Mr. Speaker, my hon. friend, my colleague from North Battleford, made a very strong case, as did my colleague from Calgary, in terms of the liberties that are involved. Bill C-15B is a very significant piece of legislation that does seem to be somewhat intrusive.
I want to make it abundantly clear that one of the things we in the Canadian Alliance want to underline time and again is that we are absolutely not in favour of cruelty to animals. We do support the intent of the legislation, which would make cruelty to animals a more serious offence. There is no question about that and I want to make that abundantly clear so that no one misinterprets or misunderstands why we are opposed to the bill. We have no criticisms of those aspects of the bill, but we do criticize its intrusiveness, which creates problems for other people.
I would like to suggest that there is a fundamental principle of legislation we need to observe in all legislation and that principle is this: the legislation must make sense. Legislation that makes sense actually achieves what it intends to achieve and it protects the legitimate interests of citizens and the pursuits of those citizens in various legitimate enterprises, and in particular, farmers, ranchers, fishermen and medical researchers.
Now I will try to look at this piece of legislation from that perspective. First, then, I would like to recognize that the legislation before us now in Bill C-15B could open up the possibility that farmers, sporting groups and scientific researchers will be unjustly prosecuted. They may even be persecuted. Animal rights groups in Canada will certainly use this new legislation as the basis for such prosecutions, and in fact have already stated their intentions to do so, notwithstanding that some people argue they will not.
I will refer specifically to a quote from Liz White, the director of legislative revision, Animal Alliance of Canada. She stated:
My worry is that people think this is the means to the end, but this is just the beginning. It doesn't matter what the legislation says if no one uses it, if no one takes it to court, if nobody tests it. The onus is on humane societies and other groups on the front lines to push this legislation to the limit, to test the parameters of this law and have the courage and the conviction to lay charges. That’s what this is all about. Make no mistakes about it.
My learned friend is a legal person and understands what the legal processes are. He understands exactly what that kind of statement means. The federal minister has assured us that what is lawful today in the way of legitimate activities in the courts would be lawful when the bill receives royal assent. The problem is that these new provisions arguably narrow the scope of what constitutes legitimate activities.
Am I the only one who has concerns about this? I am not trained in the law, but I do know something about logic and I do know something about how things work. I would like to refer the House to the Canadians for Medical Progress, Inc. This is a group of very sophisticated researchers who know what they are talking about. They have examined this omnibus bill. Pierre Berton, the senior patron, says this:
I am writing on behalf of Canadians for Medical Progress to request that, if you haven't already done so, you take a close...look...The intent of the legislation is to deal more stringently and effectively with incidents of extreme and unacceptable abuse to animals.
Who would disagree? I do not. The vast majority of Canadians would heartily endorse this, that is agreed, but he continued and stated:
However, some amended components of this section of the bill as drafted could have serious and paralyzing consequences for medical science. Essentially, they will remove animals as property, and will be interpreted as conferring person-like status on animals. In my opinion, this is an asinine, ludicrous approach toward solving the problem of animal abuse.
These are not my words. These are the words of significant, respected, well qualified and successful researchers in the field of medicine.
I will go on and look at the other parts of the bill. Canadians for Medical Progress has as one of its objectives:
Making representations to the government for the enactment or protection of legislation permitting and supporting biomedical research.
We ought to do that. We should have that. The group has other goals. It wants to promote “health research awareness, the science of biomedical research and the knowledge and practice thereof”. It wants to co-ordinate its “activities with those of similar organizations and societies and individuals” and it wants to hold “conferences, meetings and exhibitions for the discussion of biomedical research”. That is what these organizations do. The quotes I have just read are the words of people who do these kinds of things.
Canadians for Medical Progress also stated that it:
applauds the efforts of the drafters of this new legislation on their goal... We wish to affirm our belief that the wanton cruelty to animals is plainly not acceptable, and should be subject to the full force of the law.
