Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to introduce the debate on the message from the other place insisting on further amendments to Bill C-10B, an act to amend the Criminal Code (cruelty to animals).
Let me remind the House that we have been on a long journey with this bill. Animal cruelty amendments were originally introduced in 1999 in Bill C-7, a small omnibus criminal law amendment bill.
Bill C-17 died on the Order Paper when Parliament prorogued in 2000 without having completed second reading.
In March 2001 the government introduced Bill C-15, a new and larger omnibus criminal law bill containing the animal cruelty amendments. Some revisions had been made to the amendments to clarify the scope and the intent of the measures. Subsequently, the House split Bill C-15 in 2001 and the animal cruelty amendments and other amendments became known as Bill C-15B. The House passed Bill C-15B in June 2002. It died again when Parliament prorogued that summer.
In October 2002 the bill was reintroduced as Bill C-10 and referred directly to the other place. In November the other place referred Bill C-10 to the committee on legal and constitutional affairs with an instruction to split the bill into two portions. The animal cruelty amendments became known as Bill C-10B.
Committee hearings in the other place commenced in early December 2002 and concluded on May 15, 2003. Bill C-10B then received third reading and was passed in the other place on May 29, with five amendments.
The House debated the amendments on June 6, 2003. The House accepted the amendment to the definition of animal and a small technical amendment to the French version of the bill.
It also accepted the spirit of the amendment that made express reference to the defences of legal justification, excuse and colour of right, with a modification that removed an unconstitutional reverse onus and cross-referenced the currently applicable subsection 429(2) instead of reproducing the defences because this more clearly would indicate to the courts that existing case law should continue to apply to this new regime.
However, the House rejected the other two amendments that came from the other place. One of these was an amendment that would have replaced the offence of killing an animal without lawful excuse with the offence of causing unnecessary death to an animal. The other amendment was one that would have provided an express defence for aboriginal practices that do not cause more pain than is necessary. Both amendments were rejected on the grounds that, first, they were legally unnecessary; second, they were confusing; and third, had unclear legal effect.
The House urged the other place to pass the bill in the form in which the House approved it. A message was sent to the other place to acquaint them with the position of the House.
The other place considered that message and we are now in receipt of its response. The other place is insisting on the two amendments that the House rejected, with a small revision to the aboriginal defence amendment, and would further modify the legal justification, excuse and colour of right amendment adopted by the House.
The government's motion before us today makes clear that the government does not support the amendments that the other place is insisting upon. The House rejected two of them in June and continues to oppose them. As for the proposed change to the colour of right amendment, the government opposes that as well.
These animal cruelty amendments have been before Parliament in one form or another for nearly four years. A lot of hard work and discussions have taken place over that time between the government, and various individuals and groups concerned with the legislation.
In an effort to clarify the law as much as possible, even if the clarification was not required as a matter of law, the legislation has been amended three times already since it was first introduced in 1999.
In the view of the government, the form of the bill passed by the House in June satisfies the remaining concern of the stakeholders that have followed the progress of the legislation. It constitutes a compromise that strikes the correct balance between clarifying the law as it applies to animal industries without diluting the purpose and effect of the legislation.
With the participation of the other place, this hard work and compromise has brought the bill to a form that animal welfare groups on the one side and animal industry groups on the other side can all support.
In short, it seems that no one is asking for these additional changes that the other place is insisting on. The other place may think they are crucial, but this House does not, nor do any of the organizations that represent the people who work with animals.
Let me address each of the amendments in turn. The first amendment would replace the offence of killing an animal without a lawful excuse with the new offence of causing unnecessary death to an animal.
The government is of the view that the defence of lawful excuse is a well developed and well understood defence. The courts have interpreted on many occasions that it is a flexible, broad defence that is commonly employed in the Criminal Code of Canada. It is fairly and consistently applied by courts.
More importantly, since 1953, this defence has been applicable to the offence of killing animals that are kept for lawful purpose. It has a history in the context of animal cruelty offences.
The government is convinced and satisfied that the defence of lawful excuse offers adequate and unambiguous protection for lawful purposes for killing animals. No witnesses who testified at the committee of this House or of the other place testified that this defence was unclear or unsatisfactory.
