Mr. Speaker, for the benefit of people who are listening, I am pleased, once again, to make a summary of the context of Bill C-15, which the government has called an omnibus bill.
As I said earlier in jest, I compared this omnibus bill to a bus bill carrying an unlimited number of passengers. The government has included in this bill all the amendments it could think of, that is to say amendments to the criminal code.
What makes the situation awkward is that we find in the same bill amendments creating new offenses to provide protection to children from sexual exploitation, including sexual exploitation involving use of the Internet. The bill also increases the maximum penalty for criminal harassment; it makes home invasion an aggravating circumstance for sentencing purposes and it creates an offence of disarming, or attempting to disarm, a peace officer.
The bill also contains a whole part that increases sentences for offenses involving cruelty against animals. This is where we have a problem.
The bill contains a whole part we support. All members who spoke on the bill, members of the opposition, said they were eager to have this bill quickly passed and implemented.
We agree with offences relating to sexual exploitation of children, the increase of the maximum penalty for criminal harassment, making home invasion an aggravating circumstance and the new offence of disarming a peace officer.
As far as the increase in penalties for cruelty to animals is concerned, this is a situation that is hard to introduce into a single bill. It creates difficulties for an MP like myself, from the riding of Argenteuil--Papineau--Mirabel, the only federal riding between two metropolitan communities, Montreal to the east and the Outaouais region to the west. It is the only riding where the land is considered 50% agricultural and 50% forest, lakes and mountains.
We can therefore consider ourselves as part of the food basket for Greater Montreal and also for the Outaouais, while also being part of their playground.
Obviously, everything that could affect farmers and the work they do affects me directly. As for Bill C-15, given the increased penalties for cruelty to animals, I will reread a change to the designation of the term “animal”, which is “...a vertebrate, other than a human being, and any other animal that has the capacity to feel pain”.
Obviously, any vertebrate that has the capacity to feel pain leads us to think that anyone involved in animal husbandry may be liable to be charged under the criminal code under new clause 182 and those that follow, and even sentenced to up to five years in prison.
There are still many broad discussions required on this. What we are telling the government is that this is not over, that the discussions have not been completed as far as cruelty to animals and the penalties for it are concerned.
In this connection, I refer to where the text states that everyone commits an offence who “without lawful excuse, kills an animal” or “without lawful excuse, poisons an animal, places poison in such a position that it may easily be consumed by an animal”.
As far as agriculture is concerned, one thinks of rodents and so on, but the words that are the most striking are “without lawful excuse”, because there is no definition. The only words used are without lawful excuse.
This led to confusion. The Fédération des producteurs de lait du Québec, the Ontario Farm Federation and the Fédération des producteurs de volailles du Québec have all expressed strong opposition and want much greater clarity in the definition of the word animal and in the definition of the meaning of without lawful excuse.
The pressing problems must be resolved in the short term. We can never say it enough, the matter of child pornography must be regulated quickly. In the same bill, the government introduced the matter of cruelty to animals, which the various stakeholders from the agricultural community have not finished discussing.
I mentioned earlier that 50% of my riding is forest, mountains and lakes. It therefore is a playground for some people. The hunting and fishing associations, the people who operate the wildlife preserve in keeping with all the regulations and laws, with the necessary permits, all may be afraid as of today to enjoy their sport and fear being accused of a criminal offence if the fish or game is not killed immediately and suffers a bit.
On behalf of the farmers in the riding of Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, hunting and fishing associations, owners of hunting dogs and a very popular activity covering part of the riding, we are asking the question. All we want is to support the bill in connection with child pornography, an increase in the number of criminal offences in cases of criminal harassment and the creation of a new penalty for those who disarm peace officers in the course of their duty. We agree with this part of the bill.
We want the section of the bill dealing with cruelty to animals withdrawn from the bill and referred to various committees for discussion and expansion. That way the farmers of the riding of Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, Quebec and Canada will not be penalized and neither will hunters and fishers who enjoy their favourite sport within the law and with the necessary permits.
