is not fair of my critics to turn around and say “Well, here is a person who voted against this” and then name one of the really good things in the bill.

For example, I do not think one should normally be opposed to provisions that prevent a peace officer from having his firearm taken from him or her. If, in doing his or her job in maintaining the peace, a policeman or policewoman gets into a scuffle with and is disarmed by an individual who is committing an offensive act, the particular individual should be eligible for a charge of disarming a police officer. Yet if I vote against the bill because of other offensive clauses then in the next election campaign probably one of my critics will say the RCMP should not vote for those guys because they do not support their keeping their firearms. That really clouds the issue and unfortunately does not serve the Canadian public well. Nor does it serve parliament well.

I wish that we could have a greater clarity, or at least that the government would have some openness to accepting some amendments to fix things up. It is our party's intention to propose a number of amendments to the bill in order to correct some of the anomalies in it.

By the way, speaking of firearms and officers being deprived of them, I wonder whether the federal government would be guilty of a crime if the bill is passed. The bill says it will be unlawful to separate a police officer from the weapon the police officer has in order to do his or her job of protecting the peace and maybe arresting a person. It just so happens that the attorney general's department is already disarming these people.

It happens that very close to my riding, just about a mile or so outside the boundary of my riding, is a federal institution, the Edmonton institution. I have had some representation from people who work as guards at the Edmonton institution. They are being disarmed while they take dangerous offenders out on day parole. They are not permitted to take their arms with them while they are trying to protect the public from harm by a dangerous offender. The offence an ordinary citizen could be found guilty of with this law, which we support, is an offence that is already being committed by the attorney general's department in our maximum security prisons. That is just not acceptable. We would all agree that our peace officers should be allowed to use arms in their work, especially if they are trying to control a convicted offender who is dangerous to the public. To say that somehow the public safety is increased by disarming the police officer just does not make sense to me at all. The bill does not address that question. I am just using it as an example.

In the bill there is a very great curiosity with respect to cruelty to animals. There are already provisions with respect to wilful cruelty to animals, but the bill proposes to move the section that covers cruelty to animals to the same section of the criminal code that deals with sexual offences, public morals and disorderly conduct.

It just so happens that nowadays sexual offences, public morals, and disorderly conduct are areas in which, statistically speaking, it is easier to make charges stick than it is in some of the other areas. There is a concern that by just having this in this section perhaps Canadians who are charged under these offences would have greater difficulty defending against unfair charges.

The objective in our justice system should be, but I am not sure that it is under this government, to make sure that those who are in fact guilty of a crime are so found and that an adequate deterrent punishment is meted out to them. If a person is not guilty of the crime with which he or she is charged, if our justice system is working correctly the charges should be dropped or the person should be found not guilty. Hopefully that person could go on with his or her life, having established his or her innocence. That would be the objective in an ideal world.

We all know that in the give and take in a court trial sometimes the truth is actually somewhat muddied in order to make a point as, I might venture to say, is sometimes done in the House.

It is interesting that a word is being taken out, a very important word. Words are so important in giving definitions. In the old code one would be guilty if one wilfully caused cruelty to animals. The word wilfully is being withdrawn. That raises many questions that we need to have answers to.

It is one thing for an Archie Bunker type of guy to come into the house and kick his dog as he opens the door. That is wilful. However, what happens if he walks in and does not see the dog and accidentally hits it? Is he still charged with having kicked the dog? No longer was it wilful according to the act, but he did kick the dog. That is true. He cannot say truthfully “No, I did not kick the dog”, but the fact of the matter is, he did not see the dog so it was an accident. I know that should be a valid defence and hopefully it would be kicked out. The fact of the matter is that with the word wilful having been removed all of that is put into doubt.

I do not think we should go down that road. It is a dangerous road because it makes it more difficult for an innocent person to defend himself or herself against a charge for an act that in fact was accidental.

