Madam Speaker, I rise on behalf of the people of Surrey Central to speak at second reading of Bill C-17, the government's proposed changes to the criminal code and Firearms Act.
This is a non-partisan issue. I have only heard Canadian Alliance members one after the other address the issue. Not a single member from the government stood to address this important issue. Perhaps they are not concerned about it and that is the way it is.
In any event the bill has three parts. The bill will first of all make it a criminal offence for anyone to disarm or attempt to disarm a peace officer without that officer's consent. Our nation's police associations have been calling for this. We in the official opposition commend the government whenever it listens to Canadians, which of course is a very rare event. In this case we in the Canadian Alliance are proud to support Canada's front line police officers. We will support this part of the bill and will work with the government to have it passed into law.
The second part of Bill C-17 amends the Firearms Act by expanding the class of prohibited handguns that are grandfathered and modifies the employee licensing requirements. The refinements to the Firearms Act are pure and simple tinkering. They are only cosmetic changes.
The Canadian Alliance calls for a complete overhaul of the Firearms Act. We support the two amendments to the Firearms Act. However, if the government really wants to fix the Firearms Act, it will have to implement the over 200 amendments proposed by this side of the House at report stage and implement all of the amendments proposed by the standing committee on justice.
The third part of Bill C-17 is the Liberal government's proposed amendments to the criminal code, which will consolidate cruelty to animal offences. The Canadian Alliance is anxious to support measures that will protect animals in Canada. We Canadians love our animals, be they wildlife, pets, or birds, all of the little creatures that get cold and hungry in our winters.
In Surrey we have squirrels, alley cats, groundhogs, coyotes and birds in our neighbourhoods, co-existing with us. They make us and our children laugh. They tear at our hearts on a rainy day. We all feel sad, very badly indeed, whenever we hear about an innocent animal harmed by a human being. If it is an unintentional harm to an animal, we share the sadness felt by the person who caused the hurt to the creature, for that person feels very bad as well.
When a person is cruel to an animal, that person invites the wrath of the House and of all the powers we have in this place to come to the aid, the defence and the protection of our brethren in the animal kingdom.
On behalf of the people of Surrey Central, I am proud to participate in this debate to pass the part of this legislation that will fight cruelty to animals.
The weak Liberal government is proposing to place brutality to an animal, viciously killing an animal and abandoning an animal in one section of our criminal code. This bill proposes to no longer treat cruelty to animals as a property crime. The new provision will 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 part XI of the criminal code. These sections protect a person from being convicted of an offence if that person acts with the legal justification of excuse or colour of right.
Agricultural groups, anglers, hunters' groups and the Fur Council of Canada oppose moving the offence. These groups fear that by moving the cruelty section to sexual offences, they may be wrongly prosecuted. They argue that those who lawfully and legitimately harvest animals for businesses will not be protected if the cruelty section is changed.
The Canadian Alliance will be moving an amendment at committee stage to have animal cruelty provisions maintained in part V or to make the necessary changes to the criminal code to comply with the concerns of farmers, hunters, anglers, agricultural groups, the fur trade and others who harvest animals.
The Minister of Justice contends that individuals who conduct an agricultural business or one involved with animals are not affected by this legislation. The Liberals say that if one is not violating the criminal code as it currently reads in conducting their agriculture business, Bill C-17 does not change the way they conduct their business, whereas agricultural groups, the anglers, the hunters' federation and the Fur Council of Canada do not agree. They do not buy that.
Canadians are mistrustful of the Liberal government that has delivered so many broken promises such as the GST. A government is not judged by the promises it makes. Rather, a government is judged by the promises it keeps.
These Canadians, these fur traders, farmers and hunters, feel the bill goes much further than reflecting society's disgust with those who would abuse pets. They feel that this legislation is the precursor to further attempts to alter the way they currently operate their respective businesses. These three groups of Canadians have raised legitimate concerns about the impact the bill could have on their operations now and in the future.
I did my first degree, a B.Sc. in agriculture, with honours in animal sciences. From that point of view, I can understand their concerns. There is no reason why the Liberals cannot accommodate the interests of the stakeholders and the industry affected by the legislation. Why not?
The government should say what it means in its legislation. Canadians cannot accept that words in a media scrum or in regulations will take care of things. I have gone through a copy of the bill. It is only a few pages long but the regulations after the bill come as a big pile of papers. It is the regulations that control the intent of the bill. Sometimes the intent of the bill is different.
Canadians want clarity. Because these groups are concerned, the government should spell out for them in its legislation exactly what the government means.
Let me talk about penalties described in the bill. The bill raises the penalty for intentional cruelty to an animal from the current six months to five years. Also, the bill will lift the cap off the fine, which is currently $2,000. There is potential for a lifetime ban from owning an animal. Those found guilty of cruelty to animals would be forced to pay for veterinarian services to treat the animal. The bill acknowledges that animals have feelings and are deserving of legal protection from negligence or abuse. We hope that the new maximum five year penalty will be imposed. As in other instances, the minister has failed to put teeth in our law and propose minimum penalties. Hopefully the Canadian Alliance can have the Liberals fix this matter at the committee stage of the bill's progress through the House.
There is more work for the government to do. Like so many of their attempts to legislate, this is only half a job. They are botching the job. We want to support this legislation and at the same time we want it to be right. It is a good thing that we are here to hold the flashlight for this weak Liberal government that lacks vision.
The terms mentioned in the bill are not defined. The government, in one bill, is mixing various issues that do not have much correlation. The bill is like mixing apples and oranges. The bill is half cooked. It is like a bitter medicine mixed with a little sugar.
We will propose amendments during the committee stage that will attempt to clarify and bring consensus to the bill.