Farmers should not be penalized by a bill that would threaten the way they earn their livelihood, just as hunters and fishers should not be penalized for practicing their sport.
These days, my riding is all the more affected because the Mirabel airport is located on its territory. That airport was built right in the middle of an agricultural area. As we know, this was the largest expropriation, the largest displacement of people, second only to the terrible events that took place in Acadia.
This was a huge federal operation. We still do not have what was promised back then, when the project to build Mirabel airport in an agricultural zone was being implemented. The government had promised to build highways, to build highway 13, highway 50 and a bullet train that would travel to the airport terminal. In 2001, more than 30 years later, highways 13 and 50 have yet to be completed, and we are still without a high speed train, even though there is an airport terminal.
With any bill, any proposal from the federal government, people in my riding of Argenteuil--Papineau--Mirabel are all the more concerned when they are told: “Do not worry. This is not a problem. All those who practice their sport or who have a farming operation will not be affected by this bill”.
Again, we cannot trust the government when we read the text, the definitions and the explanations on what may be deemed to be cruelty to animals. Let me repeat the definition of the word animal:
—a vertebrate, other than a human being, and any other animal that has the capacity to feel pain.
This means that a farmer, a hunter or a fisher is likely to think that if he does not immediately kill the product of his work or the target of his sport, if there is any kind of suffering for any reason whatsoever, he could be accused of having committed a criminal act. This makes us all the more eager to ask questions.
We should ensure that this whole portion of the bill concerning cruelty to animals is referred to committee so that those who earn their living honorably by farming, those who enjoy sports and who respect the laws, hunters, fishers and owners of hunting dogs, can practise their sport and indulge in their hobby or do their work without being constantly harassed by a neighbour or anyone else who might accuse them for who knows what reason of a criminal act.
I am rereading this section of the bill where it says that a person could be charged with a criminal offence if he:
c) kills an animal without lawful excuse;
No definition of “lawful excuse” is given.
d) without lawful excuse, poisons an animal, places poison in such a position that it may easily be consumed by an animal--
I repeat, there are vermin and things for which many solutions are available in the interests of greater cleanliness and an improved quality of life.
What I, my colleagues in the Bloc Quebecois, and all members who have introduced bills and made speeches in the House are requesting is that the government split its bill, because an omnibus bill is a bill into which, I am joking, but that is how it looks, just about everything can be thrown, with no restrictions. That is why I described this bill as a catch-all bill or bus. At least we know how many passengers a bus can carry but, with an omnibus bill, there can be a series of amendments. When it is passed, it is passed in its entirety, and no part can be left out.
When government officials make recommendations, it is very difficult later on to make even a single change. Very important talks are taking place between the major bodies which speak for farmers throughout Quebec and Canada, and between the major associations representing hunters, fishers and owners of hunting dogs, those who use our forests, the wildlife on our lands, for recreational purposes, who show respect for their sport, comply with the rules and have the necessary licences. These people who earn their living from the land and use it for recreation have serious questions about this bill.
It would not be unthinkable for the government to decide, for once, to agree with the opposition and quickly pass and I cannot stress this enough, all of the amendments relative to the protection of children against sexual exploitation, criminal harassment, amendments regarding the disarming of a peace officer or increasing the sentencing for perpetrators of home invasions. We are ready and willing to pass this part of the bill very quickly, so that people will feel better protected.
As for the rest, for those provisions dealing with the implications of cruelty to animals, all of the definitions, protection for those who are involved in certain sports and who make an honest living, in order to spare them being punished by a bill that we passed in haste, we ask that the bill be split. We are still waiting to hear why the whole cruelty to animals issue is included in the same bill as protecting children from sexual exploitation. This is an aberration. It is allowed, because it is an omnibus bill, as it is called.
If there is one duty we owe to ourselves as parliamentarians in this House, it is to make sure that bills are clear, so that citizens not be left in doubt when it comes to issues such as the protection of children and cruelty to animals.