It is interesting also that other definitions are changed in subtle ways. It used to be that persons could be held responsible if they owned an animal or if they had charge of it, as in when they were transporting it. It seems to me that according to the bill it could apply now to any animal at all that crossed a person's path.

I had a very interesting occurrence in my riding earlier this spring. I was driving along a major highway and there was a big truck behind me. It was not a semi; I think it was probably a farm truck. As I was driving along, lo and behold I saw ahead of me a mother duck with six or eight of her little ducklings start to cross the road. I faced a real dilemma right there, because I am one who would not in any way wilfully harm any animal. Of course these little ducklings were so cute besides. It is always difficult when one looks at a mother and her little children. I faced a dilemma. Do I jam on the brakes and risk having the truck run into the back of me, or do I just carry on and run over this mother duck and her little ducklings?

The story has a happy ending. I was able to slow down. I flashed my lights so that the truck behind me had fair warning. I gauged it so that I would not slow down so rapidly that the truck behind me had no capability of stopping before he was into my back end. I just judged it as well as I could and slowed down as much as I could, giving the trucker as much warning and as much distance as possible. Fortunately mother duck, seeing us bearing down on her and her family—

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

An hon. member

Mother Goose.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.


Ken Epp Reform Elk Island, AB

No, it was mother duck. She said to her children “We had better wiggle our tails and get out of here”. With that they put it in hypergear and away they went. I was able to move over to the shoulder to give them a little space. The truck behind me did not have to do that. All their little lives were spared.

That of course is the object. What we are dealing with in the criminal code is people who do not have a built-in care and compassion for life, whether it is animal life or human life. That is what the criminal code is about. If all of us cared about each other, we would not need the criminal code. We would not need a codification of what happens if a person beats someone up, if someone is brutally assaulted or killed. We would not need those codes because people would not do it. Obviously the purpose of the law is to restrain those who do not have that built-in moral code and who would act on their own accord wilfully against other forms of life.

I will digress for a second. One of the definitions is that an animal is, according to these amendments, to be defined as a vertebrate or any animal that can feel pain. I guess we have a bit of a question there. One of the things I remember doing when I was a youngster is going fishing with my dad. I do not do it any more now. I do not have any time and I have lost interest in it. Many people either make their livelihood by fishing or do sport fishing.

I remember when I was a youngster we went down to a little lake south of the place where we lived. Every once in a while my dad would reward us for working hard on the farm. He would say “Tomorrow we will take a day off and go fishing”. The first thing we did was go out to the garden and dig up some worms. I remember it well. The object was to have a little pail of live worms in dirt, and off we went to the lake.

I hope you do not mind my relating this story, Madam Speaker. It is rather gruesome.

When we got to the lake, we put those poor little live worms on the hook. We impaled them on the hook. I do now know whether the poor little worms are animals capable of feeling pain. I did not hear any of them scream, but I have never heard a worm scream in any case. I do remember that the tail wiggled when we impaled the head end on the hook so maybe there was a response to pain. We know that a worm is not a vertebrate, but it is an animal that can probably feel pain. According to the definitions in the bill, the question is, should a person who goes fishing be charged with cruelty to earthworms?

Speaking of earthworms, I remember that when I was a biology student in high school and university we dissected worms and frogs. We all did that. It is part of learning how the physiology works. We took them apart to see their different parts and to learn about the different bodily functions. We all know that medical students do this extensively in order to become good at what they are to do, which is to help us when we have an illness or injury.

Is that a cruelty? I can imagine some people saying it is pretty cruel to anesthetize a frog into oblivion so that it can be used as a research tool. Let us go one step further. How about the animals that are used in live research? Monkeys are used to duplicate some of the illnesses that befall human beings to see whether various treatments work on them. Rats and guinea pigs are used, as are other animals. Is that cruel or is it not?

Certainly we do not support being wilfully cruel to an animal, but to use an animal for legitimate scientific and medical research surely cannot be wrong. It is an advantage to us in the human realm. By taking out the word wilfully we have opened up a large question. Even with the word wilfully one could have argued that perhaps this was cruelty but now it makes it worse. We should not be getting into the area of making it more difficult for people to do legitimate scientific research even though there are arguments to be made for treating these animals very humanely, as humanely as possible. I agree with that because it is not always humane.

