Mr. Speaker, I have a couple of things to say with regard to the hon. member's bill. I also want to clarify a couple of things that were said by one of her colleagues, the member for Saanich--Gulf Islands.
It is important for all Canadians to realize that it is not the government that chooses what is votable. It is actually a committee of this Parliament that chooses what is and is not votable.
While he exalted the conservation activities in other countries, which are very deserving of great credit, I think he forgot about some of the important conservation activities taking place here in Canada through organizations like Ducks Unlimited where there is some public and private partnership.
However I was encouraged by some of the things that he mentioned on the endangered species and cruelty to animal legislation that is working its way through the House and through the Senate. I encourage him, given his support, to encourage the senators to pass that bill because there are important issues to be addressed there.
With regard to Bill C-280, I think most members of the House would agree that the goal of discouraging the selling of wildlife and wildlife parts, particularly wildlife that is threatened or endangered, is a laudable one, but the question is, how do we best do that.
The member opposite has raised some very important issues. This should be something discussed through one of the joint ministers' meetings at the federal and provincial level because some of the issues are provincial and some of the issues are federal. Let us figure out what the best tools are. She has raised an issue of great importance to Canadians and to the future of our wildlife.
The member for Northumberland has already identified a number of difficulties with making this a Criminal Code provision, and that perhaps regulatory legislation is more appropriate. There are a number of federal statutes that try to address some of the conduct that is being sought in Bill C-280, such as the Canada Wildlife Act, the Migratory Birds Convention, the Wild Animal and Plant Protection and Regulation of International and Interprovincial Trade Act, which the member herself recognized, and the species at risk act, Bill C-5, which is currently before the Senate. Some of the things that are being covered will be addressed through that.
The member for Northumberland talked about the difference between criminal law and regulatory provisions. The Supreme Court of Canada has expressly recognized that:
--the common law has long acknowledged a distinction between truly criminal conduct and conduct, otherwise lawful, which is prohibited in the public interest.
There could be some challenges here.
According to Justice Cory:
Regulatory legislation involves a shift of emphasis from the protection of individual interests and deterrence and punishment of acts involving moral fault, to the protection of public and societal interests. While criminal offences are usually designed to condemn and punish past, inherently wrongful conduct, regulatory measures are generally directed to the prevention of future harm through the enforcement of minimum standards of conduct and care.
I think this is where the member is trying to punish acts and also to prevent future acts, and we need to get the right measures in place.
The member for Northumberland has already identified that there is a problem because of the exceptions that would be covered in this act and that the criminal law does not really have exemptions. It is extremely rare for the Criminal Code to specify exemptions for criminal liability in respect of particular offences.
The other challenge, which I am not sure he had a chance to discuss, was the issue of relative proportionality in terms of sentencing. Clearly, there is a need to make sure that sentences are proportionate with the seriousness of other offences that may carry the same or lesser penalties. It is not an exact science but I would argue that it has evolved over time as Canadians have placed greater emphasis or expressed their desire to stop certain offences or their abhorrence of certain offences. We have increased penalties in certain areas. We have sent a strong message to those who would choose to conduct them. However it would be disproportionate that a second offence under Bill C-280, in relation to a threatened or endangered species, would carry a maximum penalty of eight years when the maximum penalty right now for assault on indictment is five years.
Currently the maximum penalty for cruelty to animals is six months and that is why Bill C-10B, which is currently before the Senate, would raise that maximum to five years. Cruelty to animals would have a five year maximum sentence and that is for someone who is torturing an animal, which I think all of us in the House and in Canadian society would agree is absolutely abhorrent. We need to see how that would relate to what is being proposed in the member's bill, which is a maximum of eight years.
I mentioned that there are a variety of statutes that regulate the kind of behaviour that is dealt with in Bill C-280. I think the member has raised a very important issue. It is something we need to discuss at the federal-provincial level to see if the provinces should be doing more in terms of their regulatory authority. We should work through and develop the issue a little more before necessarily making a change to the Criminal Code.
I definitely support the protection of animals. The member's colleague mentioned organized crime rings. We need to make sure that those laws are in place to stop that kind of activity and to punish it very severely should it occur. I think there are a number of ways we could beef up things through the current bills and acts that are in place. We do not want to inadvertently create even more confusion out there so that people do not do their utmost to protect our species and wildlife in Canada.
At this point I will not be supporting the bill but I commend the member opposite on her excellent work.