However...the present wording, although totally unintentional, could open the door to costly and paralyzing private prosecutions, based on unfounded and frivolous allegations, against responsible, legitimate and ethically sound research. The key here, though, is the cost and time expenditure that could be inflicted on researchers and their research activity, regardless of potential litigation outcomes.
I know, and so do the members of the House, that in Canada the litigation process is not so much dependent on what is right or what is just, but rather on how much money and time the people who are litigating have to spend on the issue. Do we really want to get into the position where our researchers have to spend millions of dollars defending themselves instead of devoting that money to the legitimate pursuit of research to solve some of our medical problems we need to address? That is the issue here. Why would we create a law that would make it difficult for these people to conduct legitimate research using animals such that they would have to go to court to defend themselves about whether the use of those animals is cruel or not? That is at the heart of this concern.
People will say “but that is the medical group”. No, it is not just the medical group. I have some documentation here and if I have time I will read it into the record as well. It is from the Canadian Cattlemen's Association, from the fishermen's association and from the veterinary association. A lot of people are deeply concerned. Their concerns are not frivolous concerns. These are not people who have looked at this legislation and just have said it came from the Liberal government and therefore they would throw it away. Their concerns are not political concerns. They are legitimately concerned that this legislation will threaten, will paralyze, a legitimate activity that they want to do on behalf of improving the health and welfare of Canadians.
I want to review this briefly. What did the former minister of justice state at the time the bill was introduced? She stated:
...what is lawful today in the course of legitimate activities would be lawful when the bill receives royal assent.
If that is really what she meant, why would she then create legislation that really puts into question whether that in fact would be the case? Her statement in effect is self-evident. However, it is misleading. Of course the new provisions will not prevent legitimate activities from being carried out, but the law only prescribes illegal activities. The problem is, therefore, the concern that these new provisions arguably narrow the scope of what constitutes a legitimate activity. That is where the difficulty comes in. It is the scope of that activity. If it was not the minister's intent to prohibit the presently acceptable and legitimate activities in Canadian agriculture or fur industries, she should have amended the legislation to clarify the intent in those provisions.
Therefore, at best, in my opinion, the bill begs the question of whether it makes sense and whether it protects people. In practical terms I think it fails to do what the minister originally intended to achieve. I think that is a very major concern.
Let me be a little more specific with regard to farming. Farmers are constantly faced with challenges. They are influenced daily by weather, commodity prices, transportation costs and federal government intervention.
Most farmers would add certain animal rights groups to this list. Some groups target livestock producers, labelling them as cruel, inhumane and barbaric. I will provide an example that shocked me. I did not know that this had happened but apparently it has. The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, PETA, has launched an anti-dairy campaign targeting schoolchildren. It is essentially telling them that if children drink milk they are responsible for the torture of cows. Just imagine. Why would anyone do that? My colleagues and I in the Canadian Alliance, including my party's agriculture critic, are concerned that groups such as PETA are about to be armed with a powerful new weapon against farmers. I hope this never happens but apparently this is already taking place.
I certainly agree with the vast majority of Canadians that we need harsher penalties for those who deliberately abuse animals. Unfortunately, because of the way Bill C-15B is currently worded, many ranchers, hunters and medical researchers may be subjected to harassment and prosecutions and could be convicted of abuse even though they properly care for their animals.
We have two suggestions. The Canadian Alliance is demanding two major changes to Bill C-15B. The first is that the bill's definition of an animal must be amended. The current definition reads:
--a vertebrate, other than a human being, and any other animal that has the capacity to feel pain.
Because this definition is too broad it could interfere with the abilities of farmers to eliminate pests and of researchers to find cures for diseases. We must change the definition.
Second, we are calling for the legislation to protect from costly, frivolous prosecutions those who legitimately use animals. Currently the criminal code provides protection from harassment and prosecution, but because the bill will move animal cruelty out of the property offences of the criminal code this protection effectively would be removed. The justice minister has the ability to introduce legislation that would strengthen and modernize the current cruelty to animals provisions of the criminal code without threatening those who legitimately use animals, but so far the minister has refused to be explicit in the legislation and ensure that the courts have no ability to interpret Bill C-15B in a way that parliament did not intend.
