Mr. Speaker, I agree with the member opposite that this is an extremely important issue to all Canadians. The cruelty which is visited upon animals, in a vicious, neglectful or willful way, is unacceptable to Canadians and the legislation deals with that demand.
The effect of Motion No. 1, as the member opposite said, would be to do away with the bill altogether. That is simply unacceptable.
After consulting with the public in 1998 on the current cruelty provisions in the criminal code and by virtue of receiving petitions with over 10,000 signatures and about 100 letters a week being sent to the Minister of Justice, it is absolutely clear to the government that the vast majority of Canadians want the anti-cruelty laws to be modernized and strengthened. That was the evidence before us in committee right across the board, whether it was people representing the agricultural industry, hunting and fishing interests, medical research or the general public.
This is extremely important legislation. People want to see people who act viciously toward animals dealt with strongly. I must say that some of the strongest testimony came from members of the agricultural industry, an industry that is one of the backbones of our economy, our culture and our society. They are the people who are closest to animals in many ways in our society and they know best that the humane treatment of animals is immensely important.
The bill is an important matter of public policy. It is a strong part of government policy and it will go forward as far as the government is concerned.
Looking at Motion No. 4, the effect of the motion would be to substitute the word “experience” for “feel” in the sense of experiencing pain rather than feeling pain, talking within the definition of animal. The word “experience” when used as a verb, as is proposed in the motion, is capable of several meanings. The Oxford dictionary defines experience as: meet with, feel, undergo, learn or find. That could lead to confusion in the interpretation of the legislation. Of course, many of those meanings have no relation to what we are talking about or focusing on in the legislation.
The word “feel”, however, is defined in terms of being conscious of a sensation, that is, the ability to feel pain. It establishes that the animal must have the capacity to sense pain. Mere physical reflex in the absence of a developed nervous system of course is not enough. I would urge the House not to approve that motion.
Motion No. 5 presents a major problem for the government. It would result in fewer protections being offered to animals than is currently the case. The reference to contravention of industry standards introduces a notion into criminal law which is unprecedented, that is, that standards set by industry would determine whether or not a person was liable for cruelty offences under the criminal law.
The Supreme Court of Canada in the Jorgensen case made it very clear that approval by a provincial body as a matter of law cannot preclude the prosecution of a charge under the criminal code.
There is also a very good chance that such an amendment would ultimately be ruled to violate the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms on the basis that the law was so lacking in precision that it did not provide sufficient guidance for legal debate as to the scope of prohibited conduct. The law must be sufficiently clear so that Canadians know that they are at risk of being prosecuted if they commit a particular act.
The reference to industry standards is important. It raises a number of questions. Would those standards have to be passed by a provincial legislature? If not, would voluntary codes of conduct be an industry standard? Would industry standards that were not well publicized still be relevant under the section? Who would determine what was a relevant industry standard?
Reference to industry standards in the heading of the offence relating to intentional cruelty offences would suggest that industry standards, which condone certain activity, would excuse that activity.
In that regard, it is interesting to note that the activities listed in paragraphs (e), (f), (g) and (h) are prohibited outright. The wording of the motion suggests that what is intended is to have industry rather than the criminal courts determine what is legal and not legal in the country.
In that sense, simply the reference to “industry standards” would not have any true relevance to many of the offences listed.
That being said, an amendment in committee does, specifically for the purposes of greater clarity, refer to the applicability of section 8(3) of the criminal code, which applies all of the common law defences to offences under the code and under this section by specific reference.
In terms of the common law defences that are available currently under the law, the bill when passed will not remove any defences that are now available.
Further, the use of the word “negligent” in section 8 makes it clear, in the sense of the criminal meaning of negligence, that the activity to be criminalized under this section would have to significantly depart from the ordinary standards.
That is a high standard to meet for a criminal charge. It makes it clear that things that are lawful now as ordinary parts of business practice, agricultural practice, hunting and fishing, and medical research, will continue to be protected as they are now.
Motion No. 6 is an important recognition of the value of police dogs to the police services generally. The new offence created by the motion would extend application of the offence provisions to law enforcement animals, whether or not they are actively engaged in law enforcement at the time the offence is committed. This is important. It could be a horse or a dog but that great expense, time and care has been put into the training of this animal. Of course, that would be an immensely valuable tool, as well as a very expensive one to replicate.
The offence provision, as redrafted, makes it clear that the law enforcement animals are being protected because of the risk they face on a daily basis in the course of assisting peace officers and public officers. This small amendment to this section that was amended in committee makes it clear that there is a discretion in the sentencing judge as to whether the costs of replacing the animal should be part of the sentence. It may be that the person has no ability to meet that provision and therefore it should not be a mandatory requirement.
When I look at Motion No. 7, the government recognizes the extremely valuable services provided by animals that assist persons with disabilities. However, the motion should be resisted because it undermines the general policy of the animal cruelty provisions: that all animals deserve the same protections under law.
The law enforcement animal provision is a clear exception to this general rule but it is rationalized on the basis that these animals are at risk on a daily basis because of the nature of their work in assisting those involved in law enforcement. The amendment could create uncertainty in the law, the one reflecting animals assisting persons with disabilities, because the disability is not defined.
If distinctions between animals are made on the basis of their utility to humans, it can be argued that there is no policy basis for not creating specific offences for each type of animal that is a working animal of some sort.
I will briefly mention Motion No. 8. I urge all members to resist the motion. It would create specific provisions relating to the conduct of trials in animal cruelty cases. It is not clear, in the face of provisions in the Canada Evidence Act relating to the receipt of evidence by experts, as well as well developed case law in this area, why it is necessary to create a specific provision for judges in animal cruelty cases.
It should be noted as a general principle that it is crown counsel, rather than the judge, who calls evidence in support of the prosecution and the defence. It is the defence, rather than the judge, who calls evidence in support of the defence.
The motion would potentially create uncertainty in the law. It is unclear whether it would replace existing statutory provisions and powers of common law for the court to oversee the conduct of trials and the reception of expert and other evidence.
An amendment of this nature would have cost implications for the provinces and territories.
It would be irresponsible to agree to a motion of this nature without consultation and without an examination of the larger implications of such a provision.