Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to address hon. members on the occasion of the consideration of an amendment to the motion to proceed to third reading.
It is time for the House to respond to the expectations of Canadians. Legislation that updates animal cruelty provisions and provides enhanced penalties for animal abusers has been before the House in one form or another since December 1, 1999. That is two and one-half years during which there have been numerous opportunities for organizations from a broad spectrum of interests to come forward and make their views known.
They have shared their views with the Department of Justice, with members of parliament, with the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, with the media and with other members of the public. There has been a full comprehensive debate on the issue of the changes that must be made to modernize the animal cruelty provisions. I want to take this opportunity to thank rural caucus members for their extensive contributions to the debate and the shaping of this legislation.
During the two and one-half years, the former minister of justice listened very carefully to the concerns of all Canadians, including industry. In fact, to be absolutely clear about the fact that criminal liability for intentional cruelty and criminal neglect had not been changed, the former minister of justice made several accommodations to critics of BIll C-17 when the animal cruelty provisions were reintroduced as Bill C-15 after an election was called and Bill C-17 died on the order paper. The accommodations did not change the legal test for liability but provided further clarification about the elements of the cruelty offences.
I would like to take this opportunity to briefly review the changes that have been made already to the animal cruelty amendments since Bill C-17 was introduced in the House two and one-half years ago.
Critics of Bill C-17 were concerned that the opening paragraph of the intentional cruelty offences did not set out an express mental element. Even though not required as a matter of law, the section was changed when it was reintroduced into Bill C-15 and retained in Bill C-15B to expressly require that the intentional cruelty offences must be committed either wilfully or recklessly.
The negligence provisions in Bill C-17 were also modified when they were reintroduced in Bill C-15. These modifications were made despite the fact that the Supreme Court of Canada jurisprudence made it very clear that they were not necessary as a matter of law. Nonetheless, in the interests of providing further clarification, subsection 182.3(1) was modified to include the word “negligently” as well as the word “unnecessary”.
The result is that the wording was changed from “by a failure to exercise reasonable care or supervision of an animal, causes it pain, suffering or injury” to “negligently causes unnecessary pain, suffering or injury to an animal”. This modification was made even though proof of criminal negligence requires that the prosecutor must show beyond a reasonable doubt that the actions of the accused constituted a marked departure from the standard of care a reasonable person would exercise in similar circumstances.
Another modification between Bill C-17 and Bill C-15 was to accommodate the concern of hunters that the use of the word “when” in the trap shooting offence might be interpreted as restricting the ability of hunters to conduct penned hunting. It should be noted that in the current animal cruelty offences, the word “when” is used in the English version of the criminal code, whereas “au moment de” is used in the French.
The offence in Bill C-15 was modified to indicate that the prohibited conduct related to shooting animals “at the moment” they were liberated. This wording provides greater consistency between the English and French versions of the criminal code.
A definition of negligence was also added to the negligence offences in section 182.3 to make it absolutely clear that a criminal standard of negligence rather than a civil standard was required.
A further change between Bill C-17 and Bill C-15 was to move the animal cruelty offences out of the part of the criminal code dealing with sexual offences and public morals and into a separate part of the code that deals with animal cruelty offences alone. This change addressed the concerns of critics that it was inappropriate to group animal cruelty offences with offences against persons.
After Bill C-15 received second reading on September 26 of last year, it was referred to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights with a direction that the committee split the bill into two parts. Bill C-15B contains the provisions regarding cruelty to animals and firearms.
The committee heard from a wide variety of groups with diverse views on the issue of animal cruelty. At the committee hearing the Criminal Lawyers' Association confirmed that removal of the animal cruelty provisions out of the property section would not cause accused persons to lose any available defences. The association did indicate that if there was a desire to make this absolutely clear, one of two options was possible: either to make an express reference to subsection 429(2) of the criminal code which outlines the defences of legal justification, excuse or colour of right; or to specifically confirm application of the common law defences set out in subsection 8(3).
Again, in the interests of accommodation and to reassure critics of the bill, the government introduced a motion adopted by the committee to confirm application of subsection 8(3) of the criminal code. To add clarification to the negligence provisions, the committee adopted a government motion to specify the mental element of “wilfully or recklessly” for the offence of abandoning an animal in paragraph 182.3(1)(b) of Bill C-15B, as well as the mental element of “negligently” for the offence of failure to provide suitable and adequate food, water, air, shelter and care for an animal.
One would have thought that following a suggestion of the Criminal Lawyers' Association, as well as further clarification of the negligence offences, would have caused opposition critics of the bill to agree that all accommodations that could be made without changing the test for legal liability had been made.
Unhappily, with the notable exception of the New Democratic Party, this does not appear to be the case. Critics among opposition parties want more. Meaningful accommodations have been made as a result of extensive representations over two and one-half years.
It is time for the House to act. It is time for the House to answer the expectations of Canadians and to move the legislation forward.