Mr. Speaker, I thought I would take a few moments to talk about Bill C-15.
I consider there is a bit of a victory in the bill. My colleagues across the way will be surprised when they hear that. The victory is we started out with Bill C-15. Bill C-15 was an omnibus bill. That omnibus bill had some subjects in it that had nothing whatever to do with agriculture. The victory is that we had the omnibus bill split into two.
One part related to child pornography. That bill was handled very expeditiously in the House.
I give credit to the minister opposite who did that, who listened to the opposition, who forcefully said that an omnibus bill that had many different elements would not allow us to vote fairly. I believe that was a victory for democracy and a victory for the processes in the House. I started with the only positive comments I am going to make directed toward the minister.
I consider myself to be a nature lover, a naturalist. I am an individual who spends quite a bit of my free time outdoors. I am also a pet lover. I have a great interest in pets. We have a dog in our home at present, a cute little Jack Russell Terrier pup called Lloyd. Lloyd, being a pet at home, is very popular, especially with my wife. When I am away from home, this little dog warns her if there is someone around or some animals around and she feels more comfortable. I say that to express my particular feeling about pets and about animals.
I have spent a lot of time hunting. I had a black Labrador Retriever that I trained myself. That dog gave me enormous enjoyment. We would spend many hours together. I taught that dog how to sit, stay, come and go after the pheasants I sought. His name was Sam Hill. Some very interesting commentary has been made about the name Sam Hill. I wanted to name him Boot, but Boot Hill did not seem entirely appropriate.
I will use that preface to say I believe that cruelty to animals and pets is awful and should be punished. It should be punished vigorously. I preface my comments with that, my love for animals, my love for pets and my feeling that animal cruelty is wrong.
I believe however that the bill has taken an approach that is not correct, not accurate, not proper. I will talk about my concerns related to the bill.
Concerns have been directed toward me as an MP who has a very large rural constituency primarily of individuals with livestock, farmers and ranchers. That is one area of significant concern for me as their representative.
The second area of concern relates to medical research. Since I have a medical background and have had quite a bit to do with medical research, the concerns that have been expressed to me by my medical colleagues are significant.
Fishermen, hunters and trappers have also been quite prominent in the letters that I have received in relation to the bill.
Because my colleagues have spent a lot of time on the rural aspects of this issue, let me focus my initial comments on medical research. There is a value toward experimentation that relates to the animal kingdom. I will give some examples.
The use of new medication that has not been tried on humans is often experimentally used on animals. Much of the initial research on stem cells has come from the animal model. I am particularly interested in the use of adult stem cell research and that has borne significant fruit.
Environmental effects on humans is often tested in a way that is gentle and kind and not cruel relating to animals.
I have listened to a number of individuals. I received a letter from an animal activist not so long ago. She wrote that she loved animals more than she loved humans. That sentiment frankly drives some of the individuals who are animal activists.
I do not feel that way. I value humans more than I value animals. The use of animals in medical research is a profound way of protecting humankind. I am quite concerned when my medical colleagues who do animal research are put in a position where they could be not only criticized but prosecuted due to the way the bill is laid out.
Ethical standards for animal research must be fair and they must provide protection for the animals so that there is nothing improper done. Frankly the bill is not adequate in that regard.
I would like to talk briefly about the ranchers that I represent in my riding of Macleod. This is the southwest corner of Alberta in which some of the major ranches exist. I have yet to have one single member of the ranching community express to me satisfaction with the approach of the bill. This is really quite significant because if we do not have the support of those who are the husbands of our livestock, we do not have the support of the main components of those who look after livestock.
My riding is in the west, in the foothills approaching the mountains. It is some of the finest grasslands. There are thousands of ranchers in the area. One would think that I would have one that might say the bill is appropriate, but there has not been a single one and I am in touch with many of them.
Here are the activities that ranchers undertake with their cattle: they brand them, they ear tag them, they vaccinate them, they deworm them, they castrate them, and they squeeze them. They tell me that any one of those activities taken out of context could be criticized as cruel and they believe affected by the legislation.
We represent a huge number of rural constituents. We have sought mechanisms to be certain that these practices would be set aside as normal practices of industry. The amendments we sought that would have done that have been denied us.
The rancher is in a position of authority when it relates to the livestock. That position of authority is one that could be abused. An abuse of that authority should not be tolerated. However their practices are well established and time honoured and I object to the way they can be criticized.
It is not good enough frankly to just criticize a bill and say that it is not sufficient. I believe in being constructive in that regard. We have looked at the broad ways the bill could be and should be improved. I will go over, in a broad sense, where those improvements should have come.
Taking property rights and making them criminal is inappropriate unless the defence for these offences would follow. That has not taken place in the legislation. That leaves those medical researchers and ranchers who may be charged under the act, and it will happen as sure as I stand here, with defences that are less powerful than they should have.
We just heard in the interchange between members about private prosecutions and the frivolous nature of those private prosecutions. I listened to the member for Dufferin--Peel--Wellington--Grey say that it would be easy for them to be reviewed by a judge.
I have had very little to do with the judicial system, thankfully, but I do know that our judges are profoundly busy and this is not an extra duty that they should have and not an extra duty that they should be asked to entertain. There should have been a review of frivolous prosecutions by the attorney general of each province. That frivolous review would very quickly be set aside. We asked for a review by the attorney general of each province to prevent frivolity and it was denied.