When I see the phrase that the animal is one that can perceive pain, I am reluctant to give this example, but I think I must. We have that very sad case in Canada that a human is not considered a human until it is fully born. One really needs to ask whether in late term abortions of human beings, that unborn human, one minute before it is naturally born, is capable of perceiving pain. In my opinion, there is no cover in our criminal code against that criminal offence any longer. That is perhaps an error that is of considerable consequence.

Madam Speaker, you have given me the signal that my time is up. I am certainly not finished talking about this topic. There are many other areas to discuss but I close by appealing to the Liberal government to change the way it works in committees. I appeal to the government to give careful thought to and actually assent to the amendments we will be bringing forward to correct some of these anomalies. Doing that would make the legislative process work so much better on behalf of Canadians.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.


Dale Johnston Reform Wetaskiwin, AB

Madam Speaker, I was very interested in my neighbour's speech. Our constituencies share a boundary so I know that his constituents and background are somewhat similar to mine.

I was very interested to hear him say that the words wilful and wilfully have been removed from the bill. Anyone who wilfully inflicts pain or suffering on animals, whether it is wilful or whether it is through negligence, should suffer some sort of punishment because they ought to know better.

I listened to other members today who talked about the possibility that those who abuse animals and treat them badly are also likely to be the sort of people who abuse and treat human beings badly. I agree. I think there is a correlation between the two. I also think that wilful neglect, damage, or even neglect because a person did not know any better, should be penalized.

I would like my colleague to expound on how he feels about livestock producers who fail to adequately care for and feed their livestock and therefore cause them to emaciate and die of starvation. I would like him to comment on another practice. Where he and I come from rodeos are a big thing in the summertime. Does the use of animals in a rodeo constitute neglect or wilful harm?

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.


Ken Epp Reform Elk Island, AB

Madam Speaker, my colleague raises a number of important questions.

Certainly I would concur with him 100% that if a person wilfully causes discomfort and pain to an animal just for the sake of causing the pain, it is very serious. I would suggest that the person needs not only punishment from our criminal justice system but we should also arrange for that person to get psychological and perhaps even psychiatric help. There is something wrong with a person who gets his or her jollies by inflicting pain on an animal or another human being. There is a deep psychological problem there.

With respect to what I call the normal use of animals, and I am talking about farmers and, to a certain degree, animals that are used in entertainment, in circuses and rodeos and so on, I do not think the animals in those contests endure any greater pain than do our athletes in the Olympics in most instances. They run, jump, kick and do whatever they have to do.

Having grown up on a farm, I have seen horses without a rider engage in races. They love doing it, especially the little colts. Many of us have seen that. They will take off and run to the other fence to see which one can get there first, just like kids do. There is nothing wrong with our getting enjoyment out of that, certainly within the context of humane treatment.

A number of years ago I spoke to one of my friends who owned a very large pork operation. He owned little piglets. The building had several wings; it was like a hospital or a factory. There was a breeding section and a maternity section. The little guys moved through the different wings in the building, down to the end where they came to the finishing wing, after which they were hauled into the truck and taken off to market.

One critic said it was a cruel way to treat those animals. He responded by saying “These animals are treated better than a lot of humans. I give them total care. Their house has air conditioning, mine does not. It has temperature and humidity controls. They have balanced and very healthy diets. If they have an illness, at great expense to myself, I have a veterinarian on call 24 hours a day who gives them better care than does the health care system in Saskatchewan”.

We need to remember that this is part of the food cycle. It has always been thus. I do not think we can turn it around. Certainly, as my friend does we can provide for those animals, treat them humanely, and cause them absolutely no unnecessary suffering. It was the first time ever that I had actually seen a guy pet his little pigs. He took good care of them. As I say, it is part of the reality, and from thence comes the bacon to go with our eggs.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.


