Madam Speaker, Bill C-15B is part of the bill we had asked the justice minister for some time to separate. This has been done and we appreciate that because there were two very conflicting aspects in one bill. One aspect was cruelty to animals. The other dealt with the protection of our children from child pornography and luring on the Internet. We appreciated that aspect and supported that part, but we had some concerns with the cruelty to animals portion.
As my colleague has stated, we in no way condone cruelty to animals. There should be strong legislation in place to deal with anyone who abuses animals in any way. Our concern comes when we look at the agricultural community, people who raise and use animals in their businesses, such as fishermen and farmers.
We are concerned that if certain aspects of the bill are carried out to the degree we think some people will want to push them, it will put animal husbandry practices into question and it will put the people who raise the food we need in harm's way. The whole issue of protecting animals is a balancing act, as is every bill that comes to the House. We cannot go too far one way or we intrude in one area, but we have to go far enough to make sure that what we are trying to do gets done. This is no exception.
We have received in my office, as I am sure have all members in the House, countless letters of support for the bill from animal rights groups. They are doing their job. They are making sure we are aware that this legislation is in front of us, that we need to be aware that cruelty to animals is a problem and that there needs to be strong legislation to protect animals. On the other side we also are receiving letters from people who are concerned for the way of life they have created and the fact that the bill, if it is put into law the way it exists, could very well jeopardize the actions that they take.
People in the agricultural industry and the people who deal with animals are very cognizant of how to treat animals. They do it in the best way they can because it is to their advantage to do that. An animal that is treated properly is one that meets the requirements of the final process. There are all kinds of examples I could put forward about the industry which has governed itself. It has brought forward its own means of regulation to make sure that what is done and what the animals face is right.
The University of Lethbridge is in my riding. Like many universities across the country, it does research. That is another aspect where we have to make sure the animals are treated properly. We have seen a huge movement in the right direction as far as how animals that are kept for research are handled. On the other hand we have seen some people outside the research circles who really do need firm legislation and should be put out of business. That hopefully is where the legislation will lead. We hope it will not lead to the detriment of research and to our agricultural community in general.
We have brought forward suggestions from time to time on what we think needs to be done with some aspects of the bill regarding protection of animals. We hope the government will recognize that the concerns we are bringing forward are indeed legitimate and need to be addressed. If the government can in any way through changes to this legislation recognize all sides of the issue, then that is what should be done to make sure people can buy into this and buy into the fact that our animals need to be protected and treated fairly.
One of ways Bill C-15B differs from Bill C-17 that was before the last parliament is that a person would have to act willfully or recklessly in killing or harming an animal. Many organizations, businesses and individuals have a significant concern with respect to this aspect of the bill, namely that we would need to prove a person was wilful and reckless in his or her treatment. The bill could then come into effect and the law could be applied to the person.
The intent of Bill C-15B is fine. Cruelty to animals is something many of us do not understand. However we need to make sure the bill does not go too far. It must not hamper legal and rightful agricultural producers and others by wrongly accusing them of cruelty.
The idea of elevating the status of animals from property into something higher has many people concerned and rightly so. It would open up a whole different area of legal challenges. At what point would we stop? Do plants feel pain? We would be opening up a whole new area that could and would be challenged because there are people who would take it to the maximum degree.
The definition of animal under the bill would include non-human vertebrates and other animals that have the capacity to feel pain. The definition marks a significant departure. It would provide protection for an extremely wide range of living organisms which have never before been afforded this kind of legal protection. This piece of legislation would change the scope of what is currently in place.
The definition has practical difficulties. As worded it could cause enormous problems by extending the criminal law to invertebrates, cold blooded species such as fish, and an extremely wide variety of domestic and wild animals. It would affect the entire fishing industry by raising concerns about how hooks should be baited and how fish are handled after they are caught. It should be done in a humane way but it still needs to be done.
We have asked the government to delete or modify the definition but it has not. The issue could be a major concern as the bill proceeds.
The previous justice minister assured us in a speech that activities that are lawful and legitimate today would remain lawful after the bill received royal assent. The statement was intended to put at ease some of the concerns being raised at the time. She promised the House the changes would in no way negatively affect the many legitimate activities that involve animals such as hunting, farming or medical and scientific research.
We hope we can hold the new justice minister to the words of his predecessor. The words mean a lot. They have gone a long way to relieving the concerns of some people. We hope we can make sure they come true.
The previous justice minister's statement was self evident but it could be misleading. She said the provisions would not prevent legitimate activities from being carried out but that the law would proscribe only illegal activities. That is a bit of a play on words that negates what she meant to say in the first place. We are concerned the new provisions would narrow the scope of what constitutes legitimate activity.
These are just some of the issues. As Bill C-15B progresses through the House and we get an opportunity to rise and speak to it we will bring out other aspects.
We in our party support cruelty to animals legislation. However we want to make sure it addresses the issue without invading other parts of society.