Mr. Speaker, although waxing eloquent the previous member missed a fairly major point regarding the submissions of ranchers, farmers, researchers and so on. We in the Canadian Alliance want to make it clear at the beginning that we in no way condone intentional acts of cruelty toward animals. We would without a doubt support increased penalties for offences relating to such acts. However there are ways to do it other than those the minister has proposed.
As has been mentioned in the House by others today and previously, there are animal rights groups that target livestock producers and label them as cruel, inhumane and barbaric. We have seen this. We have been monitoring it on the Internet and elsewhere. One such group, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals or PETA, has launched an anti-dairy campaign targeting schoolchildren.
I take offence to that. We have a lot of dairy farmers in Saskatchewan. My riding has probably the highest concentration of dairy farmers in the province. They are hard-working people who take care of their livestock. They need to do so for the sake of the bottom line. Indirectly targeting these people is something I am greatly opposed to and offended by. The Canadian Alliance is concerned Bill C-15B would arm groups like PETA and others with a powerful new tool to use against farmers, dairy farmers, ranchers and others whose livelihood requires careful care and treatment of animals.
The official opposition agrees with the majority of Canadians who want to see harsher penalties for those who mistreat or deliberately abuse animals. However because of the way Bill C-15B is currently worded many ranchers, hunters, medical researchers and so on might be subject to harassing prosecutions. They could be convicted of animal abuse even though they properly care for their animals.
Groups such as the International Fund for Animal Welfare and the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals claim they have no intention of using Bill C-15B to harass farmers and researchers. On the other hand there are groups like the Animal Alliance of Canada whose director, Liz White, hints she would use the legislation to attack animal producers. I will put it on record again if it is not already there. 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.
The Minister of Justice has the ability to introduce legislation. However I cannot for the life of me understand why he does not introduce legislation that would strengthen and modernize the current cruelty to animals provisions of the criminal code without threatening the people who use and care for animals.
The minister has chosen to go a different route and not listen to the many submissions of those calling for changes to the bill. He has refused to explicitly protect farmers, ranchers, fishermen, hunters and medical researchers. He has refused to be explicit in the legislation and ensure the courts would not be able to interpret Bill C-15B in a way parliament did not intend.
In light of these refusals we are concerned the Liberals may be counting on the bill to reach much further than they publicly state in the House. The Canadian Alliance will continue to demand that the government amend Bill C-15B to ensure farmers, ranchers and medical researchers would remain protected, that their concerns would be taken into account, and that there would be no problems down the road with people going to court and using the legislation to the detriment of these individuals.
The bill's definition of animal must be amended. The present definition reads:
--a vertebrate, other than a human being, and any other animal that has the capacity to feel pain.
The definition is far too broad. It could interfere with the ability of farmers to eliminate pests and rodents which are destructive to their livelihood. We had a gopher problem in Saskatchewan we needed to deal with. Out on the range a problem like that can hurt other animals. If a horse gets caught in one of the holes it can create problems for the horse's owner who may be trying to conduct a ranching business. We need the amendment for that reason.
We are calling for the retention of the animal cruelty provisions in the property section of the criminal code. The criminal code currently provides protection from harassing prosecutions to those who use animals for legitimate, lawful and justified practices. It does so through the phrase cited by the hon. member opposite concerning legal justification, excuse or colour of right. Bill C-15B would move the animal cruelty provisions out of the property offences section of the criminal code and into a section of their own, thereby effectively removing the legal justification protection.
I will quickly summarize. We in the Canadian Alliance in no way condone intentional acts of cruelty toward animals. We support increasing the penalties for offences relating to such acts. We should hike them up significantly to send a strong message to those who would abuse or deliberately hurt and maim animals in some cases for their own perverse pleasure.
New animal cruelty legislation might cause the courts to interpret such offences in a different light. As we have said, it could have significant detrimental implications for farmers, hunters and other agricultural producers who depend on animals for their livelihoods.
Moving the cruelty provisions from property offences to a new separate section would elevate the status of animals in the eyes of the courts. No one can deny that. The defences that apply to individuals who want to protect themselves against harassment and malicious charges would no longer apply under the new section.
The former minister stated that what is lawful today in the course of legitimate activities would still be lawful after the bill received royal assent. If it is not the former justice minister's intention to change what is lawful today why did she not go the route of raising penalties for those who perpetrate cruelty on animals? That is the way we would have preferred her to approach the matter.
I will again make plain our longstanding opposition to the Firearms Act. We in the Canadian Alliance oppose the amendments to the Firearms Act proposed by Bill C-15B on the basis that the act should be repealed altogether. Messing around with it or tweaking the edges to no account is not something we are favourable to. It should be repealed and removed altogether.
For these reasons we in my party oppose Bill C-15B as it stands.