Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak on the issue of animal cruelty.
Canada's animal cruelty laws desperately need to be updated. The current law has remained essentially unchanged since 1892. That is 115 years. The world, of course, has changed in that period. Women are now considered people, racism is outlawed, and the world is no longer flat. Yet, we live with a law that, in practice, still treats animals as property and does not recognize them as feeling creatures.
Anyone who has any contact with animals knows that they are breathing, thinking, feeling, sentient beings. I keep thinking about a line from the film Pulp Fiction by Quentin Tarantino, when a two-bit criminal in a discussion around vegetarians says, “But a dog's got personality”, and lots of animals have personality. Anyone who spends time with animals knows they have personality. They are not objects and should not be treated as though they are objects by our laws.
I think we could all agree in this House that the 115 year old law dealing with animal cruelty needs to be updated. However, Bill S-213 does not do it and I will not be supporting this bill.
One thing the bill does is provide greater flexibility around sentencing and somewhat tougher penalties. This is a positive step. However, that is about the only positive thing that I could say about this bill.
As I mentioned earlier, the current law basically says that crimes against animals are considered property offences and does not treat animals as feeling, sentient beings. However, Bill S-213 has the same concept entrenched in it. There is essentially no change. Animals are worthy of protection only as they are property belonging to someone. Clearly, what we need in this country is legislation that removes animal cruelty from the property section of the Criminal Code and more properly reflects modern Canadian values.
Essentially, the problem relates back to the definition of animal. In the current legislation there is no definition of animal and that does not change under Bill S-213. What is clearly needed is a definition of animal as a vertebrate other than a human being. Under that definition then animals are protected. It does not separate out certain kinds of animals with differing offences.
That is the case under the current law. Offences to cattle are different than treatment of other animals and there is no justification for that. All animals should be protected and would be under this broader definition of a vertebrate other than a human being.
The current legislation does not address brutal or vicious treatment of an animal. We all know of examples. We have heard of examples in our communities where a person has terribly mistreated an animal, in essence tortured an animal. This kind of wilful, brutal viciousness toward an animal needs to be dealt with.
The current legislation does not even consider this kind of treatment as a form of violence. The proposed bill, Bill S-213, would not change the current situation. For those terrible high profile cases of which we have all heard that appear periodically in the media, these terrible tortures and brutalities would not be addressed.
What we need is legislation that makes it an offence to kill an animal with brutal or vicious intent and whether the animal dies immediately or whether it dies a horrible lingering death, that violence needs to be addressed.
It is also an issue and a concern how an animal is killed. Currently, it is an offence to kill an owned animal without a lawful excuse. However, wild or stray animals can be killed for any reason. Under Bill S-213 there is no change to that.
While clearly there needs to be protection for lawful killing of animals, whether it is through hunting, fishing, farming, et cetera, there needs to be effective legislation to make it an offence to kill any animal without a lawful excuse. That is missing under the current legislation and under the proposed legislation.
We also need to deal with neglect. Again, periodically we hear about terrible situations where a person, through some kind of wilful neglect, tortures and in many cases kills animals through that neglect. Whether it is on a farm or whether it is a person who is keeping animals in their home, we have all heard about situations of terrible conditions in which animals are kept. They are not properly fed. They end up emaciated and they die. These kinds of situations need to be addressed.
The current legislation has the notion of wilful neglect as an offence, but the bar is set too high. The test to actually prove that someone is culpable in such a situation is extremely difficult and people are rarely convicted in such situations.
Under Bill S-213 there is no change and that will mean that in these terrible cases where animals are starved or otherwise neglected, people will walk away scot-free and they will not be punished.
We need legislation that defines this negligence in a way that would allow for easier conviction and it would be a better definition. Rather than wilful neglect, we should define the neglect as something that is departing markedly from the reasonable care of animals, whether they be domestic animals or livestock. These are some of the deficiencies in the bill that need to be addressed in effective legislation.
This debate has gone on for many years between those who want to protect animals from cruel treatment and those who make their livelihoods by, in essence, killing animals. I believe there is a balance that can be struck to protect these activities while preventing cruel treatment.
Many of my constituents have contacted me about the issue of animal cruelty. They have urged me to work to modernize archaic animal cruelty laws. We need to urgently do this, but the bill is not a step forward. It is a failed attempt which does not merit our support and I will be opposing it.