Mr. Speaker, I want to commend the previous speaker for his remarks.
In going through Bill C-15B, it is important to keep in context how the legislation came about. It originally was before the House in the form of what is called an omnibus bill. There were a number of very complex and unrelated subjects that found themselves in the bill which caused a great deal of consternation I think for many members of parliament. It is a usual tactic that the government has employed to have its way, that is to essentially include a number of issues with which most if not all members agree and couple them with other pieces of legislation that the government would like to slide in, putting members of parliament in the uncomfortable position of voting against things of which they actually are in favour.
The strategical tactics unfortunately have blurred much of the merit of this particular bill. However the former minister of justice did climb down from her lofty position and agreed to some extent to split off parts of the bill to allow members to vote more freely and more in line with the wishes of their constituents and their own comfort levels.
We have before us a bill with a number of important amendments, which I would hope the government would consider, that would improve and in fact very much ameliorate the ability of the legislation to address the principle issue, and that is: helping to eradicate and give our law enforcement officials greater ability to enforce laws which are meant to curtail cruelty to animals.
We in the coalition are very supportive of any initiative that will bring about legislation dealing with crimes against animals. This legislation very much puts forward the spirit that we need to punish those who intentionally abuse or neglect animals. Cruelty to animals is an issue that has received significant public attention of late. In recent years psychologists have drawn clear parallels between a child's cruelty to animals and subsequent cruelty toward human beings in his or her adult life as one element to take into consideration.
We support as well the government's decision to put forward an ability for judges to remove barriers, to heighten the sentences and heighten the degree of deterrence that should emerge from cases where there is clear-cut, proven on evidence cases of animal abuse.
We do not, I hasten to add, adhere to the government's position in the legislation that to achieve the deterrents and to achieve the heightened degree of accountability, the government must remove the criminal code provisions dealing with animals from the property section of the code.
The proprietary aspects of animal abuse have always been very important in the prosecution of animal cruelty cases. Moving the animal cruelty provisions out of part XI of the criminal code removes the protection of legitimate based businesses that relate to animals and animal husbandry. By virtue of taking that section out of section 429(2) of the criminal code, this important ability to protect oneself by virtue of the law is removed. Let us be very clear about that.
The current section in the property law allows for legal justification, or excuse or colour of right to be claimed by a person who might be charged. Therefore it affords legal protection for acts which have always been seen as legitimate and outside the gamut of animal cruelty and always based upon the evidence. It is inappropriate and misleading in a malicious way to suggest that somehow removing these sections will protect animals any further than it currently does.
It currently is illegal to perpetrate any sort of cruelty against animals. The problem has been in the prosecution of these offences and further in the ability of the police to lay charges. That also ties very much into the resource allocation currently available for police in the country. Removing the cruelty to animals provisions from this section is of particular concern to hunters, trappers, farmers and to researchers. There is an important element in the use of animals for genetic research. People like John and Jessie Davidson would be the first to say that genetic research is something that has to be given a higher priority by the Parliament of Canada and the people of Canada.
These legitimate individuals who work and depend on animals for their livelihood have expressed very clearly to the government their concerns. They came before a committee. There was extensive study of this issue. Everything the bill seeks to achieve could be achieved by bringing about the amendments but leaving the current sections in the property section of the criminal code. Everything that is sought to be accomplished could be done so in that fashion.
We share the concerns of many Canadians, though, who have spoken about the definition of an animal. Any animal that has the capacity to feel pain does encompass in a large way any sort of cruelty that might be perpetrated. Yet through this definition, the government is putting at risk many activities that currently occur. We have heard examples of those. A farmer who puts a noose around an animal's neck to lead it to pasture or to pull it out of danger could potentially be charged.
We have heard ludicrous examples, such as putting a worm on a hook or boiling a live lobster. Potentially, if taken to the extreme, these types of activities could result in prosecutions. The sad reality of that is that the cost that would be expended and the delay in following through with these types of prosecutions, whether they be brought about by the crown or private prosecutions which currently can occur, would bankrupt and put out of business a lot of individuals who currently rely on animals for their livelihood.
Even the intentional act of stepping on a spider was one example that was given as cruelty to an animal.
My comments are in no way an attempt to make light of a serious situation but to point out that this type of law is very dangerous and should not be proceeded with in this fashion. This law could place fishermen, farmers, hunters, trappers, furriers or any individual that associates with animals at risk of frivolous prosecution and those who espouse radical views about animal protection.
The ensuing lawsuits could paralyze and bankrupt some businesses. It is well intended and there are many individuals who are well intended in their efforts to protect animals, but the reality is the horrific cases of animal abuse are currently illegal. It is a matter of enabling our system further to resource and through attention and priorizing the prosecutions for these types of offences. We support strengthening the criminal code and provisions dealing with animals and many of the improvements that are envisioned by the bill. This punishment and resource question is where the problem lies.
The minister did at least realize the carelessness that occurred in the drafting of the original bill, Bill C-17, and she was careful to now inject the word “wilful” with respect to cruelty and unnecessary pain being perpetrated in the drafting of this new bill.
Regrettably, the former minister did not see the need to keep the animal cruelty sections within the property sections of the criminal code. Thus, this improved legislation would not provide the adequate protection with which the majority of animal business people would be concerned. For that reason, sadly we are unable to support the bill.
We believe the legislation is needed and that further legislation is needed to prevent needless animal pain and suffering. An example that comes to mind is the case that many of us were transfixed on a few years ago when we heard about a Rottweiler dog that was dragged on a chain behind a pick-up truck. There was a case very recently in Kingston that was reported in the Kingston Whig-Standard of horrible abuse to a cat named Solitaire that was bloodied and battered. These type of cases are extremely offensive to the sensibilities of most Canadians.
The traditional practices of hunting, fishing and farming do not fit into the category of mean spirited violence, yet they could very much be caught up by virtue of these changes.
It is imperative that animal cruelty legislation be clearly designated to target those who would engage in brutal, deliberate acts against animals. Just as the other parts of this legislation which deal with firearms legislation, it is fine to try to redefine what the legislation does, yet we know it has been a complete and utter failure. The cost is prohibitive. The intent is such that individuals will not voluntarily participate.
For those reasons, and for reasons which I would like to elaborate on but due to limitations of time I cannot, our coalition cannot support the bill. We would be hopeful that the government would be willing to accept the amendments which would take away those sections which very much undermine the spirit and intent of the bill.