moved that Bill S-213, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (cruelty to animals), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, Bill S-213, an act to amend the Criminal Code dealing with cruelty to animals is one of two bills before the House dealing with cruelty to animals. It is a Senate bill that was introduced in the House on December 11, 2006, following its approval in the Senate on December 7.
Senator John Bryden prepared this legislation and has had the support of many of his colleagues. Today at second reading I am asking for the support of this assembly to refer Bill S-213 to the justice committee for review and recommendations.
Since the dawn of civilization, mankind has had a close relationship with animals, with nature and with the environment. Evidently all was not perfect and, as a result, Canadian legislators, more than 100 years ago, saw the need to develop sections of the Criminal Code to take particular individuals who would abuse, mismanage or neglect animals to court.
Today we continue to hear reports of persons who cause undue harm to animals and of persons who are injured or killed by them. Today, there are press reports of a keeper at a zoo in the United States who was killed by a jaguar.
Municipalities, provinces and the federal government are called upon to legislate and regulate definite standards that we must follow with regard to our relationship with animals. In this debate, we must think in terms of both domestic and wild or natural animals, which are usually the responsibility of the provinces.
Domestic animals, whether household or farm related, have close ties with their owners. Owners are expected to provide food, shelter and protection. This is an expensive business and owners are usually prepared to spend a significant amount of income on their so-called pets.
Within our urban areas, this ownership and related care is a fast growing industry, with food, grooming and veterinary costs, yet in cities and in urban areas we have problems with pets that often are large and sometimes do things in the environment that cause problems for our sewage and drainage systems. We see problems related to that activity.
In rural Canada, animals offer similar enjoyment to their household owners, but most are managed to provide food and clothing or to do work for their owners. Also, our cities and rural areas have wild animals that live naturally without our help. Our heritage is reflected by the beaver, which helped explore our continent, and the polar bear, which symbolizes our present struggle with the environment.
Then, too, we must not forget the medical and scientific community, those researchers who use animals to study the health of mammals and our biological connections to them.
This legislation, Bill S-213, does not attempt to define standards by which owners or participants in relations with animals are judged. Rather, it is presented as an amendment to present legislation that will increase penalties on those considered by our society as abusing animals. It is a common sense approach to a standard of acceptable behaviour.
Undoubtedly there are those who want us to go further. However, it appears that there has been difficulty in reaching a consensus on developing explicit legislation. For example, there are concerns that certain pets are dangerous to the security of others; concerns with the killing of animals by hunters and especially aboriginal peoples in northern and remote communities; the assessing of farming operations; the confinement of animals at farms, in zoos or with the circus type of presentations; the monitoring of horse racing; the utilization of animals by university and scientific researchers; and above all, the elimination of pests in both urban and rural settings.
The list goes on. It is within the context of this debate that I offer to present Bill S-213 to the House.
The intention of Bill S-213 is to update the penalty provisions dealing with animal cruelty within the Criminal Code. In summary, Bill S-213 amends sections 444 to 447 of the Criminal Code by making all animal cruelty offences hybrid offences, meaning that prosecutors can choose, based on the determination of the seriousness of the offence, whether to pursue an indictment or summary conviction in a particular case. Previously, sections 445 to 447 were punishable only by summary conviction.
Bill S-213 also increases the maximum penalties. For offences of cruelty, the maximum penalties under summary convictions are increased to be a sentence of 18 months in prison and/or a fine of up to $10,000. For offences of neglect, the maximums are changed to a six month prison term and a $5,000 fine. In comparison, depending on the seriousness of the charge, those guilty of an indictable offence can be charged with either a term of up to five years in prison for cruelty offences or a term of up to two years in prison for offences of neglect.
Bill S-213 also makes two other changes to the Criminal Code. Under proposed subsection 447.1(1) it adds an order of prohibition and restitution. It allows the court to prohibit an offender from owning, having custody of, or residing with an animal for a period of time of any length or permanently, whereas the maximum now is only two years. As well, the accused may be ordered to pay any related costs for the care of an animal when it is under the care of another person or organization as a result of the commission of an offence.
