Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to take part in the debate on the Canadian Alliance motion, a motion we will, moreover, be supporting.
Before I begin my few comments I will congratulate, if I may, my colleague for Châteauguay who has, right from the start of the debate on Bill C-15B, or its prior incarnation, done an admirable job on a very complicated issue. He has always listened with an open mind to the various interests, often contradictory, and has succeeded in adopting a balanced position.
As we know, in public policy, a balance is sought between the various stakeholders and their interests. The very sensible and very balanced middle of the road position of the Bloc Quebecois is a result not only of the painstaking efforts but of the willingness to listen of the hon. member for Châteauguay, and I must congratulate him.
The prorogation of the House and the Speech from the Throne brought one thing home: this government has never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity. This government has never really had the knack of using what was there to use in order to reach optimum solutions. I will explain.
What a missed opportunity. What a great opportunity missed to go back to the drawing board, start over. A missed opportunity, particularly in this case, to take into consideration the questions, the concerns and the objections raised in order to start again, to chew it over and digest again, in order to come up with a bill that better balanced all the issues and all the concerns it raises.
What does Bill C-15B represent? Principally, four amendments to the Criminal Code. First, to create a new section, part V.1 of the Criminal Code, dedicated exclusively and solely to the protection of animals and to cruelty toward animals.
Second, it increases the penalties for animal cruelty offences.
Third, it amends the Firearms Act in order to bring its administrative procedures up to date.
Fourth, it also amends the Firearms Act to give more powers to the commissioner of firearms, resulting in decreased powers for the chief firearms officer, who reports to the Government of Quebec.
The intention behind this bill is a laudable one. The government acted in response to a well orchestrated and well-justified campaign. Thousands were calling for more effective legislation with respect to animal cruelty and for cruelty to animals to be punished.
Since the beginning, the Bloc Quebecois has supported several elements of the bill, particularly the first point that I was mentioning, the creation of a new part in the Criminal Code, which would see the transfer of provisions about animals from part XI of the code, acts in respect of property, to a new part V.1 of the Criminal Code, which would deal solely with animals, and increase related penalties.
However, the Bloc Quebecois can no longer support the bill, because it does not protect the legitimate activities of breeders, farmers, hunters and researchers.
The spirit of the reform is, of course, to protect animals. It would have been imuch better to specify certain elements in the legislation, so as to reassure the animal, farming, medical and sports industry regarding any risk of frivolous prosecution.
The Bloc Quebecois was in favour of the bill in principle, if it could have been amended to reflect the means of defence currently laid out in part XI of the Criminal Code.
That is why the Bloc Quebecois—courtesy of the member for Châteauguay—asked that the means of defence in article 429 of the Criminal Code be added explicitly to new part V.1 of the Criminal Code.
The Bloc Quebecois is also opposed to the bill because it would remove a number of powers and responsibilities from the chief firearms officer, who currently reports to the Government of Quebec. Essentially, the Bloc Quebecois is against the bill because it provides for no specific protection for legitimate activities carried out in the animal industry, hunting and research and because it removes enforcement powers from the Firearms Act that are currently held by the Government of Quebec.
Bill C-15B consolidates current Criminal Code provisions regarding cruelty to animals and includes some new elements. Given that animals are currently considered as property instead of human beings, the penalties and possible recourses are essentially minimal. Lenient sentences, as we know, encourage repeat offences.
We support increased protection for animals, but on the condition that the legitimate livestock, sporting and research activities are protected, which is not the case with the current Bill C-15.
The definition of animal in the bill, as “a vertebrate, other than a human being, and any other animal that has the capacity to feel pain”, is too broad. That is what section 182.1 of the Criminal Code provides, in the new part V.1.
This another example of change, besides moving animals out of the property section, which shows how animals will be viewed in the Criminal Code from now on, that is as creatures capable of feeling pain.
Hence the concerns of stakeholders in the animal industry. Could a farmer who deliberately poisons a rat—a vertebrate—be convicted under section 182.1 of the Criminal Code and be liable to the maximum sentence of five years in prison? The bill does not specify either what is meant by “kills an animal without lawful excuse” in paragraph 182.2(1)( c ). Is a hunter who “kills an animal without lawful excuse” also liable to a sentence of five years in prison?
Similarly, Bill C-15B could cause problems, particularly for breeders and the entire sport hunting industry in Quebec, as well as for medical and scientific researchers.
A better balance between these two opposing interests should definitely have been struck, which Bill C-15B as it stands does not do. The Bloc Quebecois also fears that there may be unjustified legal proceedings, which will create significant costs for the industries mentioned earlier, that is the animal industry, sport hunting, and research.
Another problem with Bill C-15B is that adding a new section to the Criminal Code will have the effect of moving animals to a section of their own, without transferring the defences available under section 429 of the Criminal Code, in the property section. The fact that the means of defence are not included in the new part V.1 will result in those who legitimately and legally kill animals or cause them pain being deprived of the protection currently afforded them under section 429 of the Criminal Code. Such a provision would ensure lawful justification, excuse or colour of right.
Although Bill C-15B contains provision for lawful excuse for certain offences, as well as the common law defences set out at the present time in section 8 of the Criminal Code, these are inadequate because they apply only to offences under sections 182.1 (c) and (d) and are much narrower than those set out in the current provisions.
It would have been so simple to take the defences set out in section 429 for property offences and transfer them to the new part V.1 which would be the part reserved for animals.
Furthermore, section 8 of the Criminal Code, which responds to the concerns of various stakeholders, states that common law defences render a circumstance a justification or excuse.
According to the government, the rules of common law are still in force, but it has chosen to reaffirm them in the new part of the Criminal Code. We have serious misgivings about this. On the one hand, legal experts tell us that defences provided for under section 8(3) of the Criminal Code apply all the time and, on the other hand, the government chose to include them explicitly in its bill. This lays the appropriateness of this approach open to question.
