Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak today to Bill C-15B.
Before I begin my speech, I would like to say how deeply saddened we in the opposition were that the government chose to originally bring in Bill C-15 with completely disparate issues attached to it.
The new bill, Bill C-15B, also has two disparate issues, one dealing with the Firearms Act and the other dealing with cruelty to animals. These issues should be two separate bills so members could vote for or against them.
Those of us who have strong feelings for or against one issue and a different view on the other issue should not have to vote a certain way. When the government connects two disparate issues it compromises our ability as members of parliament to do what our constituents want us to do.
It reminds me of the situation in the U.S. congress where a particularly good bill will move forward but suddenly have an attachment to it with a completely different issue that has nothing to do with the intent of the original bill and as a result the whole bill is bombarded, destroyed and cannot move forward.
It is actually a way of kiboshing a particular issue and compromising our ability to work and the ability and concerns of Canadians to move forward. The government should never do this again. If it were truly interested in dealing with issues, such as animal cruelty and firearms registration, which are both important issues, it should do so in two separate bills and not one.
Having said that, I will deal with the two issues separately, the first one being cruelty to animals. There is not a person in the House who does not want to see legislation toughened up to deal with those miserable, disgusting, bottom feeding creatures who would take out their frustrations in life upon defenceless, innocent animals. Worse than that, we see a disturbing pattern of behaviour in people who do this, particularly when they are young.
Psychologists and psychiatrists will tell us that there is a strong link between the abusive and violent actions of an adult against persons or animals and the actions of the same adult as a child. In fact, a child who displays the systematic desire to harm animals is showing a big warning flag that he or she may grow up to commit violent abuses as an adult. We are very cognizant of that.
As a party we have certainly fought for and would support good legislation that would strengthen the penalties to ensure that individuals who commit those atrocious acts will be brought before the full force of the law.
Sadly, however, that does not happen today. We have heard of cases where dogs have been roasted, boiled and tortured, as have other domestic animals, and the individuals who committed those acts receive slaps on the wrist . The Canadian public and indeed everyone in the House wants to see things toughened up. The question is whether Bill C-15B is the way to go.
We have heard in the House from members on all sides that there is a vast number of individuals who work with animals who are deeply concerned and do want to ensure that animals are not abused but who will not support Bill C-15B and the elements within the bill that deal with animal cruelty.
The Canadian Veterinary Medical Association is one of the groups. Surely if there is one group above all others that has the best interest of animals at heart, it is the men and women in the veterinary sciences who work day in and day out to relieve the suffering endured by animals. Obviously these individuals would in no way, shape or form want to see these animals suffer and yet they are opposed to Bill C-15B because it leaves such loopholes that it opens up individuals in their profession to litigation.
How could the government not have seen that the bill would leave veterinary doctors open to criminal prosecution for cruelty to animals?
The Canadian Veterinary Medical Association wants those people who work in the veterinary field to be exempted from the code regarding cruelty to animals. It does not want veterinarians being penalized so it has asked that they be excluded from the bill. In the interests of veterinarians, the association is absolutely right.
If we use the same logic, it can be applied to other groups, such as farmers and other people who work in the agricultural field. These individuals work with animals. They work with animals to feed us every single day. We cannot have a bill that enables individuals to prosecute people who are doing their job and treating animals humanely within the context of Canadian law.
Unfortunately, people with extreme views on the issue would like to see animals treated in exactly the same way as human beings. While on a certain level there is some sympathy for that, the fact is that we own animals, we kill animals and we eat animals in order to survive. Those are the facts of life.
As Bill C-15B is written it would enable extremist groups to prosecute individuals who are doing their job to feed us.
If the government wants to do anything on this issue it ought to look at whether or not animals are treated humanely in agricultural practices. It should applaud and support those individuals who are treating animals fairly, those who work in animal husbandry, while prosecuting those individuals who treat animals with disrespect and with cruelty in the field of animal husbandry. That is what the government should be pursuing if it truly wants to have animals treated in a fair fashion.
Canadians for Medical Progress is another group I want to talk about. This group advocates for individuals involved in the biomedical field. Bill C-15B would allow individuals who work with animals in the field of biomedical research to be prosecuted by again those extremist groups who are opposed to animal testing. They dispute the necessity of animal testing.
I must say that those of us who have family members who suffer from cardiovascular, pulmonary, neurological disorders and a vast array of other medical problems, it is absolutely essential that we test our new medical treatments not only on people but also on animals. It is a fact of life and we cannot get away from it.
