Madam Speaker, I think it is important that I rise today to speak to Bill C-17. First I will talk a bit about what the bill includes. It is one of those omnibus bills which includes things that should never be grouped together. I encourage the government to decouple the issues in the bill so that we are dealing with like issues only in one particular piece of legislation instead of such wide ranging issues.
In the bill we have issues ranging from cruelty to animals to disarming a police officer, to a whole group of miscellaneous issues including those under the Firearms Act. They are completely unrelated.
When many of us came here in 1993, particularly those of us in the Reform Party which is now the Canadian Alliance, we expressed concern, and we have expressed it many times since, about omnibus bills and the need for decoupling unrelated issues so that we could have debate on the particular issues before the House and could vote on a bill without having to vote against a bill because we could not support one part of it when there may be other sections that we fully support.
The government uses this tactic. The intent is to make it difficult for opposition members to vote against a bill because parts of it are difficult to vote against. This tactic is not reasonable for the government to use. I request that it break the bill down into three or more bills so that we could deal with it in a reasonable fashion and have debate on related issues. The most important part is that we could vote on issues that are at least in some way related. Unfortunately that is not the case with this piece of legislation.
When we look at Bill C-17 it is hard to disagree with its stated intent, the main part of the bill, cruelty to animals. How many people would not support a piece of legislation which in a reasonable fashion protects animals against abuse? I do not think we would find one member of any political party in the House who would not support that. That is not the issue when we are dealing with this bill.
There are some areas of concern in the legislation. One part of the bill is the disarming of a police officer. I think we would find very wide support in the House for that portion of it. With some changes I think we would find that almost everyone in the House would support that portion of the bill. I cannot speak for everyone else, but that is what I have heard from the debate so far and from speaking to some people from other parties regarding the legislation. I think there is pretty wide support for that part of the bill.
There is an issue in the miscellaneous section which I think has been overlooked and to which we must pay attention and speak on today. I am referring to the issue of once again having the government expropriate property from Canadian citizens with no compensation. There is a section in the bill which does exactly that. It will expropriate property and cause people to destroy property so that it is worthless, with no compensation.
That stems from a deep rooted problem in the country that Canadians do not have the right to own property. There is nothing in the constitution that says Canadian citizens have a right to own property. It is an issue to which we have spoken many times since we have been here. I think it is an important issue to raise again.
It is all wrong. It is part of what is wrong with the species at risk act. In that piece of legislation property can be expropriated from citizens. The use of property could be denied. There may or may not be any compensation, but certainly the minister has made clear that under that piece of legislation there is no guarantee of fair market value compensation. It has been made very clear that there just will not be fair market value compensation.
In the species at risk act the problem arises from the fact that we do not have the right to own property enshrined in the constitution. It comes to the forefront. That is a big part of the problem in that piece of legislation, as it is in this one. I certainly cannot support that part of the legislation. I just do not believe it is proper for a government to expropriate property from individuals without fair market value compensation. That is exactly what would be done in the miscellaneous section of Bill C-17.
We have heard a Bloc member of parliament speak to the disarming of a police officer to some extent. Others will speak and have spoken to that issue, but I want to focus on the part of the bill that deals with protecting against animal cruelty. It is very clear that probably there is not one member in the House who would not agree that we want to protect animals against abuse.
Many of us have pets. I am in Ottawa almost half the year. When I came here in 1993 my family replaced me with a miniature schnauzer named Lady. My family figured it was a pretty good deal, which kind of concerns me. The Liberals think it is a pretty good deal too. She is just such a sweet little dog, sometimes. Our family loves her dearly.
Many people have pets they feel that kind of attachment to. Who would not want legislation to protect against abuse of our pets and of animals we feel are very important to us. That is not the issue.
The issue is that in this piece of legislation there are flaws which have led to a concern expressed by hunters, anglers, farmers and ranchers in particular. I will refer to legal opinions which people from all these groups have obtained from their lawyers on this issue. They are concerned that as the legislation is written now it could harm farmers, ranchers, hunters and anglers in their activities. I will refer to that real concern.
Before I read from the first letter which mainly concerns farm animals, I would like to talk about the care farmers and ranchers take with their animals.
I have had neighbours on the farm who have complained that their wife or husband, the person who looks after the animals, cares more for the animals than they do for their spouse. That is kind of a farm joke. At calving time farmers are out there watching to make sure their animals give birth safely. They are out there in the middle of the night checking to make sure that calves are not lost, frozen or harmed in some way.
Farmers and ranchers take good care of their animals. Of course that is how they earn their living and there is a monetary reward for doing a good job, but also it is just because they care for their animals. They genuinely care for their animals.
I must express concern when we have a piece of legislation that seems to ignore that fact and does not seem to recognize that a vast majority of farmers and ranchers do an absolutely wonderful job. The last thing they would want to do is to inflict any kind of pain on their animals or to allow pain to be inflicted on them. Yet farmers and ranchers once again have to defend themselves against a piece of legislation put forth by the government. Bill C-17 could interfere in the way they look after their animals. That is a concern.
I am going to read from some documents. The first is from the county of Vermilion River No. 24. That county is very close to where I live in east central Alberta. The area has a very large number of cattle and other farm animals. Enough farmers and others have talked to the councillors about this legislation that they have taken the time to write to the minister about this issue. I was at meetings with the council on a couple of occasions where this issue was brought to my attention. I brought it to the attention of our caucus and members of other parties as well.