For all of these reasons the government remains convinced that maintaining the defence of lawful excuse in relation to offences for killing animals continues to be the best and most appropriate manner of safeguarding the legality of purposes for which animals are commonly killed.
Further, the government does not believe that the proposal of the other place would improve the law. In fact, it is likely that the proposal would actually give rise to confusion and uncertainty. The proposal would use the term “unnecessary” to apply to killings, but the term “unnecessary” as it has been judicially interpreted does not logically apply to the act of killing. “Unnecessary” is currently only applicable to the acts of causing pain, suffering or injury. It has two main elements: first, a lawful purpose for interacting with an animal; and second, a requirement to use reasonable and proportionate means when accomplishing this objective.
It is clear that in terms of the act of killing only the first part of the test for “unnecessary” is relevant and logically applicable. The question is, was there a lawful purpose? To ask the question about reasonable means makes no sense. It is not a qualitative assessment but rather a yes or no question about whether there was a good reason for the killing. This is why the defence of lawful excuse works and the concept of “unnecessary” does not.
It is currently an offence to kill an animal without a lawful excuse. It is also an offence to kill an animal with a lawful excuse but in a manner that causes it unnecessary pain. These are currently two distinct and separate offences.
The proposal would fold the elements of these two different offences into each other. This could lead to a reinterpretation of the well developed test of “unnecessary”. In short, this will add confusion rather than clarity to the law. For these reasons the government does not accept this amendment.
With respect to the second amendment, the amendment which would create a defence for traditional aboriginal practices, the government does recognize that a small change was made that removed an element that was overly broad. The amendment would create a defence for traditional aboriginal practices that cause no more pain than is reasonably necessary. The government agrees that this should indeed be the case and in fact already is the case. Therefore, the amendment is not necessary.
By virtue of the way the offence is defined, it is already the law that aboriginal practices, that cause no more pain than is reasonably necessary, are not currently offences. If we cause no more pain than is reasonably necessary, we are not causing unnecessary pain, which is what the offence requires. If we are not committing an offence, we do not need a defence. Nothing in Bill C-10B will change this.
The government believes that the existing law and the bill, without the new and special defence, already achieve the objective sought by the other place.
There is no need to mention aboriginal practices specifically. The law is already flexible enough to consider all situations and contexts. In addition, by adding a new and special defence for aboriginal practices when one is not necessary, this proposal could unintentionally create mischief.
It is confusing to create a defence for actions that are not a crime. The government does not believe that the law would be improved by creating a defence that is legally unnecessary and has the potential to confuse rather than clarify the interpretation of the offences.
The final proposed amendment in the message from the other place relates to the defences of legal justification, excuse and colour of right set out in subsection 429(2). The proposal would remove the phrase “to the extent that they are relevant” from the amendment that was passed by this House in June. The government believes that these words are helpful and should remain.
The defences in subsection 429(2) of the Criminal Code apply to a variety of different offences, including animal cruelty. The inclusion of the phrase “to the extent that they are relevant” is intended to signal to the courts that the existing manner of applying those defences to animal cruelty offences should not change. It makes clear that the intention is to maintain the status quo, not to alter it.
The words are clear and not capable of being misunderstood. The defences are available in any and all cases where they are relevant. The relevance of a defence to a particular case depends on the specific circumstances and the facts of that case. The phrase guarantees an accused access to these defences when they are relevant. It does not limit or otherwise take away a defence that could be raised.
There can be no possible unfairness to an accused person to be denied a defence that is not relevant. That is just common sense. For these reasons, the government does not agree with the amended amendment proposed by the other place.
The government would once again like to thank the other place for giving Bill C-10B such thorough consideration and attention, but the government believes that the time has come to pass Bill C-10B in the form this House approved in June.
This bill already safeguards humane and reasonable practices involving animals and has the support of groups representing hunters, farmers, fishers, animal researchers, and those representing the welfare of animals. There is a tremendous degree of consensus now and a strong desire on the part of these organizations and hundreds of thousands of Canadians to see the bill become law.
I urge all members of the House to vote in favour of the government's message which rejects any further amendments and requests that the other place pass Bill C-10B as quickly as possible.