Mr. Speaker, I want to say to my hon. colleague for Yukon that I respect him greatly as a person. I want him to know that the points I will make in my speech are valid points, and they are not being made just by me. They represent much of the opposition to the bill as it presently stands.
The bill before us today was introduced and discussed by the Liberal spin masters on many different occasions but I still do not think the government has it right. Bill C-15B reintroduces the proposed amendments to the cruelty to animals provision of the criminal code that were introduced in Bill C-17 during the last parliament with certain changes.
However, despite the minor improvements to the legislation, many people who are dependent on the harvesting and husbandry of animals for their livelihood still have a number of concerns with the bill.
One concern with the bill is that the definition of animal is too broad. The proposed definition of “animal” in Bill C-15B includes non-human vertebrates and “all animals having the capacity to feel pain”. This new definition extends legal protection to a number of living organisms which have never before been provided that kind of protection.
Another key concern is that the criminal code would no longer provide the same level of legal protection presently afforded to those who use animals for legitimate, lawful and justified practices. The phrase “legal justification, excuse or colour of right” in section 429(2) of the criminal code currently provides protection to those who commit any kind of property offence.
However, in the new bill the fact that the animal cruelty provisions would be moved out of the general classification of property offences and into a section of their own would remove these provisions outside of the scope of that very protection.
Moving the animal cruelty section out of the range of property offences to a new section in its own right, emphasizes animal rights as opposed to animal welfare. I think that is the big difference that we need to be clear on here. This is a significant alteration in the underlying principles of the legislation and could elevate the status of animals in the eyes of the courts.
This legislation could open up, for instance, the possibility that farmers, sporting groups and scientific researchers will be unjustly prosecuted. Animal rights groups in Canada will certainly use this new legislation as the basis for such prosecution and in fact have already stated their intentions to do exactly that.
Liz White, the director of legislative revision of the Animal Alliance of Canada, has been quoted as saying:
My worry is that people think that 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 conviction to lay charges. That's what this is all about. Make no mistake about it.
Those are not my words. Those are the words of one of the directors of the Animal Alliance of Canada, an animal rights group. Animal rights groups are already gearing up to test this law. We hear reports of them harassing feedlot owners, cattle sales ring owners, rodeo workers and even veterinarians about possible cruelty to animals. Those are ordinary Canadians who make their livelihood working with animals. The bill opens up this legal Pandora's box which will cost Canadians much down the road.
The former federal justice minister has offered assurances that what is lawful today in the course of legitimate activities will be lawful when the bill receives royal assent. However the problem is that these new provisions arguably narrow the scope of what constitutes legitimate activities.
We have all been witness to time after time when we were told by the government “don't worry, it will never happen that way, just trust us”. In the present climate of the government in this country today, that is a statement that just will not wash with the Canadian public.
The long and the short of it is, unless it is clearly spelled out in the legislation, I do not trust the legislation. I believe the government has passed legislation before that will have devastating effects on the future of this country and yet may not be seen for years to come. This legislation is just one more example of that.
As I turn to the second part of the bill I note that the government has failed dramatically in its efforts to curb violence through its ill-fated gun policy. In spite of the overwhelming evidence that the Liberal gun registry has failed miserably both administratively and financially, the government blithely carries. The emperor has no clothes and yet no one on that side of the House is prepared to state the facts as they really are.
The Hells Angels think that the gun laws are just fine. Just ask one of their leaders who was recently convicted of a number of crimes and was known to be directly associated with the most elite division of this infamous motorcycle gang and yet successfully applied for a firearm acquisition certificate. Yet the minister stands before the House expecting to be believed when he states that the registration program is working just fine.
My colleagues in the Canadian Alliance have stated before and I will state again that we support increasing penalties for cruelty to animal offences but we do not support widening the scope of what currently constitutes a criminal offence. New animal cruelty legislation may cause the courts to interpret such offences in a different light. This could have significant and detrimental implications for farmers, hunters and other agricultural producers who are dependent on animals for their livelihood. If it is not the minister's intention to change what is lawful today, he should simply raise the penalties for existing animal cruelty offences.
The Canadian Alliance in no way condones intentional acts of cruelty toward animals and supports increasing the penalties for offences relating to such acts. However new animal cruelty legislation may cause the courts to interpret such offences in a different light. This could have significant implication on all those who are dependent on animals for their livelihoods.
With regard to firearms, we believe that there should be severe mandatory penalties for the criminal use of any weapon. We are committed to keeping guns out of the hands of violent criminals as a necessary part of making our communities safer.
Certainly if we ever become government, and it may not be long, we will replace the current firearms law with a practical firearms control system that is cost effective and respects the rights of Canadians to own and use firearms responsibly.
In closing, I believe we need to have a strong dose of reality injected into both this debate and this bill. Let us not get caught up in the hyperbole that can elevate any debate beyond the realistic to the surreal. All Canadians would agree that cruelty to animals is wrong and that realistic gun control should enhance the safety of Canadians. However, if we do not define the limits of the legislation in a careful and reasoned manner, keeping in mind the need to have realistic applications of these changes, then we are only making life more difficult for everyone and unhelpful to anyone.
For those reasons and the lack of reasoned ability to apply these new changes to the laws of the land, I will be opposing, on behalf of my constituents, Bill C-15B.