I believe that the current configuration of Bill S-203 does not adequately deal with the issue of cruelty to animals. As we all know, the current Criminal Code sections dealing with cruelty to animals date back to 1892. There were minor revisions made in the 1950s, but the basis for the protection of animals comes from their status as property, not sentient beings.
It is an archaic notion that animals are not sentient beings and only exist as property and certainly is not in keeping with understanding, with science and with public sentiment at this time. Several attempts have been made to move animals out of the property section of the Criminal Code, beginning with Bill C-17 in 1999, Bill C-15B in 2001, Bill C-10 in 2002, Bill C-22 in 2004 and Bill C-50 in 2005. All of these bills were either stalled at the Senate or died on the order paper in the House of Commons before they could be passed.
Objections were raised by a coalition of groups opposing the changes, including the Fur Institute and the Federation of Hunters and Anglers. As a result of this pressure, Senator Bryden introduced a bill, originally Bill S-24, now Bill S-203, which increased fines and sentencing and allowed a court order to prohibit offenders from keeping an animal. This was introduced in 2005, was reintroduced as Bill S-213 in 2006, and now has been reintroduced as Bill S-203 as of October 2007.
The reason for my motion to amend the bill and to delete these sections is that the bill leaves animal cruelty in the property section of the Criminal Code and keeps the existing 1892 terminology, which makes it extremely difficult to secure convictions.
We need look no further than the situation as detailed in the media this past weekend concerning an Arabian horse farm in Alberta. Officials were unable to lay charges that would secure a conviction with the owner of the farm. Over the weekend a number of horses died from starvation and neglect. The condition of the remaining horses is nothing short of abysmal. They were not fed. They were not given water. Their living quarters were not clean. They existed in absolutely sub-living conditions. Those animals were in fact slowly being tortured to death through starvation and neglect.
The way this bill is currently configured would not lead to any greater likelihood of conviction for animal owners, breeders or those charged with caring for animals and who neglect those animals. The bill also fails to define animals and does not recognize animals as beings and as such does not address the issue of training animals for animal fights.
As a result, we have been the only party to consistently oppose this bill. We have been working closely with the IFAW, the World Society for the Protection of Animals and the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies in efforts to amend the bill and in our opposition to the bill. I want to thank my NDP colleague from Windsor who has been a constant voice in looking for positive change that would ultimately deal with the issue of animal cruelty.
The issue of animal cruelty is one that touches the hearts of many Canadians. Many of my constituents have contacted me about this issue and they cannot believe that in the 21st century, after so many years of debate and discussion on this issue, that we are still left with a law that treats animals, as it did in the 19th century, as baggage, as non-thinking, non-feeling creatures.
We all know that is not true and that we need to update our laws to reflect this obvious reality. Therefore, the point of my motion is to delete the section of this bill that negates the reality of animals and how they should be treated.
The reason I am urging support for this bill is that it is a change in legislation whose time has come. There is widespread support for this change. If there is any doubt about the necessity for this change, one only needs to read about the terrible tragedy of the Arabian horses lost this past weekend.
I urge my colleagues to vote in support of this motion.