Now that I have presented a brief description of this bill, I wish to address its place within the history of animal cruelty bills debated in this House. Amendments to the Criminal Code on cruelty to animals were introduced in December 1999 as part of an omnibus bill aimed to amend the Criminal Code. This was Bill C-17. After it died on the order paper, a similar bill, Bill C-15, was introduced in March 2001, but upon being referred to committee, this bill was split into two sections. Bill C-15B became an act to amend the Criminal Code (cruelty to animals) and the firearms act. However, it too died when Parliament was prorogued in October 2002.
Bill C-15B was later reintroduced as Bill C-10. Approved in this House, it reached the Senate committee for consideration and again the bill was split, this time to an act to amend the farms act, Bill C-10A, and an act to amend the Criminal Code (cruelty to animals), Bill C-10B.
Bill C-10B was the birth of the first bill solely dedicated to animal cruelty amendments. This bill, however, also eventually died on the order paper, as did its successors, Bill C-22 and Bill C-50. It is clear to see that the animal cruelty bills of the past have been victims of serious reservations and timings.
These attempts to amend animal cruelty legislation have been subject to considerable debate. Throughout this evolution, numerous stakeholders have been consistently critical of the proposed amendments pertaining to the substance of the bills and the nature of the offences.
It appears that the only consensus that has been drawn around the animal cruelty provisions in the Criminal Code was in regard to the proposed changes to the punishment for offences. These recommendations have remained virtually consistent throughout the different reincarnations of the animal cruelty bills. Bill S-213 is a replication of these penalty amendments. It attempts to change nothing in the Criminal Code. It does not attempt to redefine animal cruelty or to make new offences.
In response to the opposition to the bills previously studied in the House of Commons and the Senate, Bill S-213 attempts to simplify the issue and focuses animal cruelty legislation on penalties. It does this in order to amend legislation that was first enacted in 1892. These penalties were consented to in recently defeated legislation. Bill S-213 therefore responds to the demands to update Canadian law in accordance with public opinion on the seriousness of crimes of animal cruelty.
There have been several stated reasons for changing the animal cruelty provisions of the Criminal Code. First, the current penalties fail to reflect the seriousness of the crimes against animals. Second, the prohibition on offenders owning animals needs to be extended and Bill S-213 enables the court to place a permanent ban on ownership. Third, the court will be granted the means of ordering an offender to pay for the care needed for an animal as a consequence of an offence.
As mentioned above, in response to this impetus for change, Bill S-213 includes all of these in the amendments. This bill will update the Canadian Criminal Code in response to the desire to offer more protection to animals and to increase the power of prosecutors to advocate stronger punishments. It will ensure that crimes of animal cruelty will be taken more seriously, as they should be. Bill S-213 recognizes that changes to the penalty provisions are needed at present.
We cannot deny that there may be opposition to Bill S-213. Some critics contend that this bill does not afford animals enough rights, but what those critics may not so readily admit is that the reason many of the previous bills did not pass is that they potentially disrespected the rights of those dependent on animals for their livelihood. Farmers, university and scientific researchers, aboriginal peoples, and fishers and hunters have all had serious concerns.
The issue at stake, therefore, is that legal implications of changes beyond those in the penalty provisions are uncertain. Previous attempts to redefine offences of cruelty against animals have been interpreted by various stakeholders to threaten the legalities of animal use.
Indications are that Bill S-213 has wide-ranging support. Public support for this bill has been expressed by the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada, the Canadian Federation of Biological Societies, wildlife federations and recreational associations from all 12 provinces. They have all indicated support.
By not proposing amendments beyond the penalty provisions, Bill S-213 ensures that what is legal today would remain legal tomorrow. Most important, Bill S-213 protects the rights of animals and offers better tools of prosecution, yet it does not offer new grounds on which to challenge legal animal use practices. However, amidst the debate on the matter of animal cruelty, these issues have been clouded.
Recently in this House and in the media the issue of animal cruelty has been getting more attention, but let us question what the issue really is. Our laws need to be improved. Penalties need to be increased. It is very important that the animals within our society receive proper care, proper protection and proper concern by our legislators.