The big improvement was the protection of general industry standards when it came to our ranchers and farmers. That would be so straightforward. Activities such as branding and ear tagging that I mentioned earlier could easily have been looked after in that regard.
I spent a fair amount of time on the animal cruelty portions of the bill but as a representative of rural Canada I would be remiss if I did not talk a bit about the firearms component.
I have vigorously debated against the registration of firearms and I stand here vindicated in some of that criticism. When I originally debated this with the justice minister of the day I said to him as plainly as I could that costs were not being accurately reflected. I did that because I had gone to other jurisdictions that had gone down this road, particularly New Zealand and some states in Australia, and was told that the costs had ballooned. The cost factor was predicted. I am not proud to say this but I feel vindicated in saying that the costs were not properly given to Canadians. The costs have been enormous and have gone up.
The other thing I said to the justice minister at that time was that the compliance rate would be poor. That has not been proven yet because there is no legislation in place to finally force everyone into registering their firearms. To be legal an individual needs an acquisition certificate or a possession certificate.
I am saying again that the compliance rate on firearms registration will not be what is required in order to get the result that the justice minister wanted. We need 100% compliance by all honest citizens to pick out dishonest citizens. I will tell the justice minister again that the compliance rate will never approach 100%. I say that knowing there are constituents of mine who simply do not know where their firearms are today. They do not know where they are because they are certain that the idea of confiscation is there.
The other thing I said to the justice minister was that the bill would have no impact on criminal misuse of firearms. There would be no decrease in suicides. There would be no decrease in murders with long guns. I stand by that statement. I will say it to everyone who will listen. Statistically I know this will not take place by looking at other jurisdictions that tried firearms registration and by looking at what pistol registration has done to criminal misuse, murders and suicides. There has been no impact.
The bill is trying to improve firearms registration and I suppose I should say good luck. I am using this as a platform to say that long gun registration in Canada has been a failure and will continue to be a failure. I wish there could have been a sunset clause in the legislation. I would feel better if there was a sunset clause stating that if there had been no decrease in criminal misuse the bill would be tossed into the dustbin of history.
The only thing that will replace the Firearms Act is a change of government. A change of government is necessary. It will be a sad thing depending on how deeply we go into the hole as it relates to firearms registration in this country.
Let me summarize what I have said on Bill C-15B. It is a victory for those of us who felt the omnibus bill that preceded it was far too broad. The bill was split off and the child pornography section was passed quickly. I do believe that Bill C-15B should have been substantially amended and still could be substantially amended. I stand firmly on that.
I talked about my medical colleagues involved in medical research as being singled out and potentially prosecuted by the bill. I talked about farmers and ranchers in my riding, none of whom support the bill. I predict that they will be prosecuted under the bill as surely as I stand here for things such as branding and dehorning, which are standard practices on farms and ranches.
I am saying that the firearms registration provisions in this country today will be and have been ineffective. They will not be complied with by legitimate honest citizens. The costs are enormous and there will be no impact on the criminal misuse of firearms.
I wish to say a few words on the issue of the medical community and biomedical research. In my training as a surgeon I was involved in the use of animals in a vivisection sense. This was to allow someone doing surgery to actually operate on live tissue rather than doing the dissection that we did on tissue that was preserved. This allowed me, as a young budding surgeon, to be more adept with dissection, identification of nerve tissue and artery, and all the other tissues that are available.
I have had individuals say to me that is a complete total disregard for animals. I object to that. As I said before, I believe there are priorities there. Would anybody like me, as a young surgeon, to not have been experienced with tissue and to experience tissue on their child for the first time doing surgery?
Therefore I say to the animal activists who themselves will someday face surgery, this is one of those practical issues in research in which the use of animals and the use of invertebrates in some cases is valuable for the medical community. I really want to stress that.
I talked about the ethical standards, the fair use of animals to be certain there was no ethical behaviour. That is quite important. I have been able to tour some of the labs that raise animals used in medical research. I have been surprised by how clean and how gentle the animals are treated. They are treated with respect and dignity. That is quite appropriate.
Do I give any credit to the animal activists for that? Yes, I do. Animal activists have a position in this regard in raising public awareness of practices in that regard. Those individuals who are nature lovers and naturalists do take some credit for that and I give them credit for that.
One thing that I do not give them credit for is saying that they love animals more than humans, which is completely inappropriate.
I have not talked much about the definition of animals used in the bill. The definition broadens significantly how animals have been defined in previous legislation. It includes non-human vertebrates and all animals having the capacity to feel pain. I have asked for the definition to be explained to me better. It has not been explained to me well enough for me to understand because every single animal has the capacity to feel pain.
This goes down to the very tiny cell. Cellular animals have the ability to feel pain from heat, not the pain that we would normally talk about from a blow, a scalpel or from a pin prick but from heat. That pain is demonstrated by a withdrawal from that heat. I can see the potential problems of that definition being used in a way that is completely inappropriate.
There are some ethical concerns here as well. They involve issues related to definitions that I believe we have not even considered. In my view, the definition is much too broad. In this legislation we have gone away from animal welfare, which I support, to animal rights. To talk about animal rights is to talk about an area that is very, very dangerous, because there is a hierarchy of activity in this world.
I am opposed to Bill C-15B not on the basis that it goes about trying to prevent cruelty to animals but that it has not ruled out my concerns in relation to animal husbandry, to the ranchers and farmers whom I represent, that it has not adequately represented the concerns of the medical researchers and, finally, that it continues with firearm registration, which is an issue that is completely inappropriate in Canada.