Gurmant Grewal Reform Surrey Central, BC

Madam Speaker, the hon. member for Elk Island is a veteran member of the House. He has given a very interesting speech with very interesting answers to the questions, but a question still remains in my mind. I would like him to clarify.

How do we define cruelty? It is a relative term. For some people some things are not cruel whereas for others they are. There are cattle farmers whose livelihood depends upon killing animals for meat and other purposes. There are other activities such as sports, the circus or rodeo, which are simply for the sake of fun but which cause pain, suffering and injury to animals.

How would the member define cruelty? Would he agree that it is a relative term and that it is not defined in the bill at all?

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.


Ken Epp Reform Elk Island, AB

Madam Speaker, again it is a question that is almost impossible to answer. What is cruelty?

I am not into this at all but I understand there are some people who experience pleasure in pain. There are special names for them, sadists and masochists. The line between pain and pleasure is really blurred there. Like I said, I am not into that at all but I can see where there would be a pretty lively debate on whether or not something is painful.

I grew up on a farm in Saskatchewan. Dad used to get us up early in the morning. When the sun came up, he would say “The Lord put the sun in the sky as a light for us to work. It would be a shame for us to waste it”. We got up early in the morning and worked until late at night. We were hot and sweaty and had chaff all over us. Someone who has never worked under those conditions just does not value a shower at all. There is nothing compared to the pleasure of a shower at the end of a day like that.

In a way it was painful. It was hard work. Sometimes we hurt at the end of the day from the physical exertion we had put out. Nowadays there is a lot more mechanization in farming. It was painful, yet it was pleasurable.

Of course the courts are going to have to rule on whether something is cruel to animals. As I said before, I have actually only been to a few rodeos in my life. The only one I wonder about is the calf roping. Sometimes it looks like they get jerked pretty good, yet I have never ever seen one having to be taken off in a truck. They always survive. They seem to be built for it.

My own opinion would be that most rodeos and circuses are well within the bounds of treating animals humanely. That is my own opinion. We need to keep it all in balance. As I said before, in all cases wilfully causing an animal pain is not permitted.

Just in passing, one more example is the training of animals, whether it be dogs or horses. Anyone who has ever done this knows it is done by a combination of reward and punishment. A small amount of pain is inflicted on the little dog who does his doody-doo where he is not supposed to do his doody-doo. Eventually he learns and becomes a trained dog, and we like him. As long as he does his thing all over the house, we do not like him. We all experience a bit of pain in that regard.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.


Dale Johnston Reform Wetaskiwin, AB

Madam Speaker, as usual, my colleague from Elk Island has been very insightful and rather entertaining. I expected when he was telling us about coming down the road and seeing the mother duck that he could actually hear her say to her little ones “duck”, but I guess he left that part out.

The other day I was driving home in broad daylight on a country road that was not very wide. There was some extremely tall grass in the ditch. A deer jumped out of the ditch and I collided with it. It was totally an accident. I am sure I inflicted some pain and suffering on that deer. I am also convinced that the deer inflicted some pain and suffering on me, because I had to repair the automobile afterwards. I had to do it quickly before my wife inflicted pain and suffering on me, because it was her car.

I am looking at the bill and I am wondering if I might be guilty of inflicting pain. If someone had come along they would have seen me strike that deer. I frankly did not see the deer leave, because it rode up over the front end of my wife's car and landed behind the back door. By the time I got the vehicle stopped and got out of the car, the deer had vanished. Although I was not going very fast, it does take a few seconds to get the car stopped. I was not able to assess whether it limped away or whether it bounded off, but I am quite sure that at 60 kilometres an hour, which was about the speed I was travelling, striking a deer with a car that weighs 4,000 pounds would certainly inflict some harm on it and some pain, maybe even break some bones. I do not know.

Under the bill, would I be guilty of inflicting pain on that animal? That is one of the reasons it is so important that we keep the words wilful or wilfully in the bill.