I am going to read the short letter from the county of Vermilion River to explain where it is coming from on this issue. It reads: “The County of Vermilion River No. 24 Agriculture Service Board recently reviewed the proposed changes to Bill C-17, under section 182 animal cruelty provisions. The Agriculture Service Board understands that the intent of the changes of Bill C-17 is not to alter the animal care practices currently being used by livestock producers throughout Canada. Presently livestock producers operate lawfully under a vast array of federal and provincial laws, regulations and voluntary codes of conduct. The County of Vermilion River No. 24 Agriculture Service Board does not condone the mistreatment of animals. However, the current wording of C-17 could put livestock producers involved in legitimate and lawful livestock production at serious risk of criminal prosecution. The County of Vermilion River No. 24 Agriculture Service Board would ask that amendments be made to Bill C-17 which would ensure the protection of law-abiding livestock producers from unfair criminal prosecution. The livelihoods of Canadian livestock producers are at stake”.
The letter is signed by the reeve of the county, Peter Green. He also includes a legal opinion on Bill C-17, particularly dealing with the livestock cruelty provisions. It is an overview of their concerns. The briefing document, which includes comments from the legal opinion, was sent to the Minister of Justice.
The risks of the bill are listed. It states “leaving aside the government's best intentions, if Bill C-17 is left as it is”, and therefore they acknowledge that the government has the best of intentions in this regard. They believe that, as do I. Leaving that aside, they said they have concerns about the risk to farmers, hunters, anglers and other people.
Farmers risk criminal prosecution for such common practices as dehorning, beak and tail trimming, castrating and hot iron branding given in the wording of 182.1(1)(a).
Meat plants which engage in religious slaughter risk criminal prosecution for not stunning livestock prior to killing, according to the wording. The second concern is slaughter for religious purposes and the process that must be followed to respect those religious beliefs. They have a real concern about those not being upheld as a result of the bill.
Biomedical researchers in food, cosmetics, medicine and chemicals risk criminal prosecution from procedures which result in any pain or suffering according to the bill.
Anglers risk criminal prosecution for even putting a worm on the hook as a result of the changes in the bill.
Hunters risk criminal prosecution for wounding or using a bow. Likewise trappers risk criminal prosecution for using live holding traps as a result of the legislation.
Those are the risks listed in the legal opinion. It is a long list. Practices which are considered to be perfectly normal could be altered and could be forced to be set aside as a result of the legislation. I do not think that is the intent the government had.
I am asking the government to look at these concerns and to fix the legislation. We will be more than co-operative in that regard. These concerns have been sent to the minister. We sent proposals to the minister. Several people have sent proposals to us which have also been sent to the minister. We do not want to make a political issue out of this. We want it fixed. That is why I am taking this very co-operative approach.
I do not want to go through all the other concerns that are listed. I believe that the concerns of farmers and ranchers certainly in our part of the country as expressed are legitimate. I think they have accurately identified real problems with the way the legislation is written. The legislation has to be either set aside or amended so that the hardship that could be forced on ranchers, farmers, hunters, fishermen and other people can be taken into account.
That is the letter from the county of Vermilion River. I will not read through all of these documents, but I want to read portions of a letter and a background document including a legal opinion sent to me by the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters. This is not just a western Canadian problem; it is a problem right across the country. Farmers farm and ranchers ranch right across the country, but people also like to hunt, fish and take part in other activities which have been generally considered to be acceptable.
I think a lot of Liberals would find those activities to be acceptable. If they do not, then they should state that. They should say no, they do not agree that people should be allowed to hunt. They should say no, they do not agree that people should be allowed to trap. They should say no, they do not believe that farmers should be allowed to do things with their animals which they normally have done in the interests of good animal husbandry. If they do not believe that, they should come out and say it. If they do not believe it is right for certain religious groups to kill livestock in a way that is laid out by the religion of those groups, then they should come out and say that.
If it is not the Liberals' intention to interfere in normally accepted processes, then they should say, “Okay. We have made a mistake. We have a bad piece of legislation here, so let us fix it up”. That is all I am asking.
I really do not think this should become a political ball that we throw back and forth. There should be co-operation on this issue. There is certainly co-operation from me and members of my caucus. I think members of the governing party will show the same kind of co-operation in this case. This issue is not one which would favour one political party over another. We are trying to protect the very people who could be harmed by the legislation should it pass.
I want to refer briefly to a couple of the things the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters put forth in its letter. The letter states in part: “Make no mistake, an outspoken national animal rights organization has labelled Bill C-17 revolutionary and as such, Canada is poised to elevate the interests of animals in the law. The justice department officials themselves have recently made remarkable claims that the current law recognizes animals' interests. Let us repeat some of our major concerns on C-17”. There are three concerns listed in the letter. “There is absolutely no need to move cruelty and care provisions from part XI to part V of the criminal code”. I agree. It is important to note that moving those from part XI to part V gives animals a status that somewhat equates to people. I do not think that is generally accepted by Canadians.
Madam Speaker, I see you are indicating that my time is up. In summary, my family and I love our little dog Lady, and many times when we watch her play and interact with us we wonder just what she does know, but we do not believe that she equates to a human.
I have a concern when a piece of legislation appears to somehow equate a pet or other animal to a human. I agree with so many groups that have written to me saying that we must change that, put it back to the way it was. Let us work in a co-operative way to fix this legislation.