Mr. Speaker, again it is my privilege to stand and speak to this bill, although, as with many of the bills that come to us from the Liberals, I can assure everyone that the content of the bill does not contain anything with which I am particularly happy.
The first item that I would like to draw to the attention of members is that in my constituency we have a tremendous number of very responsible firearms owners. They are taking a look at the content of this bill and other provisions that have been brought forward by the Liberals over a period of time with respect to the original bill, Bill C-68, which absolutely makes them want to pull their hair out.
They are looking at the fact, for example, that the government has spent and is in the process of spending more than $700 million on a useless gun registry when in fact the government very proudly talks about the fact that it will be spending $200 million to protect us from terrorism. I think that spending $200 million against terrorists, Osama bin Laden and his ilk, versus $700 million against law-abiding Canadian gun owners is just obscene. I think the tinkering around the edges contained in Bill C-15B is an example of the government making policy and laws on the fly.
The difficulty we have with this is that it is all bits and pieces. This is an omnibus bill. Omnibus, for those who are interested, simply means that it is a catch-all, a bill where the government threw everything into the hat. Originally this was Bill C-15. In this omnibus bill, the government thought it would do more tinkering around the edges with respect to the issue of gun registry. The tinkering around the edges is absolutely inadequate. The only thing we should be doing with respect to the gun registry is immediately withdrawing it and replacing it with measures that would actually make our streets safer.
It must be said that it is understandable that we should know who should be allowed to legally posses and carry firearms. That is logical and totally understandable. I do not see having a licence for that as posing any particular problem. As a matter of fact, it could well be a benefit. It certainly would give the prosecutors and the police in Canada the ability to take action under law that might be required to diffuse particular situations. The whole issue of this useless registry is that it is sending millions and millions of dollars completely down the drain. I say with respect to Bill C-15B and the whole issue of the tinkering with the firearms registry that it is an absolute waste of time and an absolute waste of money.
I also mentioned that the bill is designated as Bill C-15B as opposed to Bill C-15A, which supposedly we will be discussing at some future point in this parliament, because what the government did at the outset was create a grab bag of things that do not relate to each other in any way, shape or form. For example, what indeed does cruelty to animals have to do with the gun registry? I do not see any connection there at all.
Bill C-15A supposedly also has to do with protecting children, and we will be having a debate about that later, as well as the whole issue of safety for police officers. What does that have to do with cruelty to animals? Only when the Canadian Alliance dug in its heels and said no, it would not be going that route, and this goes back to last June, did it finally force the government into a situation where a legitimate vote could take place on the issue of Bill C-15B, primarily on the issue of cruelty to animals.
The fact that it decided to continue to have the catch-all of the change with respect to gun registry still contained in Bill C-15B was something that was really quite unfortunate, but nonetheless those are the choices that the government made.
What does the bill do? First, with respect to cruelty to animals, there is not a person in the House, much less anyone in the Canadian Alliance, who would not want to see the protection of animals. Of course we do. Any humane human being does. The stated purpose of the bill is to consolidate animal cruelty offences and increase the maximum penalties. It also provides the definition of animal and moves cruelty to animals provisions from part XI of the criminal code, property offences.
A couple of days ago when we were speaking at report stage on this, I drew out the point, and I draw it out again, that if we are moving the cruelty to animals provisions from part XI of the criminal code, property offences, to another part of the criminal code, that is not just incidental. I pointed out, hopefully fairly forcefully, that an animal is an animal, a human is a human and a human may own an animal. That is pretty simple and straightforward, but not in the minds of animal activists, particularly extreme animal activists. That is what the Canadian Alliance Party and I are concerned about. We are concerned about the fact that if the definition of animal is removed from property offences and put into a different section, this will really open up the door to the potential of vexatious prosecution.
We have been told not to worry about it, that no crown prosecutors would do anything like that, but I had some action take place in my constituency under Bill C-68, which of course is also covered under Bill C-15. That is why I am speaking to it. We had police who unfortunately exercised authority in an area in which they had no right to exercise authority. Not only was the gun owner in this instance personally out of pocket for the cost of the lawyer, that owner was also personally out of pocket for the cost of a door being broken down. There was no authority. Finally when the matter went to court, at great expense I should say, we ended up with a situation where the judge said the police should not have done that. In other words, whenever there is new legislation there is always a trial of the new legislation, either by the police or, secondly, by the prosecution.
Where are we going by removing animal provisions from part XI of the criminal code? What has changed since Bill C-17, which also dealt with these issues? The government has made certain changes from the previously proposed legislation dealing with cruelty to animals, Bill C-17. The main change was the requirement for a person to act “wilfully or recklessly” in killing or harming animals.
However, many organizations, businesses and individuals still have significant concerns with respect to the bill. Who are they? Agricultural groups, farmers, industry workers and medical researchers have consistently said they welcome amendments to the criminal code that would clarify and strengthen provisions relating to animal cruelty and that they do not condone intentional animal abuse or neglect in any way. Many of these groups in fact support the intent of the bill, as the Canadian Alliance and I do, as its objective is to modernize the law and increase penalties for offences relating to animal cruelty and neglect. However, and this is the however, despite the minor improvements to the legislation, these groups advise that the bill requires significant amendments before their concerns are alleviated.