There are many other aspects to the bill. It also deals with the disarming of a police officer and technical amendments to the Firearms Act. I frankly do not have any argument with that. I think that the disarming of a police officer, if it has not been in the code all these years as a specific crime, certainly should have been. We have to give our police officers the tools to do their job. We must respect our police officers for the job they do. Anyone who attacks a police officer should suffer the full wrath of the law. I am also talking about trying to disarm the police officer, take away his firearm.

I have no problem with the technical amendments to the Firearms Act. They seem fairly reasoned and commonsensical. On the other hand, other aspects of the bill lack that elusive quality of common sense.

Coming from a farming community, I see all sorts of things. Normally our livestock producers take the very best care of their livestock. It is in their best interest to do so because this is their livelihood. This is their living. Occasionally we hear reports on the radio or on the television stating that in such-and-such an area several head of cattle, hogs or whatever had to be humanely disposed of because they were in such a bad state of emaciation from lack of feed or they had been hauled in a truck that was so cold they had frozen spots on their carcasses. That is an offence that absolutely should be punished. There is no rationale whatsoever for causing undue suffering to defenceless animals.

Therefore I am making the case that wilful negligence should be taken into consideration, whether it is inflicting wilful suffering and pain or whether it is done through lack of knowledge or lack of attention. If someone knew or should have known those conditions would bring suffering and pain to an animal, livestock, pet, cat, dog or whatever, it would be very difficult for them to defend their position in a court of law. Those individuals should in all instances be found guilty of cruelty to animals.

I mentioned earlier agriculture and rodeos. I certainly do not support blood sports such as dog fighting, rooster fighting, or bear baiting, the old idea of putting a bear in the ring to kill dogs or turning dogs on the bear simply to entertain people who watch the fight. None of that makes any sense to me whatsoever.

We have to differentiate that from a common practice in the agricultural industry that is absolutely necessary. Farmers do not neuter their bull calves simply because they want to inflict pain and suffering on them. They do it for a very practical reason, which is that the animals fatten better and it makes them more docile. It also plays a large role in the genetics of the cattle herd. Farmers select the bulls they want to add to the gene pool of their livestock and simply neuter all the ones that do not measure up to a certain standard. That is a common practice, as is the practice of hot iron branding of cattle for identification purposes.

I know of one instance where a friend of mine who is a cattle buyer bought a load of cattle or two. He was marshalling them at a custom feedlot. He continued to buy cattle until he had a certain number and then find a buyer. He also put together orders for people who had asked him to pick out a certain amount of a certain type of cattle.

Unbeknownst to him, this feedlot was suffering from real economic stress. One day he went there and found the sheriff had actually seized the feedlot and all of the contents therein, including the cattle my friend had bought. I do not know whether my friend had a premonition or what, but he had undergone the old western practice of putting a brand on these cattle before he put them into the feedlot. When the sheriff asked, “How can you prove you actually have cattle in here that belong to you?” He said “They have my brand on them”. The sheriff released his cattle to him immediately. Cattle could be identified perhaps with a tattoo and it might stand up, but an ear tag would not.

While we are talking about tattoos and ear tags, do they inflict pain and suffering on the livestock? If they do, would putting an ear tag or a tattoo in the ear of an animal, which is a very common practice for purebred animals, inflict pain and suffering and make one guilty of a crime under this act? Those are all questions we have to ask.

I would like to see the bill go to committee. I would like to see it amended to reflect some of the common sense and some of the practices that are common and have been acceptable for hundreds of years.

At every auction market in the country and at every rodeo there are representatives from the humane society who are there to supervise. Those people would be great witnesses before the committee because they have seen what is acceptable and what is not. They have a very good idea of an acceptable practice and a practice that would constitute cruelty.

I would like to see all the amendments we have put forward adopted by the committee. They would answer some of the concerns of farmers, hunters, agricultural groups, those in the fur trade, people in the rodeo and the circus business, and others.

