Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise today to speak to Bill C-15B, specifically the cruelty to animals provision of the bill which is of particular concern to residents in my riding. I will be addressing three specific aspects of the bill: the definition of animal, private prosecutions under the bill, and the inclusion of the terms wilfully and negligently
I will begin by discussing in general terms the objectives of cruelty to animals provisions in the bill. Bill C-15B has two primary objectives: to consolidate, modernize and simplify the existing scheme of animal cruelty offences; and to increase existing maximum penalties and provide new sentencing tools to enhance the effectiveness of the offence provisions.
The first objective would be achieved by removing inconsistent and confusing terminology. It would also achieved by removing archaic distinctions between different types of animals. For example, section 444 deals exclusively with cattle, which I note are defined in the criminal code to include other named domesticated animals as well. Section 445 deals exclusively with animals kept for a lawful purpose and subsection 446(1)(f) deals only with birds.
The amendments would further rationalize the law by distinguishing between offences of criminal negligence and offences requiring subjective intent and providing separate penalty regimes for each type of offence.
Creation of a new part of the criminal code for animal cruelty offences would further the aims of modernization and simplification. The new part would better reflect the policy of the existing law, in place since 1953, that society has an interest in protecting animals from intentional cruelty and criminal neglect and that this interest is independent of their status as property.
However, because the offences were left in Part XI, a part of the code dealing with offences in respect of certain property, there is a lack of clarity and consistency in the law about the fact that animals, whether property or not, have a capacity to feel pain. It is the capacity to feel which is addressed by prohibitions against the infliction of unnecessary pain, suffering or injury. Creation of a new part would be a more accurate reflection of the principle upon which the law is based.
Those involved in the investigation and prosecution of cruelty offences report that some criminal justice officials fail to treat cruelty offences with sufficient seriousness, tending to view them as property crimes, such as simple mischief.
There is growing evidence of a link between cruelty to animals and violence against people, including domestic violence and even child abuse. In recognition of this link, animal cruelty offences are best viewed as offences of violence. The continued classification of these offences as crimes against property interests fails to educate the public and the justice system about the true nature of the crimes.
A new offence would also be created to cover a gap in the current law. Under the present law, a person with a lawful excuse for killing an animal is prohibited only from doing so in any way that causes unnecessary pain. This means that a person might use depraved methods of killing an animal for sheer enjoyment and so long as the animal dies instantly, no offence is committed. Although the animal has been spared pain or suffering, society recognizes that brutality or vicious conduct is outside the scope of acceptable behaviour and in fact may pose a serious threat to society at large. Such conduct could include tying an animal to a railroad track, fastening an explosive device to an animal or putting an animal in a microwave oven, of which we have seen cases. The new offence is created to update the law so that this type of behaviour would be punishable.
The second objective of the animal cruelty provisions in Bill C-15B would involve enhancing available penalties. This would be achieved by making existing summary conviction offences dual procedure, allowing the crown to proceed by way of indictment for the more serious offences. Where the crown proceeds by indictment, maximum penalties would be increased to five years for offences of subjective intent and two years for offences of criminal negligence. An amendment adopted by the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights raised the maximum fines available for intentional cruelty and criminal neglect where the offence is proceeded with by summary conviction to $10,000 and $5,000, respectively.
The maximum duration of an order prohibiting an offender from owning or having custody of an animal has been extended from two years to life. The courts are given a new power to order a convicted offender to repay to a person or to an organization the costs associated with the caring for the animal in respect of which the offender was convicted.
The term animal is defined in Bill C-15B as a vertebrate, other than a human being, and any other animal that has the capacity to feel pain. Some people suggest that this definition is too broad. The definition is actually narrower, not broader, than the existing law. Under the current cruelty provisions animal is not defined. At the present time the courts are free to interpret the word animal in accordance with everyday meaning resulting in an interpretation broad enough to include most, if not all, members of the animal kingdom and certainly including many invertebrates. The definition is included to clarify and simplify the law by introducing a greater degree of precision in the law's application, and by providing a rational and principled definition which accords with the underlying purpose of the cruelty provisions.
From a scientific perspective, vertebrates are generally viewed as having sufficiently developed nervous systems to allow for sense and pain perception. They are therefore, as a group, all given protection under the law. However some invertebrates have a developed nervous system and therefore also must have the capacity to feel pain. It would be arbitrary to permanently and absolutely deny protection to some animals because they happen to be classified as invertebrates. Bill C-15B would create a mechanism that allows the crown to proceed in appropriate cases. The onus is on the crown prosecutor to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the definition of animal has been satisfied.
A broad definition of animal is consistent not only with definitions found in some provincial statutes but also with statutes in the United States. The following may be of interest to members: “does not include a human being” is found in Alberta; “non-human living being with developed nervous systems” is found in Manitoba and New Brunswick; “includes every living creature” in the state of Arkansas; “every living creature except man”, in the state of Maryland; “does not include the human race, but includes every other human creature”, in the state of Nevada; and the list goes on. There is no indication that the definitions of animal used in these jurisdictions have generated inappropriate use of the legislation.
The concern has been raised that the new cruelty provisions would make it easier for interest groups to prosecute persons involved in legitimate practices involving animals. This argument is made even though the test of liability for intentional cruelty and criminal neglect in the bill has not been changed.
The investigation and prosecution of the criminal code offences are the responsibility of local or provincial police forces and provincial attorneys general. Attorneys general decide when to pursue a charge laid by the police. In some cases, humane societies are mandated with investigating and prosecuting cruelty offences. These humane societies are constituted by provincial or territorial legislation and they exercise statutory powers granted to them by the legislation.
In every case brought to the attention of criminal justice officials, a number of considerations are taken into account in deciding whether to proceed, including whether there is a reasonable prospect of conviction. Procedures that ensure pre-trial screening of charges by prosecutors are more prevalent now than they were in the past and provide an additional safeguard against frivolous or vexatious prosecutions. Some 100 years of experience with animal cruelty laws shows no evidence of inappropriate use of criminal law by authorities to attack standard industry practices.
Private citizens are generally entitled to lay a criminal charge. However, in every case the attorney general in the jurisdiction retains the ability to intervene and take over the charge, and may withdraw the charges.