Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to take part in the debate today at report stage on Senate Bill C-203. This bill would amend the Criminal Code to impose harsher penalties for animal cruelty offences.
This bill is causing quite a stir among people and organizations calling for improved animal cruelty legislation. The current legislation has not been amended since 1892, 116 years ago, when animals were seen as having a utilitarian function rather than a role as companions, which many animals have taken on over time.
In addition, it so happens that Bill S-203 is being debated before Bill C-373, introduced by the member for Ajax—Pickering. Essentially, Bill C-373 is a repeat of Bill C-50, introduced by the previous government, which is more in line with the needs expressed by animal activists. Moreover, the Bloc supported Bill C-50 in principle. But we will analyze Bill C-373 later in the parliamentary process.
Bill S-203 is not perfect. The witnesses who appeared before the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, which I sat on at one point last week, often mentioned the obvious flaws in this bill that we have noticed.
First, Bill S-203 does not clearly define negligence, which means that it will still be difficult to prove that someone is acting negligently towards animals. Second, Bill S-203 provides little protection for wild or stray animals. Third, it keeps the categories of animals currently protected by the 1892 legislation: cattle, dogs and birds.
Under Bill S-203, animals would remain primarily property. The bill does not even deal with individuals who train animals for fighting. Moreover, Bill S-203 contains no provisions to address violent, brutal, extreme acts against animals.
I could go on, but it is important to remember that the major flaw in this bill is its failure to define what an animal is.
By refusing to clearly define what they are, Bill S-203 leaves far too much room for interpretations that would avoid heavy penalities and does not depart from the concept that animals are property. We know that the current maximum sentences under the Criminal Code are too lenient for the seriousness of the acts committed against these living beings.
In addition to the fact that Bill S-203 does not jeopardize legitimate activities involving animal death, such as agriculture, hunting and fishing, it addresses the problem I have mentioned: it increases the maximum sentences and the fines. That is a little better than what we had before.
Judges will have a little more latitude in cases involving animal cruelty. For example, a judge could require an offender to cover the costs incurred by his barbarian actions. We have made progress in the fight against animal cruelty.
However, I think this improvement is minimal, even inadequate when we consider the overall problem. In my eyes, Bill S-203 is just a transition, a step toward something more substantial.
If there is one thing people can count on, it is that the Bloc Québécois does not settle for doing the minimum. We are progressive people with foresight and we will never hesitate to do better for those we represent or for anyone else.
When Bill S-203 was tabled in the Standing Committee on Justice, we listened with interest to the various witnesses.
That is why we are well aware of the bill's limitations. We are aware of the importance of properly protecting animals from cruelty, so we proposed a series of amendments to improve Bill S-203.
Among our proposals was the idea of introducing a clear definition of what an animal is. We also sought to protect stray as well as domestic animals. We also wanted to clarify the criterion for negligence, thereby making it easier to prove. Finally, we also proposed an amendment to formally ban training cocks to fight.
All the Bloc Québécois proposed amendments were rejected. Unfortunately, the committee agreed on Thursday, February 14, to report the bill without amendments. It seems that only the Bloc Québécois truly wants to move quickly in the fight against animal cruelty.
If the other parties had been acting in good faith, if they had put partisanship aside for a minute to make animal welfare a priority, they would have been willing to accept these highly necessary amendments that are adapted to the way things are now.
Instead, we have before us a report saying that Bill S-203 is fine as it is. Only stiffer maximum penalties can remedy the situation. Why act proactively now when Bill C-373 is scheduled to be dealt with shortly? Cruelty against animals will not subside or stop, just to make us feel better, until the study of Bill C-373 can be completed.
From a strictly historical perspective, I remind the House that Bill C-373 stems directly from six previous bills which either died on the order paper or were defeated. There was therefore no progress on the issue. As for Bill S-203, it is the third in a series of identical bills that had the same fate at a time when governments were somewhat more stable than the one we have now.
I can only sympathize with the animal rights advocates who, like us, were seeing a great opportunity to completely overhaul this old legislation. Again, the opportunity is slipping away.
Those who interfered will undoubtedly be judged by the people for this blatant lack of initiative, especially on an issue so close to the heart of the public.
I take comfort in the thought that, at least, the Bloc Québécois has done its part, working beyond mere partisanship and putting forward good ideas that would satisfy animal rights advocates. Protecting animals against certain despicable actions will always remain a concern of my party.
At any rate, we are back where we started with an unamended Bill S-203 with all its flaws. That is all that is on the table at this time. The members of the Bloc Québécois are practical people.
Nonetheless, increasing penalties sends a clear signal to criminals—their actions are reprehensible—as well as to the judges who will have to take these factors into account in making a determination.
I will conclude by saying that passing this timid bill will not in any way hinder the future consideration or passage of a more comprehensive piece of legislation like Bill C-373.
I think that the bill introduced by the Liberal member provides better guarantees than Bill S-203, as clearly pointed out by witnesses before the Standing Committee on Justice.
I hope that the House will also pass Bill C-373 when it comes before us. We believe that these two bills are a winning combination to significantly reduce cruelty to animals.