Mr. Speaker, I appreciated a couple of different viewpoints on this bill. It is a pleasure for me to rise in the House again, on behalf of the people of Crowfoot, to speak to Bill S-203, a bill, as was previously mentioned, that was introduced in the House from the Senate chamber. Bill S-203 would amend the animal cruelty provisions in the Criminal Code.
Many of my constituents have written or contacted my office in regard to this legislation and other pieces of legislation that have come and gone over the years. The member from across the way just made mention of a few of the bills that have been introduced into the House. It has always been an issue that has provoked a certain degree of interest because people do not want to see individuals treating animals cruelly and inhumanely.
Where I come from, many people earn their living on ranches and farms. We are basically a rural constituency. Members can bet their bottom dollar that most ranchers and farmers understand the fact that these animals must be looked after and cared for with a great deal of concern. In most cases, animals are my constituents' livelihood.
I should also make mention that right now, the first part of March, were in the middle of calving season. In the wintertime, although it is very mild back home, I know ranchers, their wives and their children who get up during the night to check on the cattle to ensure everything is all right in the calving process. Therefore, we become very concerned when we hear stories of animal cruelty or abuse and that people are mistreating animals. There is not a lot of toleration for that where I live.
Bill S-203 has been passed by the Senate and sent to the House. It has already passed second reading in the House, was sent to the justice committee, has been reported back to the House by the justice committee without amendment and is now before the House for third reading.
Bill S-203 would amend the Criminal Code in relation to the sentencing of offenders convicted of animal cruelty. It does not create new offences and does not modify existing ones.
What problem does Bill S-203 seek to address? The problem is that the existing legislation and penalties do not reflect the seriousness of cruelty offences. With the exception of certain offences, which are only in relation to cattle, all of the animal cruelty offences are summary conviction offences. This means that they carry a maximum sentence of six months or a $2,000 fine or both. No matter how outrageous or how horrible the action or the consequence to the animal or pet, that is the sentence standard.
To address this serious limitation in the current law, Bill S-203 would enhance the sentencing provision for cruelty offences. It would do so in three significant ways. First, it would make all of the animal cruelty offences hybrid offences. This means that the Crown could elect to proceed by summary conviction or indictment. This would enable the Crown to elect a mode of trial that is appropriate, having regard to the seriousness of the offence and to the culpability of the offender. Again, this is a very important provision, especially in the ranching and farming communities.
A second way in which the sentencing provisions would be enhanced by Bill S-203 is that maximum penalties would be significantly increased. One way that our society traditionally recognizes the seriousness of a particular conduct is by assigning a higher penalty for more serious conduct and infractions. Canadians have made it very clear that the current animal cruelty sentencing provisions do not adequately reflect society's views about the seriousness of the crime. A maximum of six months and a $2,000 fine is simply inadequate to declare our distaste and disapproval of wilful animal cruelty.
Canadian society has paid little attention to animal cruelty over the years. This ignores the true nature of the crime.
Bill S-203 would remedy this deficiency in the law and would signal to potential abusers that they had better think twice before inflicting undue pain and suffering on animals.
The government also hopes that by supporting Bill S-203 a message will be sent to the courts, the Crown, and police that animal cruelty offences should be looked at more seriously. The member in this speech previously talked about the low rate of conviction on some of these and it sometimes very difficult to prove, mens rea, to prove wilful intent.
I think the bill draws out very clearly that the Canadian public want to see tougher sentencing, but they also want to see our law enforcement officers and the Crown taking this type of crime much more seriously.
By supporting Bill S-203, I believe, we as parliamentarians would be reflecting the will of the public in declaring that animal cruelty is a serious crime.
A third manner in which the penalty provisions would be enhanced is that Bill S-203 would remove the current two year maximum duration of an order prohibiting an offender from possessing or living with an animal. The duration of the order would be at the discretion of the court. The courts and the public clearly agree that some offenders should be denied the privilege of having animals in their homes or in their possession for longer periods than just the two year period that is currently there.
This change would respond to those concerns. It would enable courts to more effectively prevent future offences by proscribing whatever duration was appropriate.
As other hon. members have indicated, the enhanced penalty provisions in Bill S-203 constitute a significant step in better recognizing the true nature of animal cruelty offences as crimes of violence.
The bill is important because it changes the penalty scheme to more accurately reflect the serious nature of animal cruelty offences. The higher penalties in Bill S-203 will go a long way in confirming that Parliament is taking this type of crime more seriously.
In stating my support for Bill S-203, I recognize that some hon. members have expressed the view that they cannot support the bill because it does not address important limitations in the current law.
It is true that Bill S-203 does not amend current offences; it does not create new ones. However, as members well know, none of the bills that have been introduced by previous governments over the course of years have ever passed through both chambers. In addition, it is well known that there is some disagreement, some concern and controversy over many of those bills that were brought forward.
Some animal industry groups feared that certain changes would open the door to prosecutions for their traditional activities. We need not get into the details of that long and drawn out history, but I had the privilege of serving on the justice committee when a number of these bills came forward.
On the one hand we would have animal rights groups appearing and saying that this new bill would not go far enough and on the other hand we would have industry, like ranchers, farmers, beef producers, who would say this moves into traditional ways that we go about our business at the ranch.
Therefore, the bill recognizes that changes have to be made, but that they have to be realistic and they have to take into account all those concerns.
Unlike those previous bills, Bill S-203 is straightforward. We have before us a private senate public bill that has one simple objective: improving the law's ability to deter, to denounce and punish animal cruelty, and make offenders take greater responsibility for their crimes.
While there may be some disagreement in the House about whether Bill S-203 accomplishes everything that some people may want to see, today we have just one question before us: should Bill S-203 be supported?
I believe that this question calls for a clear and a simple yes. If this legislation were to pass, the law would be better than it is today. Would it be perfect? I guess that depends on where people's views line up, but this does take a very positive step in addressing a very important issue.