Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to take part today, at third reading stage, in the debate on Bill C-15B, an Act to amend the Criminal Code (cruelty to animals and firearms) and the Firearms Act.
This bill was the government's response to hundreds of letters and thousands of signatures from people asking for a more effective act regarding treatment, protection and penalties relating to animal cruelty.
The current legislation dates back to the 19th century and needs to be modernized. However, after scrutinizing this bill, we realized that the government has not been able to strike a proper balance so that breeders, farmers, hunters and researchers who carry out legitimate activities do not have to face unacceptable legal action.
The purpose of this bill is not, of course, to protect people, from all walks of life, who commit cruel and reprehensible acts against animals.
Everyone agrees on the need to make changes in order to find the proper balance.
However, while the Minister of Justice claims that the bill does not deprive the animal industry from its revenues, it would be important to specify this in the legislation, so as to reassure the animal, farming, medical and sports industry regarding any risk of frivolous lawsuits.
This was not done, and it is why the Bloc Quebecois is against the bill. The minister simply amended the bill by adding the defences in paragraph 8(3) of the criminal code. The minister and the Standing Committee on Justice rejected the Bloc Quebecois' amendments, which would have explicitly added as a defence acting with legal justification or excuse and with colour of right.
The legislation would no longer provide any balance on the issue of cruelty to animals. We are shifting from an outdated legislation that did not properly protect animals from cruelty to a legislation that would put people carrying out legal and reasonable activities in an unfair and unacceptable situation.
As a member representing a rural riding, my duty is to protect not only farmers, but also the tourism industry which includes hunters, ranchers and researchers.
In my riding, for example, studies are conducted on a regular basis to see if the snow goose population is maintained at an adequate level. There are contentious issues involved here. The legislation, in its present form, could result in prosecution that would prove frivolous and that would hinder the very scientific and relevant process undertaken to ensure adequate management of the snow goose population.
This is also true for farmers. We have seen all over the planet animal rights advocates, whose point of view is defendable. However, we must avoid going too far and finding ourselves in a situation where it would be impossible to get into various types of operations that are currently accepted, that are normal in our society but that could result in vexatious prosecution.
The Bloc Quebecois was in favour of the bill in principle, if it could have been amended to reflect the means of defence already allowed in part XI of the criminal code. This is why the Bloc Quebecois asked that the means of defence in article 429 of the criminal code be added explicitly to new part V.1 of the criminal code. These amendments were rejected in committee.
This bill also deals with firearms. In that part of the bill, powers are taken away from the Government of Quebec, which created bodies responsible for issuing licences, namely the Bureau de traitement and the Centre d'appel du Québec. These responsibilities will be taken away from Quebec under this bill, which we also find totally unacceptable.
In short, the Bloc Quebecois opposes the bill because it does not explicitly protect the legitimate activities of the animal industry, hunting and research, and because it strips the Government of Quebec of the power to enforce the provisions of the Firearms Act.
I will give a good example of what goes on in my riding. The Cégep de La Pocatière offers a popular course on animal health, which trains people to become technicians working with veterinarians. Obviously, in this line of work, one must operate on animals. The people who take such a course become animal health technicians. They learn to work with veterinarians and animals.
The bill, as it stands, could lead to lawsuits against this practice, with the major legal consequences that entails. Such proceedings would not, in my opinion, jeopardize the program as such, but they would give rise to costs that, in my opinion, are inappropriate. Consequently, we believe that the bill should be re-examined more thoroughly before being passed.
The same goes for farmers and ranchers. Our ranchers have to assume their responsibilities properly. I believe that the vast majority do just that. If there are exceptions, let us use the provisions currently in the act or amend the bill to focus on those cases. However, we should not make a blanket statement. Many ranchers behave quite appropriately and they should not be the object of frivolous lawsuits. I believe the bill should be reviewed and reworked to be made more palatable.
The purpose of this bill is to have more adequate means to deal with offenders who commit cruel and reprehensible acts against animals. It meets the intent of the reform, which is to protect animals, but it does not define precisely and properly enough what an offender would be. Consequently, the bill will be challenged in court time and time again. I do not believe making this kind of laws is what legislators intend. Their goal is to have laws that will be easily enforceable and that will help deal with problems. It is important to do this properly.
As I was saying before, the current legislation dates back to the 19th century. It is being updated. Let us hope we will not have to do it again within the next five or ten years. We should have legislation that is consistent with today's reality and that will enable us to deal with problems in the years to come.
We do not have that with this bill. Therefore, it should be sent back to the drawing board. I believe it is not a matter of such urgency that we need to do it for tomorrow morning, but it is important to have proper legislation we all agree upon, which is not the case at present.
This is why the Bloc Quebecois will vote against the bill unless it is amended in a novel fashion.
Since we are at third reading, unless the government decides to change the content of the bill to better take into account criticism from those who raise animals, the Bloc Quebecois will vote against the bill. As a member from a rural area, I can only applaud this position.