Every year the Calgary Stampede takes place. There is usually a protest following or during the stampede that says the roping of cattle is unnecessary cruelty and all the rest of it. There is a long way between the catching of a calf at the end of a lariat rope and cock fighting. Cock fighting is a brutal sport in which two roosters fight until one of them is dead. To me that is a senseless and cruel sport that has no place in modern society. I agree with those people who oppose it.

Wilful neglect is certainly deserving of harsh punishment. It is absolutely unacceptable. From an agricultural point of view it just does not make any economic sense not to take care of livestock. Neglect of farm animals, where they are not properly fed or not properly bedded, is not only against the law and should be against the law but is also a very stupid economic move. If one is with the condition that one does not have the feed or the bedding to properly look after livestock, then they should be sold. There is a ready market for any livestock and they should be sold to someone who will take care of them.

Still in the livestock and farming vein, there is one clause of the bill I would like to quote from. It says anyone who “kills an animal or, being the owner, permits an animal to be killed, brutally or viciously”. I wonder what brutally or viciously killing means. Does it mean if one shoots them it is brutal and vicious and if one tickles them to death it is okay? I do not understand that at all.

If one kills a human being, is it brutal and vicious? I think so. Gophers, which are properly known as the Richardson's ground squirrel, dig up meadows and generally cause havoc with the turf. One could shoot them with a .22 or, worse yet, use a leghold trap. As we kids used to do in school days at recess, one could go out and drown them by pouring water down their holes. Perhaps we were guilty of cruel and unusual punishment with those poor little ground squirrels, but are those things all considered to be “brutally or viciously” killing the animals?

The bill goes on to say that anyone who “kills an animal, or being the owner, permits the animal to be killed, brutally or viciously, regardless of whether the animal dies immediately”, is guilty of a criminal offence. My concern is that I own livestock. The whole purpose of the livestock is to create protein, meat, for customers. To do that, since we have yet to discover a way to eat animals alive, animals have to be killed in some way.

Even if the animal dies immediately, we are guilty of a criminal offence, and even though we did not do it. I guess we hire professional hit men to kill our steers so we are still guilty of consulting with and getting somebody else to carry out our foul deeds. Even though the animal dies immediately, we are guilty of a criminal offence.

I shudder to think of how many times I have been guilty of that, because we have sent literally thousands of animals to the slaughterhouse. The animals die immediately, I think. I am not sure, but I am pretty sure that they do. They are immobilized, the butcher opens the carotid veins in the neck, the animal is bled and dies almost immediately. As soon as the carotid arteries are opened the blood pressure goes to zero and the animal is for all intents and purposes dead immediately.

However, that does not matter. I am still guilty under this legislation. That is a terrible deficiency in the bill. I hope that the committee will move to amend this or to remove any ambiguity in this area so that the person who raises chickens for a living will be able to have the chickens killed and processed. We had chicken for lunch today. I wonder how that got here. It got here because somebody killed the chicken, I hope not brutally or viciously, and I hope immediately. I hope somebody did not have to go to jail because we had chicken for lunch.

That is the kind of common sense I am talking about, which is absent in the bill and which is absolutely vital to the bill. We cannot stand to have this kind of ambiguity. We must have more clarity. The bill as it is now will cause a tremendous amount of anxiety in the agricultural community. It has already, in my opinion.

While the bill is not in the form that I would like to see, I want it to be on the record that I am a pet owner and a livestock producer and I pride myself on taking good care of my livestock. My animals are well fed, with good access to a good water supply. In cold weather I keep them bedded. We give them the very best obstetrics we can if they have difficulty calving; we do everything we can to assist them, including giving them Caesarean operations if need be, to save the life of one or the other and sometimes both.

As far as our pets are concerned, we have a little white Maltese dog that we keep in the house. She is our pride and joy. Our children grew up and left and we needed something to mother, so we got a puppy. I would not do anything whatsoever to make life uncomfortable for that little dog. Frankly, anyone who would is an abuser and should be dealt with as an abuser, whether he does it through neglect or wilful harm. I want to be extremely clear about that.

