Madam Speaker, I welcome the opportunity to speak to Bill C-50, the animal cruelty bill.
Like others before it that attempted to legislate against animal cruelty, this bill as presented is flawed. It is flawed in such a way that it could attempt to make criminals out of law-abiding citizens in my riding of Leeds--Grenville. It will do this in a similar fashion as the long gun registry, and in fact it will target many of the same people as the long gun registry, the hunters, the fishers, the farmers, as they conduct their normal day to day affairs.
We need to ensure that the people who live in the city and who only go to the country to view the scenery stop writing bills that affect the hard-working rural residents of Canada.
Bills such as Bill C-50 are spawning local political action groups such as the landowners associations and the Rural Revolution. Bills such as this are frustrating rural residents and pitting them against politicians and those who enforce such poorly written legislation. Bills such as this are further damaging the fragile rural economy in Canada, and in particular my riding of Leeds--Grenville.
Not only are the residents in danger of being charged under this particular bill, but visitors to my riding could also be targeted. The economy in my riding relies heavily on visitors. They come from the cities. They come from the United States. They come from Europe and from the Pacific Rim. They come to enjoy the outdoors.
Leeds--Grenville prides itself on being an outdoor recreational playground boasting some of the finest fishing and hunting in the world. The giant muskie found in the waters of the St. Lawrence is celebrated both on and off the river with several communities boasting local tally boards for those anglers skilled enough to catch one.
Recently in Leeds--Grenville, many residents and visitors were on the water in their small boats and homemade blinds stocking up on their yearly supply of ducks and geese. This probably sounds cruel to city folk with idealistic dreams about the food chain, but it is a necessary part of many people's lives in Leeds and Grenville. We do not need to spend too long carefully walking the shores of the St. Lawrence to recognize that there are a lot of geese in the area and a little hunting is not going to hurt the population.
Currently, folks are involved in another annual event, the deer hunt. Here is another creature that is in plentiful supply. Without some of its natural predators readily available, the deer population explodes and hunting has become part of that cull process. In fact, we have seen many accidents throughout eastern Ontario because of the exploding deer population. The deer hunt is also the traditional way in which many people supplement their food supplies for the winter. The deer hunt is so revered in the riding that many folks do not actually plan events during the time of the deer hunt.
All this is to say that hunting and fishing are as much a part of the rural lifestyle in Leeds and Grenville and throughout Canada as riding a bus is natural to the lifestyle of city dwellers. Residents in my riding object to portions of Bill C-50, which for the first time in Canadian history make it an offence to kill an animal brutally or viciously without defining the terms “brutally” and “viciously”.
The bill also does not exempt from this offence the killing of animals in the normal and lawful conduct of commercial fishing and hunting. Residents in Leeds and Grenville request that this specific section of the bill be revised to provide an explicit exemption for the killing of animals in the course of hunting and fishing.
Traditional animal use industries and recreational fishing and hunting should be exempted from prosecution under this legislation. I would look to the time when we did have the support of our hunting and fishing organizations in order to get this bill through the House. My research shows that many jurisdictions that have animal cruelty legislation provide such exemptions. Without such an exemption, I and residents of Leeds and Grenville are convinced that certain animal rights groups will bring forward criminal complaints under the legislation against fishing and hunting enterprises and the thousands of sports people in my riding.
These organizations have already declared their intent to use the revised legislation to challenge traditional animal use industries and recreational fishing and hunting. Justice officials from the government advise that if such changes are brought forward, there are sufficient offences to get the charges dismissed. I would advise the justice minister that this is not sufficient.
The point is not whether residents of Leeds--Grenville can pay for a lawyer and beat the charges at great expense to themselves and the court system. The point is hunting and fishing enterprises are already licensed by various levels of government to conduct their work. Hunters and fishers are also licensed and must abide by laws. They should not have to get out of bed in the morning wondering if some other citizen with a larger cash reserve is going to take them to court that day and they will have to defend themselves against frivolous charges.
I understand the intent of the legislation is to increase the penalties for animal cruelty offences and to simplify, modernize and fill the gaps in the offence structure of the animal cruelty regime. I am as much opposed as anyone else to animal cruelty. In fact, I am sure anyone in the House and most Canadians would be opposed to any cruelty to animals. It is absolutely shameful and appalling how some people mistreat animals and they must be held accountable. That is what we should be striving for in the bill, not turning our hunters and fishers into criminals.
Without the requested exemptions in Bill C-50, there is considerable legal opinion that the proposed legislation amounts to significant changes to the law which are detrimental to animal use industries, fishers and hunters. On behalf of the residents of Leeds--Grenville, I request that these changes be made before the bill is permitted to proceed any further. With these exemptions included in the bill, I would be happy to stand in my place and support a bill that fights against animal cruelty.