The Liberals have a terrible tendency that I have noted particularly of late. Perhaps it comes from smugness or complacency or the fact that they feel they know everything and what is best for everybody. I do not know what it is. However we end up with recommendations for legislation, whether it is in Bill C-15B or Bill C-15A, or the species at risk act, SARA, that are heartfelt recommendations that reflect the values and concerns of the people to whom we answer. Liberals just stonewall them or at the very best they take them, tinker with them, pound them down, make them almost useless and then insert them. Then they say “See we made the amendment that you want”.
One of the central concerns with this bill 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. The phrase “legal justification or excuse and with colour of right” in section 429(2) of the criminal code currently provides protection to those who commit any kind of property offence. Note the word “property”. However in the new bill the fact that the animal cruelty provisions would be moved out of the general classification of property offences and into a section of their own would effectively remove those provisions outside of the ambit of that protection.
Our party asked that the government members make the defences in section 429(2) explicit in the new legislation and they refused. This is the kind of pattern that I was talking about where we make any kind of reasonable arguments and we are just simply refused out of hand.
Moving the animal cruelty section out of the ambit of property offences to a new section in its own right is also seen by many as emphasizing animal rights as opposed to animal welfare. I know this is the third or fourth or perhaps the fifth time that I have said it, but those who choose not to listen try to say that I and the people in my party are not concerned about animal welfare. Nothing could be further from the truth. What we want to ensure is animal welfare. What we want to avoid is animal rights.
This significant alteration in the underlying principles of the legislation is something that needs to be carefully considered. The Canadian Alliance asked the government members to retain the cruelty to animals provision in the property offences section of the criminal code but it refused. This is not a small issue. This is a giant issue.
I say again, I and every member of my party are concerned about animal welfare. We support the bill in its intent to protect animal welfare. We reject the bill in terms of animal rights because we know where that is going. We know under animal rights that there are many activists. We have seen them, we have heard of them, we have seen their publicity and we have seen some of their very vicious and dangerous activity in which they have become engaged. We must stay away from it. Yet the government will not do anything about it.
Many groups are concerned that elevating the status of animals from property could in fact have significant and detrimental implications for many legitimate animal dependent businesses. Another major and very serious concern is that the definition of animal is too broad, it is too subjective and it is too ambiguous.
That is so typical of the kind of legislation that the Liberals consistently bring forward. What did I say it was? It was too broad. It was too ambiguous. That is so typical of just about every piece of legislation.
In committee just yesterday we were discussing Bill S-7, which by the way came to us through the back door from the other place. The bill is so incomplete and is such a skeletal kind of issue. I asked the Liberals in the committee how in the world could we possibly pass something like that. I asked how we could even be discussing something like it when we did not know what the rules, the regulations, the implications would be. There is no meat, there is no muscle, there is no sinew on the bones of the words that are on that piece of paper.
Of course the Liberals said they would get around to it, to just give them some time. They said they would go to the CRTC, have some hearings and after the House rubber stamped it they would then know what the legislation would be; years after.
I cite another example in my particular critic role, that of blank recording medium. When that was brought forward in 1997, we were told it would be 25¢ charge per cassette. Five years later in the year 2002, the 25¢ per cassette charge somehow has gone to $200 to $400 per machine on equipment that now has the capacity to record more. Twenty-five cents to $400 strikes me as a bit of a jump.
I say with respect to Bill C-15B, the difficulty we have with it is we simply do not know where it is going because of the imprecision of the definition of animal. The definition marks a significant departure, by providing protection for an extremely wide range of living organisms that have never before been afforded this kind of legal protection. Where is that going? What are the unintended consequences of that? That is a statement of fact, we have no idea where it is going.
In terms of practical difficulties on how this definition is worded, it could potentially cause enormous problems by extending the criminal law to invertebrates, cold-blooded species such as fish, as well as an extremely wide variety of other types of both domestic and wild animals.
There is nothing in the mind of somebody who is an aggressive activist that would amaze me. Aggressive activists will take a look at this legislation and will push it as far as they can conceivably push it. Is it possible that somebody could be harassed by an activist, potentially by somebody in uniform who has an overzealous approach to things, a conservation officer or whomever? Is it not possible that somebody working with fish could end up with a problem because it is not precise?
The Canadian Alliance asked the government members to delete or modify this definition but they refused. In her speech at second reading, the justice minister assured us that what was lawful today in the course of legitimate activities would be lawful when the bill received royal assent. She promised the House that these changes would not in any way negatively affect the many legitimate activities that involve animals, such as hunting, farming, medical or scientific research.
The minister's statement was self-evident but misleading. Of course the new provisions will not prevent legitimate activities from being carried out. The law only proscribes illegal activities. The problem is and therefore the concern is that these new provisions arguably narrow the scope of what constitutes legitimate activities.
I say again on behalf of the people of Kootenay--Columbia, I have a wonderful group of people in my constituency. We are about 82,000 people strong. We are the backbone of Canada. These are people who love animals. These are people who understand the relationship between animals and nature. These are the hunters. These are the people who go fishing. These are the people who look after the environment in which these animals live. These are the farmers. These are the ranchers. These are the pet owners who treat their animals with respect, as every member of my party does and I do. On their behalf, I stand here and say that this bill must be voted in the negative.