That is at the heart of this: that the courts not interpret the legislation in a way that was not intended by parliament. I do not think there is any quarrel from our side of the House about the intent of the legislation being noble. It is. Therefore let us word it in such a way that it indeed can achieve what it was set out to achieve.
Now I will speak to the other part of the bill, which for some crazy reason is in this bill but in my opinion should not be, and that is the amendment to the firearms act. What that has to do with cruelty to animals I do not know, but it was put together so I need to separate it out and refer to it in particular.
Mr. Speaker, I think you are very well aware, as are all members of the House, that as far as the Canadian Alliance is concerned the whole firearms registry and Firearms Act should be scrapped, repealed, done away with, but let me refer to a particular aspect of this amendment. It deals with criminal law. Criminal law is our most serious form of law. A violation of criminal law, including a violation of any prescription or regulation that exists by way of an order in council, and by the way this act does exactly that, can result in a criminal record and imprisonment.
It is therefore inappropriate to create criminal law that is not to be found in the act but must be sought in a maze of current, revised, overlapping and obsolete order in council regulations. Why is it so significant that this has gone through the regulations part? All of this stuff is dealt with in the regulations rather than in the law itself. While regulations made under the authority of orders in council may have a place in regulatory law, we submit that they should not be included in criminal law. The regulations are simply not sufficiently available to rely on them as a valid way of setting forth criminal law.
Those affected by them are not usually subscribers to the Canada Gazette . It would be inappropriate to believe that everyone knows them or can know them and they are not easily available to either crown prosecutors or defence lawyers. It is possible to know the criminal code and other criminal law and in fact it is the duty of us to know that. However, it is not possible to know the regulations unless one has a subscription to the Canada Gazette or makes it one's business to read it.
Mr. Speaker, I think you have read many of them and I am sure you recognize how difficult that exercise can be. The regulations change frequently and with insufficient publicity.
It is my understanding that in a recent court case the crown and defence lawyers argued the exact meaning of certain terms in a particular regulation. The entire case turned on the exact wording of the regulation and was eventually decided by analysis of that wording. It was not the legislation, the act of parliament, but it was the regulation which is an act of the privy council.
The severity of that problem is well illustrated by a blunder enacted into law by parliament in the current Firearms Act and in particular, order in council, described as the Prohibited Weapons Order No.12 made by order in council 1992-1690 of July 23, 1992 and registered as SOR/92-471. I have to beg the indulgence of those who are watching because there is a lot of technical stuff. It was not registered as SOR/92-471. It was registered as SOR/92-599-01. SOR/92-471 was an earlier order in council that was replaced by SOR/92-599-01.
Similarly in subsection 12(5) a particular order is described as the Prohibited Weapons Order No. 13 made by order in council P.C.1994-1974 of November 29, 1994 and registered as SOR/94-741. It was not registered as SOR/94-741. It was registered as SOR/94-829-01. SOR/94-741 was an earlier order in council and was replaced by SOR/94-829-01
If you can make sense of all that, Mr. Speaker, you are very good. I had to read it several times to figure out exactly what was going on. It was a real mess. The crystal clarity of it is that it is a mess. That is the part that is clear.
The bill fails. It does not make sense because in my opinion it does not protect the legitimate activities of farmers, hunters and so on in their use of animals. Also, it relegates to regulation what should be in the legislation. If it cannot be enforced in legislation, why would the government relegate it to regulation? The government thinks it can be enforced in regulation what it has given up in legislation.
There are very serious problems with the bill. On the intent we agree and I want to repeat that. We totally agree with the intent of making it a more serious offence to abuse animals and to treat them cruelly. There is no problem with that. However some of the clumsy ways in which this is being introduced is so ridiculous that the bill should be withdrawn and redone. There are some things in the bill that are really worthwhile and there are other parts of it that should be thrown out.