Madam Speaker, I am pleased to provide some input as a city person. The last speaker somehow assumes that I do not know very much about animals.
However, I am proud to say that a couple years ago I started an outdoor caucus for the Liberal caucus in conjunction with Ontario anglers and hunters. It was an excellent group. I believe there were over 52 members, all who are sport enthusiasts, fishers or hunters of various sorts.
Sporting is an important element of Canadian culture, such as sport shooting and fishing. It is not restricted to the non-urban centres of Canada.
I understand the member is in an area where this is of particular concern. I appreciate he is here representing the issues of his riding. It is interesting that his party has supported the bill twice already, but the member still has a responsibility to make a reasoned argument, and I believe he has done the best that he can.
Of the people who have written to me, I have received input on both sides, but more on the side of why a bill, which is trying to deal with the problem of cruelty to animals, cannot get passed in this place within a reasonable period of time, if we think in the macro context.
The previous speaker has raised one of the questions that perhaps some definitions are unclear and that people who are very much interested in the rules of the game with regard to their activities in terms of sport hunting and fishing are a little concerned that there may be too much latitude and too much breadth in the proposed legislation.
The member will know that there are provisions under the Criminal Code, some of which go back into the 1800s. I think amendments have been made as recently as in the 1950s. However, the important point is there are provisions relating to cruelty to animals such that all of the common law defence is available to those who would be charged of an alleged offence. Therefore, all the tools of any offence under the Criminal Code are available. That is important for the member to know.
The other aspect has to do with the whole question of do we have to define brutality and viciousness. Some members have said that hunters and fishers would never do anything to be cruel to an animal. That would certainly be our wish, but we are talking about human beings. From time to time, there are some fairly horrific circumstances. I am not sure if I had to sit down with the member, whether I could come up with what would constitute viciousness or brutality.
Conceptually it puts us in the ballpark and every circumstance must rest on its own merit. Every one will be different. I am not sure whether we as legislators can somehow put a black and white definition within legislation which would then possibly exclude some aspects.
Members have a right to suggest that if we allow too much latitude to the courts, that latitude may be so broad that it may have unintended consequences. People who never had any thought whatsoever of being cruel to an animal may find themselves in front of the courts. That is problematic. We know the courts are not perfect. We know lawyers are not perfect.
However, we have to rely on the fact that our country is based on the rule of law and the protection of the rights and the freedoms of individuals. If we are not going to respect the courts, if we do not feel that we have the tools, then that raises a whole other problem. It has to do with the confidence in the courts. That is an important question that maybe has not been fully debated yet. I know we have often run nose to nose with not only Supreme Court decisions, but also appeal court decisions and a few others, which create a domino effect and get us into some of these difficulties.
If legislators are starting to believe that, imagine what the public feels. It sees anecdotally some stories about this or that and what happened to that poor person. Not all parliamentarians can serve on the justice committee, hear all the witnesses and deal with all these issues at committee. We therefore second it to our colleagues on that committee to do the work and to ask the right questions. I know all the members on the committee and I am very confident that those members will explore these concerns.
When we go through first and second reading, that is where the concerns should come out. That is when members who are not on the committee or are unsure whether report stage motions will be a place where they have an opportunity to make amendments if they feel there are some, should put those issues on the table, issues that are vitally important to their constituents or to themselves based on their reading, but without having had the benefit the briefings and hearing the witnesses and examination by the members.
It is very easy in this place to talk for or against almost any bill. We can if we make a premise. In this case there are certainly many opportunities to have a premise. Fundamentally, when we talk about cruelty to animals, I think Canadians, regardless of whether they are urban or rural or anything in between, understand that if there is unnecessary pain, if there is something other than what was intended, we need to have a law that covers that. If we look at the United States for instance, its animal cruelty legislation is enacted in each of the individual states.
For example, New York State's agriculture and markets law, chapter 69 of the consolidated law, section 332 to 379 states that an animal includes “every living being except the human being”. That is even broader than we have in the bill. In Bill C-50 an animal is defined as “a vertebrate, other than a human being”. As a member said to me, this takes worms off the hook.
Canada needs to have a law on cruelty to animals. We have had many iterations. We have gone through this for a number of years. There is a great sensitivity to the arguments that have been raised by the anglers and hunters. I want to be absolutely sure that when we ultimately get legislation, and I hope we will, that all parties and stakeholders across the country, including the public at large who are not involved in these kinds of activities, will understand that it is in the best interests of all. It is part of our culture and value system. There has been a significant need to finally bring this into being.
We have to rely on those who are familiar with the law to judge each and every circumstance on its own merit. It would be extremely difficult to define what constitutes brutality and viciousness other than in general terms. However, we know, if we are to respect the law and make laws that will be respected, we have to make every effort to deal with those divergences in terms of the concerns. No matter how we produce these laws, there needs to be some flexibility within the legislation because every case has something a bit different. The laws of Canada are made that way. They have served us well, and the time has come for Bill C-50.