Madam Speaker, it is indeed a pleasure to rise in the House today to take part in this debate on Bill C-15B, entitled an act to amend the criminal code (cruelty to animals and firearms) and to amend the Firearms Act.
I want to begin by stating categorically that I am a great lover of animals. I have a wonderful little dog at home that is probably the joy of my little girl's life and probably thinks I am the best guy in the world too. It is not a question of us on this side of the House and in this party not loving animals or caring for them. We certainly do.
I think that perhaps in our society very often we see great pendulum swings in the mood of society, in the way we approach social issues. If there is a great public outcry about a certain subject, the pendulum swings one way. Then it swings the other way as there is a public outcry on the other side of the issue. It is quite clear in our society, particularly North American society, and with the increase in technological advances and communication we have heard of a number of recent incidents in which animals have been used cruelly and sometimes killed outright by people who have absolutely no right to ever do anything like that.
I suppose that in response to those kinds of incidents, about which we have all heard, there are definitely lobby groups in our society that have pushed the government to bring in stricter laws and stricter controls in terms of cruelty to animals. Of course the government has also lumped in a bunch of other things in the bill, just to confuse the issue.
The stated purpose of the bill, of course, is to amend the criminal code by consolidating animal cruelty offences and increasing the maximum penalties. The bill also adds administrative provisions that are intended to simplify applications for the Firearms Act. Bill C-15B reintroduces the proposed amendments to the cruelty to animals provisions of the criminal code that were introduced in Bill C-17 during the last parliament, with certain changes. We remember some of the outcry at that time about this legislation. Unfortunately, even though there are a few minor improvements to this legislation, there are many people out there in our country who are very concerned about the legislation. In particular, people who are engaged in the harvesting and husbandry of animals for their livelihoods have a great number of concerns about the bill.
I know that government legislation cannot satisfy everybody. It will not satisfy everybody. However, when sufficiently large numbers of people in our country have registered tremendous disapproval of the bill, it is important for us as legislators to take into account their concerns. There are a number of groups across the country that simply do not feel the government is listening to their concerns. They do not feel that we have to go this far to satisfy one group and to perhaps somehow eliminate cruelty to animals.
What we are saying in our opposition to a number of clauses in the bill is that we do not have to go this far. One concern with the bill is that the definition of the word “animal” is far too broad. The proposed definition of animal in Bill C-15B includes non-human vertebrates and all animals having “the capacity to feel pain”.
Let me show how we can go from the sublime to the ridiculous on something like this. I happen to be a fisherman. That is what I do with my spare time outside the House of Commons. Of course I would rather be here, but in those times when I cannot be here I go fishing, I work in my garden or I take my wife out to dinner, not particularly in that order of priority, but we do have lives outside the House, do we not? I enjoy fishing.
Fishing, of course, means that at times one has to put a worm on a hook. Unfortunately I have not been able to communicate very well with the bait I use, so I have no authoritative voice with which to say whether or not the worm I use actually feels pain. However, in the enjoyment of my sport, shared with perhaps millions of others in the country, I have come to the conclusion that it is probably okay for me to do that and to pursue fishing without the possibility of coming under some kind of cloud of suspicion that I am being cruel to the worm.
However, there just may be someone in my area or in the country who feels otherwise. It is quite possible that some day I might have worm police knocking on my door to tell me I am being cruel to the worms and that under the provisions of Bill C-15B, which would have been passed in the House by that time, they have to take me into custody.
Of course, that would never occur, would it? To go from the sublime to the ridiculous in such a way simply could not happen, could it? However, it might just happen and it might happen for anybody else engaged in any sporting activity in the country that has long been recognized as recreational or that sometimes, for the benefit of those who need the food, is something that is quite legitimate and within the law.
When we see the pendulum in our society move from one pole to the other, very often things like this get caught in the middle. I believe, and I am sure many of my hon. colleagues in the House believe, that we need to have balance in the legislation. The government is not providing balance.
Another key concern is that the criminal code would no longer provide the same level of legal protection presently afforded to those who use animals for legitimate, lawful and justified practices. Think of all the farmers across the country who are engaged in animal husbandry of some kind or another who could possibly, and I am not saying that they would, be brought before the bar of justice because under the legislation they would be accused of somehow being cruel to animals. What does that do to the agricultural community in the country, which is suffering more and more every day? It is just one more nail in the coffin of the agricultural community in many ways.
We ought to think very carefully about these kinds of considerations and consequences before we pass this kind of draconian legislation.