The first common law defence is that of necessity. The three evaluation elements for this defence are: first, the existence of an imminent danger or peril; second, the absence of reasonable legal alternative; and, third, the proportionality between the harm caused and the harm avoided.
The second defence is the inducement to commit an offence, or police provocation. This defence may be used when, during the course of a criminal investigation, peace officers provide an opportunity to commit an offence, in the absence of a reasonable doubt that such an offence would be committed.
The third defence is due diligence. This involves a reversal of the burden of proof, in that the person accused of an offence under a regulation must prove, under the balance of probability, that he acted with due diligence. This becomes a reasonable restriction on the presumption of innocence.
A fourth defence is intoxication. If the intoxication is induced by the accused himself, it is not a defence. However, it can be a defence for a crime of general intent, if the intoxication is such that it is not associated with a reasonable person.
Finally, the last defence under the common law is known as an alibi, where the accused endeavors to prove that he was in a different place when the offence was committed.
As everyone knows, Quebeckers and Canadians are very attached to the moral principle of ensuring the wellbeing of animals. Many are concerned about this issue and feel that animals should be better protected against criminal behaviour. Many studies have also confirmed the existence of a close connection between cruelty to animals and aggressive criminal behaviour. Therefore, it appears that imposing harsher penalties on those who are cruel to animals could help prevent violent crimes against people.
However, we must start from the premise that, in its current form, this bill is unacceptable to all those who are directly or indirectly involved in the animal industry.
For the great majority of stakeholders in the animal industry, these new provisions are likely to increase the likelihood of criminal charges against those who work in the industry or who engage in recreational activities such as hunting and fishing. Moreover, producers are also asking for protection of their livelihood, which is normal.
Someone who owns an animal industry and who, legitimately or legally, earns a living and provides for his family and children has the right to expect that his livelihood will not be threatened by a poorly drafted piece of legislation. These producers are asking for assurances that they will not be hauled before the courts because of their professional activities. We can understand that.
Stakeholders in the animal industry are saying that this bill is poorly drafted, but there is also the case of hunters and sports associations. This is an industry that generates millions of dollars every year and that creates thousands of jobs in Quebec and in Canada.
According to a number of hunters and people who engage in sport hunting, the bill was drafted as though hunters, fishermen and trappers did not exist. Indeed, it is extremely difficult to reconcile the legitimate activities of hunters, fishermen and trappers with the bill in its present form.
The severity of the new bill would be such that a sport hunter could fairly easily be charged with a criminal act for which a means of defence had not yet been anticipated, even with all the necessary permits and authorization for hunting, fishing or trapping.
Three offences would be created for acts committed against animals not necessarily causing death, but pain, suffering or injury. However, the bill goes even further, by including unnecessary. If a fisher loses a fish, if a hunter only injures game, how can necessity be used as a defence?
If Bill C-15B were passed as is, many people think that hunters, fishers and trappers would all be guilty.
As well, aboriginal communities, which have always practised these activities, would also be in the same boat.
The Bloc Quebecois proposed a compromise to ensure that those who intentionally cause suffering to animals receive the appropriate punishment, while protecting the means of defence of those who cause suffering in the context of legitimate activities.
The Bloc Quebecois supports this compromise. It has championed it, but the government wants nothing to do with it.
The animal industry has problems with the bill. So do hunters and sporting associations. There are also, however, the universities and colleges, their researchers.
You yourself know this, Mr. Speaker—you were here in the House when the former Bill C-17 was introduced in the fall of 2000—the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada asked that certain provisions of the bill be clarified in order to ensure that Canadian universities were not subject to unjustified legal action.
On March 15, 2001, that same association adopted a resolution to express to the then federal Minister of Justice, who is now the Minister of Health, its concerns about the proposed amendments to the Criminal Code regarding the treatment of animals. These changes could inadvertently jeopardize legal university research that uses animals in compliance with the standards recognized in Canada and abroad by the Canadian Council for Animal Care.
As we know, Bill C-15B includes major amendments to a provision of former Bill C-17. Section 182.3, which the government proposes to add to the Criminal Code, states that “Everyone commits an offence who negligently causes unnecessary pain to an animal”. The term “negligently” means “departing markedly from the standard of care that a reasonable person would use”.
The Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada is very pleased that these amendments were made. To a certain extent, they reflect its concerns. However, according to the association, the bill does not at all identify a behaviour “departing markedly from the standard of care that a reasonable person would use”. The amendments made by the government between Bill C-17 and Bill C-15B did not clarify the situation at all.
Bill C-15B also includes changes to the Firearms Act and part III of the Criminal Code. One of the amendments proposed addresses airguns. Although the Department of Justice claims that the intention of clause 2(2) of the bill is to exempt a weapon if it meets either of two criteria, there is still some confusion because a double negative is used.
We proposed new wording for this article, which would eliminate any confusion. Unfortunately again, despite all the listening to the various stakeholders that was done, the government refused to respond to the Bloc's fears, which it wanted to see eliminated by redrafting.
I could go on and on about this bill. I am getting the signal that I do not have much time left, so I would just like make one more point—and this is one of the reasons we oppose this bill—which is that this bill would create a firearms commissioner, which will have the effect of diminishing the powers currently held by the chief firearms officer, who currently reports the Government of Quebec.
In short, the bill as drafted is unclear. On the one hand, it does not strike a balance between those, ourselves included, who are in favour of enhanced protection for animals, and the others, the various associations of industries involved in animal husbandry, sports, hunting or research, who want to see this important objective of animal protection balanced by the acceptance of various legitimate and legal industries, which are the livelihood of thousands of Quebeckers and Canadians.