Madam Speaker, I am very happy to again speak to the bill. As members have mentioned, it has been before the House a number of times. We are doing our speeches in themes on various aspects of the bill, so I am going to talk about the dramatic connection between animal cruelty and violent crimes by human beings.
In summary, the bill is very old and just needs an update to enhance the provisions to provide stricter penalties for animal cruelty. Vast numbers of Canadians want this. It makes sense. It is one of the most responded to bills for MPs. People should note that it does not change any of the traditional activities. There is nothing new. People can still hunt and fish and do research and sports with animals and there will still be traditional aboriginal hunting and fishing. All that remains the same. There are no changes here and there are no more chances of being prosecuted in those areas than there were before. That is very important for the traditional uses for agriculture, hunting and fishing in my riding.
Today I would like to talk about the overarching objective of this legislation, which is to have the justice system treat animal cruelty offences more seriously. This is entirely consistent with society's moral condemnation of the abuse and neglect of animals.
There is an even greater societal interest in taking the abuse of animals more seriously. Brutality and abuse do not exist in a vacuum. Many acts of cruelty have implications beyond the pain and suffering felt by the animal in question.
There is increasing scientific evidence of a link between animal cruelty and subsequent violent acts toward people. Studies have confirmed a statistically meaningful correlation between acts of animal cruelty and other forms of criminality, ranging from property crime to crimes of violence.
In the United States, the correlation between animal cruelty and violence began to be studied in earnest in the 1980s and 1990s. Recently some studies have also set out some interesting findings in this area in Canada. Let us take, for instance, the issue of domestic violence and partner abuse. A number of significant studies in the United States clearly showed an important link between animal cruelty and domestic violence. These studies were largely based on questionnaires given to women who fled to shelters.
Building on the U.S. studies, a few years ago a number of Canadian studies were undertaken with a view to gathering the same kind of data. The Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals began looking at this issue in the late 1990s. In 1997, the OSPCA launched a violence prevention initiative. In furtherance of that initiative, it began conducting shelter surveys to gather data. The OSPCA did a shelter survey in 1998 and again in 2000.
The surveys involved 21 women's shelters from across the province. Of 130 women who responded in the survey done in 2000, 85% had a pet in the home within the last year. Of those women, 44% stated that their partner had previously killed or abused one or more family pet, while another 42% stated that their partner had threatened to hurt or kill a family pet. These are astounding and frightening statistics. More disturbing, 43% of the women said their concern for the welfare of the pet prevented them from leaving the abusive situation earlier. In other words, concern for the well-being of a pet may have put the lives of some women at greater risk by keeping them emotionally tethered to the home.
It should be noted that as part of its violence prevention initiative the OSPCA has called for the passage of this legislation on many occasions.
Building on the U.S. and Ontario work, another study was undertaken in Calgary in 2001. This study surveyed 100 women entering two shelters for abused women and children in Calgary. Sixty-five per cent of the women who responded either owned or had owned a pet within the 12 months prior to the questionnaire.
Of these women, more than half stated that their abuser threatened to hurt or kill or actually did hurt or kill the animal that lived in the home. More than 25% of pet-owning participants stated that they delayed their decision to flee their abusive environment because they feared for the safety of the animals they would be leaving behind.
The Canadian studies suggested numbers similar to those found in the American studies. For instance, a 1997 national survey of 50 of the largest shelters for battered women in the United States found that 85% of women and 63% of children entering shelters discussed incidents of pet abuse in the family.
Another dimension of family violence that has been looked at is the link between animal cruelty and the abuse or neglect of children. In one study of 57 families under the care of child welfare authorities, pets had been abused in 88% of the families in which children had also been physically abused. In two-thirds of the cases, the abusive parent had injured or killed the family pet, and in the remaining one-third of cases it was children who had abused the pet.
Children who witness animal cruelty inside the home stand an increased likelihood of committing animal cruelty themselves. Children act out what they learn at home. In other words, the pattern of abuse repeats itself.
Even when a child does not act out the aggression he or she sees at home, child welfare experts are coming to an agreement that displays of animal cruelty in front of a child can amount to a form of child abuse in and of itself. Children naturally love animals and can experience deep bonds of affection for their pets. If that pet is abused by a parent in the house, the effect on the child can be extremely destabilizing.
It cannot be compared to a child witnessing a parent destroying a television or a chair, which undoubtedly in itself would be frightening; an attack on a beloved pet, a living and breathing playmate for the child, can have a truly devastating effect on the psychological makeup and development of the child.
These studies teach us many important lessons. First, we can estimate that at least with respect to the households in which family violence occurs, there appears to be at least one companion animal in somewhere between 50% and 80% of those families. That represents a very large number of families.
Second, these animals are not mere property of the family, like the television or the car. Quite the contrary, people care a great deal about their pets, often regarding them as a member of the family and according them a correspondingly high degree of care, attention and respect.
Third, when someone exhibits violence toward a person, they are at an elevated risk of being violent toward an animal and vice versa. Violence and anger do not discriminate. They will be aimed at the most vulnerable, whatever the species.
Finally, the emotional bond between people and their pets is such that when violence is done or threatened against the family pet, there can be serious emotional or psychological consequences for the people who love the pet.
We intuitively know all of this, but when research and studies bear out our instincts, we need to pay attention. If we want to take domestic abuse seriously, we have to take animal cruelty seriously as well. If we care about the well-being of children, we also have to care about the well-being of animals. Treating animal abuse like a crime of violence will help not just the animals but people too.
There is a reason why numerous jurisdictions in the past decade have enhanced their criminal laws in respect of animal cruelty. Forty-one U.S. states now have criminal laws that make at least some form of animal cruelty a felony. Ten years ago, less than 20 states had felony cruelty laws.
In 1996 the United Kingdom enacted a statute that specifically targets cruelty to wild animals. Last year, the U.K. launched a reform of a new draft statute dealing with animal cruelty to kept animals as its existing statute is almost 100 years old.
Several jurisdictions in Australia have also revamped their animal cruelty regimes in recent years.
In the last decade, a number of provinces have also amended or totally revamped their animal welfare legislation. Just by way of example, Alberta amended its law in 2000, Saskatchewan in 1999, and British Columbia and Manitoba in 1996.
It might interest members to know that many provincial animal welfare statutes apply broadly, not just to domestic pets. Provincial statutes do not treat cruelty to animals as a matter of injury to property interests.
For instance, in Alberta the definition of an animal says only that it does “not include a human being”. In Saskatchewan, the legislation applies to “any animal other than a human being”. In Manitoba and New Brunswick, the law applies to a “non-human living being with a developed nervous system”.
In conclusion, I note that we do a great disservice to women and children who live in fear of abuse or who witness abuse of their beloved pets by insisting to them that the animal cruelty they witness in their homes is a matter of property crime. It is time to recognize animal cruelty for the act it is: an act of violence. It is time to pass Bill C-50. I urge all members to work cooperatively to pass the legislation.