Mr. Speaker, I am glad to have a last opportunity to speak to Bill C-15B. Throughout its long journey through the House of Commons I have struggled in the background with the definition of animal in the legislation and tried to change it, unsuccessfully, I regret to say. I am hoping that when the bill goes on to the Senate that the senators will take some of my concerns to heart and perhaps question closely the officials and the minister on why they have gone for a definition of animal that reads something to the effect that:
...“animal” means a vertebrate, other than a human being, and any other animal that has the capacity to feel pain.
It is that latter bit, “any other animal that has the capacity to feel pain” that troubles me. That extends the definition of animal to include just about every living creature. Just about any living creature from an amoeba to a whale has the capacity to feel pain.
I think the intention and the feeling of the public is that the animal cruelty legislation should be directed towards animals that at least have a high order nervous system of the type that can feel pain and suffering. Cruelty is all about alleviating suffering, not simply trying to prevent a natural physical reaction.
This issue of the definition of animal was tackled by the consultative committee in the justice department way back in 1998 when it sent around to various interest groups and other organizations a consultative paper that invited responses on a number of questions. Overwhelmingly, organizations responded by saying that the definition of animal should be limited to animals that are non-human vertebrates. The reason is that obviously a vertebrate has a brain and a higher order nervous and mental system, and it is capable of feeling pain.
Instead however, the officials who drafted the legislation elected to choose the broadest definition possible. The definition that is before us would allow litigation based on any type of animal that may be experiencing pain, be it a worm on a hook or a lobster in a cooking pot or anything imaginable, a jellyfish. I know this is hard to imagine, but jellyfish do have a reaction when they are poked. It does not mean that they are suffering when they are taken and thrown on the beach. This definition would encompass that.
I have corresponded with the minister on a number of occasions on this. The argument back, I am sorry to say, has not been, shall we say, as exhaustive as we would like. The reaction back has been to say that there are other jurisdictions in the United States, a few state legislatures or states, such as Arkansas, that have a similar definition for animal that is just as broad.
The legislation we have before us is criminal code legislation. It is an amendment to one of the most powerful and important legal instruments in the land. Because a few isolated states in the United States have a broad definition of the word animal, not federal legislation, but state legislation, should not be a cause for adopting the same definition.
Another argument was presented by the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association who wrote to the justice minister that it was very supportive of the changes that define animal for the first time as a vertebrate other than a human being and any other animal that has a capacity to feel pain.
That is supposed to be a letter from this association. However this was correspondence in the year 2001. If we go back to the files, what we find is that the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association, when it replied to the original consultative paper in 1998, was very concerned that the definition of animal be limited to non-human vertebrates. In that sense it was entirely in conformity with all the other organizations, the majority of competent organizations that did not support broadening the definition in the way that we have before us.
I thought the reply from the minister suggesting that the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association was supportive of the definition was a little bit ingenuous because originally it wanted the definition to be non-human vertebrates and only elected to have the broader definition if, I have the correspondence here, it had the assurance from the justice department that this definition would not lead to interference or litigation involving the use of animals in a lawful and proper fashion. As a matter of fact I have quote here. It said:
Our association's support is based on our interpretation and expectation that the amendments will in no way alter or criminalize accepted activities in the treatment or use of animals.
These include practices such as in agriculture, hunting, fishing, trapping, animal research and so forth.
It was conditional. The difficulty, and where the pith of the problem is, is that the government cannot guarantee that there will not be litigation based on this broad definition. The government can only say that the courts will decide. This is where the flaw in the argument comes. The difficulty is that so many of these radical animal rights groups obtain their fundraising by confrontation before the courts. By allowing the broadest possible definition of animal to go forward in the legislation, the government is inviting endless litigation which will be the source of fundraising for various animal rights organizations for years to come.
It represents a naivete to think that simply and purely regarding a definition in legislation only in legal terms and not allowing for the social consequences it will have is a failure to properly inform the justice minister. I feel that what is missing, and indeed why we have these debates in the House, is that often when officials look at the definition of legislation, as do the courts, they often look at it in isolation. It is this place that should sound the warning, as indeed the opposition has on several occasions, that we want animal rights legislation that genuinely protects animals that are capable of suffering from unnecessary cruelty.
The legislation will do that but unfortunately, with this very broad definition, it will do more. It will give the opportunity to various organizations to bring nuisance court cases and challenges before the courts. Yes, we can fight them and yes, we will win them, but it will cost the government money to fight these cases because they will go all the way up to the supreme court. The people who will win will not be the public. It will be those who stand to profit from raising the issue of animal welfare. Animal welfare is an important thing that we are all concerned about, but it is not something on which organizations should be allowed to make money.