Madam Speaker, I am pleased to be able to engage in this debate today on Bill C-17.
I have some real concerns about the bill and what the bill is proposing to do in a number of areas. Of course it has been said time and time again that it is an omnibus bill and it covers a lot of territory. I have also heard a number of people express the opinion that the intent of the bill is honourable and that they support the intent of the bill. However, in the seven years I have been in the House and been an elected member, I have become perhaps somewhat cynical about the intentions or the motives behind some of these things.
It seems to me if the government were serious about dealing with some of the issues in the bill, it would have certainly separated out the issues and brought them forth in individual bills. Many of them could have proceeded through the House without controversy and probably have been supported by all parties. Instead, the government lumps it all together with issues that are very controversial and others that are not as controversial, and what we get is a bill such as this one, which in my opinion is absolutely full of holes.
I am suspect of the government's motives on the issue. For example, the government expresses great concern about dealing with the sadistic perverts who would impose horrendous cruelty on animals. Yet this same government that is so offended by the possibility that people do that. They do that, and I find it extremely offensive, along with probably everybody else. It is the same Liberal government that gave somebody something like a $15,000 Canada Council grant to produce a piece of art with dead bunnies hanging on it to display in our National Gallery. Does that not fit with this concern for the welfare of animals and the needless cruelty to animals? One immediately becomes suspect of the intention of the bill.
Even regarding the clause in the bill on toughening up the penalty for disarming a police officer, one thinks that is a good idea. We could support that idea, but when we look at history, disarming a police officer has for some time been a criminal offence. The government in its wisdom thought the penalty needed to be greater for disarming a police officer. Instead of imposing the law that exists by imposing upon the courts a minimum sentence of three years, which is the current maximum sentence, apparently, and forcing the courts to treat it as a more serious offence, the government introduces a bill that places a maximum penalty of five years for disarming a police officer. Rarely, if ever, do the courts impose a maximum sentence on anybody for any offence, and it is very unlikely that the courts will impose the maximum sentence.
What did the government achieve by raising the penalty from three years to five years and making it a maximum penalty? I do not think it has achieved anything except some political rhetoric and some smoke and mirrors to convince the public that it is concerned with the offence and to respond to the police association's call for stiffer penalties. If it were really serious, it simply would have imposed a minimum sentence of three or five years for that offence, but it did not. I am suspect of the government's motives in terms of this bill.
If we go to the other clause of the bill concerning firearms regulations and the cosmetic changes being made there, again I become suspect, simply because the regulations that accompanied Bill C-68, which never came through the House, never saw the light of public debate in the House of Commons, are far more onerous than the changes that are part of the legislation being introduced to the House. I ask myself what motivated the government to bring this in as legislation rather than simply changing the regulations around Bill C-68 and solving whatever the problem was that it intended to solve.
I become suspect of the government's motives in introducing an omnibus bill. Certainly I see all kinds of loopholes that could and probably will at some point be in the courts dealing with the legislation.
I see some real conflict in a couple of places with the provincial wildlife act. The bill specifically includes the practice of baiting as a criminal offence. In many provinces in Canada, including my own, the practice of bear baiting both in the spring and in the fall is a common practice and one that is legal under the provincial wildlife act. Now the bill is in conflict with the provincial legislation and no doubt will take precedence over the legislation.
Another clause that in my opinion contravenes the provincial wildlife act is the clause dealing with subparagraph 446(1)(c) of the criminal code, which says:
being the owner or the person having the custody or control of a domestic animal or a bird or an animal or a bird wild by nature that is in captivity, abandons it in distress or wilfully neglects or fails to provide suitable and adequate food, water, shelter and care for it;
In my province of Alberta, under the wildlife act it is against the law to keep a wild animal in captivity, injured or otherwise, and to provide food for that animal. That is an offence under provincial law. I know that because I am married to a woman with a heart as big as all outdoors when it comes to animals. On occasion she receives from many people wild animals that have been injured and hurt. Her heart goes out to them and she spends a great deal of time and care nursing them back to health, trying to help them regain strength to go back into the wild. On more than one occasion provincial wildlife officers have threatened to prosecute her for doing that, because that is not a legal practice. Bill C-17 is in direct conflict with the provincial wildlife act.
As I was listening to members making their speeches and reading the bill, something came to my mind about the definition of the animal the bill is in fact meant to protect, animal meaning a vertebrate other than a human being and any other animal that has the capacity to feel pain. It struck me that it is just a matter of time until the pro-life movement looks at that clause.
It has been determined by the courts on more than one occasion that a fetus or an unborn baby is in fact not a human. It is something else, something other than human. I would argue that it would be pretty hard to say that a fetus is not a vertebrate. Certainly the practice of aborting that fetus could be considered cruelty to that animal and that issue could be taken to court.