When I was doing some biomedical research as a student we worked on larger mammals. We were always cognizant and fearful of groups that would go into the University of Toronto to try to free the animals. Bill C-15B would enable those types of groups to not only shut down research that is essential for our health but it would also enable them to prosecute researchers who are engaging in lifesaving research for all of us.
We had a code of conduct when we worked in those labs. We had a stern set of regulations that told us what we could and could not do for the humane and ethical treatment of those animals. I can tell members that while those animals were euthanized at the end because they were from the pound and were going to die any way, they were treated with the most utmost respect. They were treated so that they would not have any pain in the course of the research and experiments that we did.
The fear these scientists have is that they believe, and I think with a great deal of legitimacy, that they could be prosecuted if the bill is passed. I will give the House some examples of why they feel this is so. They feel that the definition of animal is too vague and that it should be applied to warm blooded vertebrates only.
Also, as my party has said, the bill at a minimum should reinstate animals as property. That is essential. This does not preclude our ability to implement and institute good, strong, tougher laws that will protect animals against cruelty. Researchers make this point. Many of us own animals and some of us breed them. Some animals are used to feed us. They are property. Increased penalties can easily be incorporated under the property section to protect animals from cruelty. That is what should be done. That is what biomedical researchers would like to have done. As they have said before, if the bill passes and if it gives individuals the power to prosecute them, which it does, then we are killing biomedical science research in Canada.
The second half of the bill deals with the firearms legislation or Bill C-68, which was passed in the House some time ago. Bill C-68, the firearms registration act, was labelled as a bill for the protection of the Canadian public. When it came out, my colleagues and I were appalled. We were appalled but not because we were against public safety: Bill C-68 did the exact opposite.
It seems almost counterintuitive. Who would not be in favour of legislation that would prohibit criminals from acquiring guns and ensure public safety? Everybody in the House is in favour of this. We were labelled as a party that was against gun control, but I will dispel all of that today as I did in front of the justice committee when Bill C-68 was put together. At that time I took apart the then justice minister's comments piece by piece based on the facts.
Fact number one is that this party is in favour of protecting civilians and in favour of gun control, but we are not in favour of stupid gun control that will make Canadians less safe. I will explain why. Bill C-68 is chewing up $600 million. The question is, can that money be better used somewhere else? That is the question at hand.
One of my Liberal colleagues said that he could not believe I was against this bill because he claimed it would save lives. I asked him how much he thought a life was worth. In reply he said that no amount of money could be placed on the value of a life. He said the government would spend any amount of money to save one life. I told him that in economics there is something called an opportunity cost. If people put money into A versus B they had better get more bang for their buck in A than in B. That is the problem. The sum of $600 million will not give someone more benefit in A than in B. That amount will not save more lives as it is currently used. It will actually decrease the number of lives saved. That money ought to be used to put police on the ground. We should have money for our customs officers. We should have money in our courts to prosecute those individuals who are using guns as weapons for illegal purposes.
One of the arguments used by the government was that the bill would make our streets safer. Based on police facts, a criminal does not purchase a gun, take a course, wait a period of time, apply to the government and then commit an act. The criminal gets the gun illegally from the United States, often a smuggled gun, and then commits an act of violence. That is where criminals' guns come from. Criminals do not get a firearms acquisition licence from the government. They do not take courses. They acquire their guns illegally.
If the government were truly interested in public safety, it would do the following. First, it would toughen up our borders and provide more customs officers there. Second, it would ensure heavier penalties for the use of a gun in the commission of an offence. Third, the government should ensure that the law is enforced. The public would be shocked to know that in regard to violent offences a weapons offence is often plea bargained away to get an expeditious conviction on another offence. Or if the person is convicted on the weapons offence, the weapons offence penalty runs concurrently, not consecutively. What kind of a penalty is that?
There is something I used to be disgusted about when I worked as a jail guard. I used to see people committing multiple acts of violence. The penalties for their criminal acts and weapons offences were added to their sentences concurrently. The criminals would laugh about it. They would laugh and say there was no penalty for using weapons.
The government's second argument is that there would be fewer suicides if we had gun control. My party supports gun control. We support firearms acquisition certificates and courses. We support waiting periods so that people who are violent, have psychiatric problems or are a threat to society would be able to take the courses.
My time has partially run out. I assume I will be able to continue--