I support the idea that animals have a purpose in our lives. Pets have a different purpose than farm animals, obviously, but a lot of pets on the farm are also working pets, like stock dogs. We have had stock dogs on our farm that were an absolutely essential part of our operation and saved us many steps.

While I am not pleased with the bill in its present form, I am prepared to give it tentative support to get it into committee in the hope that it will be amended to reflect the common sense suggestions I have put forward today.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

1:35 p.m.


Darrel Stinson Reform Okanagan—Shuswap, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to commend the hon. member for his speech. He addressed many concerns that many of us feel and that many of us of us have heard about from a number of organizations.

There are a couple of questions I would like to ask the hon. member.

I have concerns about how far this is going to go. We know that we use mice and rats in experiments in regard to health issues. Should that be looked at with regard to this bill? That is of some concern to me.

Also of great concern to me is the fact that there are two parts to this bill, one with regard to cruelty to animals and the other with regard to the disarming of a peace officer. Why would the government bring in legislation that mixes those two together? That has created a lot of concern. If someone were to disagree with part of the bill, the opportunity is there for somebody else to say that they disagreed with the legislation on the penalty for disarming a peace officer. It worries me. I do not know if we can call it cagey or crafty that a government would try to introduce a bill that has to do with cruelty to animals and throw the disarming of peace officers into the same piece of legislation. I can see no sense in this.

Could the hon. member address this as to whether or not he has heard any of these same concerns?

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

1:35 p.m.


Dale Johnston Reform Wetaskiwin, AB

Mr. Speaker, I welcome the questions from my colleague from Okanagan—Shuswap.

It would be my hope that the use of medical or laboratory animals would be an acceptable practice, provided of course that they are treated humanely in the course of the experiment. We all know that because of laboratory animals there have been huge advancements in medical science. I would think that the benefits would vastly outweigh the fact that these animals have to undergo experiments. Would I support having that covered and clarified in the bill? Absolutely I would. I think it would be of the utmost importance.

The second question my colleague asked is why there is this omnibus sort of bill, why they are mixing apples and oranges. It is not my place to impugn motives to the government, but if I were the suspicious type I would say that perhaps it has been done this way in order to set a bit of a minefield for the opposition, such that if the opposition finds something insupportable in the act and votes against it, all of the above simply become fine points. What will be kept on the record on the government side is that a certain party or a certain individual did not support strengthening the cruelty to animals act.

Of course, that is all speculation. Everyone knows very well that I am not one who would impugn motives to any person or any party in the House.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

1:40 p.m.


Dave Chatters Reform Athabasca, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is unfortunate that we are having this debate this afternoon without the participation of the government side because I would dearly love to put some of my questions to government members. Unfortunately we cannot do that because they do not seem to be responding.

This discussion we are having on what constitutes cruelty to animals is very curious. I cannot help thinking that given the government's access to the best legal minds in the country, the government could, if it wished, solve some of what appear to be inconsistencies in the bill.

Certainly one of the inconsistencies I note is that even under the existing act we seem to be wilfully participating in acts of cruelty to animals. We have heard of a number of instances. I think rodeos were mentioned. I can think of many more. A number that I have witnessed come to mind. For example, traditionally, for hundreds of years, in Atlantic Canada we have prepared lobsters by dumping them in a pot of boiling water. That seems to me, in my prairie vision, to have some degree of cruelty.

I have also witnessed a religious process of slaughtering animals that has existed in this world since biblical times and before. In my view, it certainly constituted wilful cruelty to that animal.

Yet under the existing act, these things are never prosecuted. There never seems to be a willingness to prosecute. The only thing I can see that the original act contained was a necessity of criminal intent, which protected those groups or those people participating in these things. That criminal intent is removed in this new act, which in my view lays open to prosecution all of those groups that participate in these things we talked about. I would like the member to respond to that comment, if he would, please.