I am sure most of us realize a raging debate is ongoing in the country now about the practice of abortion and whether or not the fetus feels pain from that process. People are saying precautions should be taken to mitigate that pain. The bill would lay open anybody performing an abortion to prosecution. That seems to me a serious loophole and certainly beyond, I am sure, what the government intended to do with the bill.
Moving on to the whole clause on cruelty to animals, we have heard over and over again of some real problems, loopholes and concerns among a number of groups. Having been in the business of animal husbandry all my life, it concerns me. I cannot believe that the government, with the resources at its disposal, the best legal minds in the country, could not draft a bill that would be able to prosecute to the fullest extent of the law those who would wilfully and criminally be cruel to animals and at the same time would provide wording that would protect livestock producers, trappers, and harvesters of animals.
The existing act says no one shall wilfully be cruel to animals. I suggest probably everybody in the House at one time or another wilfully did something that caused pain or was cruel to an animal, a vertebrate. We have heard discussions all day about the various ways in which that is done. Unfortunately in my years of raising livestock I have on many occasions had to wilfully inflict pain upon my animals in the business I was in. I took no pleasure from that. In fact it was very difficult and heart-wrenching sometimes to have to do some of the things that have to be done when one is in the business of raising livestock, but it is a necessary part of that business.
We heard discussion about baiting a mousetrap and catching a mouse in one's house, cabin, barn, or wherever. I defy anybody who has ever seen a mouse caught in a trap to say that animal does not suffer and that is not cruel. I raised this point earlier today in questions and answers. I defy anybody in the House to tell me that taking a live lobster and dropping it into a pot of boiling water does not cause pain and is not cruel. We could go on and on and on.
We heard a number of members raise the concern of the religious and cultural communities that since biblical times have engaged in the practice of ritual slaughter of animals. It is quite common. I have seen it performed, and I can certainly assure everyone that no one could deny it inflicts pain and cruelty on that animal. We have not prosecuted, and I hope it is not the government's intention to prosecute, those people who do those things. It has not been the practice of courts nor law enforcement officers to enforce the letter of the law when it comes to that.
This generally goes back to one phrase, the phrase that protects people who wilfully and knowingly inflict pain: that they did not have criminal intent. Removal of that clause no longer requires there to be criminal intent to be prosecuted and is extremely dangerous. It lays open to prosecution anybody who engages in any of those activities that I mentioned. I cannot believe that the lawyers involved in the drafting of the bill could not have achieved the intent without laying open to prosecution legitimate livestock producers and everyday, average citizens in the course of their lives. The bill is extremely offensive and dangerous.
The inconsistencies in the bill blow me away. I cannot, for the life of me, figure out why cruelty to animals would have been put in the sexual offences section of the criminal code. Why would we put it there? That does not make any sense to me. What connection is there between cruelty to animals and sexual offences? It is as incomprehensible as throwing the disarming of a police officer into a bill designed to prevent cruelty to animals.
It would have made more sense to me, having had a number of representations over the last year and a half, for the government to have provided an extraordinary penalty in the cruelty to animals legislation for someone who would deliberately and wilfully kill a police dog in the line of duty. It would make much more sense to me to have an extraordinary penalty put in the legislation to deal with the killing of a police dog than the disarming of the police dog's master. It does not fit there and it does not belong there.
The bill is very confusing. I hope we will have adequate opportunity in committee to get answers to those questions. The debate has been going on all day in the House and the government has not been responding to any of our questions and has not provided any insight into the intent of any particular clause.
There is another area that I want to raise. We have heard a lot of discussion today about the rural-urban split. That is where the bill runs into trouble because urban people do not understand the raising and slaughter of livestock for food and all the rest of it. I am not sure the rural-urban split really applies here nearly as much as what we have been led to believe simply because the concept of being cruel to animals is not restricted to people on the farm. Certainly people in the city engage in activities that are just as liable for prosecuted as people raising livestock.
The animal rights movement has been working for some years to portray animals as something other than what we, in the livestock industry, would consider them to be.
I read an article recently about the need for a bill of rights for primates and how that would protect the rights of primates. We then get into the rights of animals, how distasteful it is to raise animals in confinement, how they should be running free and all the rest of it.
I understand that perhaps urban people would not understand what that is all about but we have a Hollywood version of animals. My grandson and I recently watched a movie about a pig raised on a farm. The pig's father was sent off to the slaughterhouse to be slaughtered and become bacon on the table. The poor family was left behind and the young pig had to take responsibility for his family. It was terrible, sad and it went on and on. Needless to say, the young pig eventually rescued his father from the slaughterhouse and saved the day.
The whole concept of seeing animals in that context is ludicrous. Some years ago I saw a movie with Chevy Chase where he tied his dog to the bumper and dragged it until it was no more. That was supposed to be a comedy.
I see I have run out of time so I will save the rest of my remarks for another day.