Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Motion M-354 to support the development and adoption of a Universal Declaration on Animal Welfare at the United Nations.
We are in favour of a Universal Declaration on Animal Welfare at the United Nations, provided an in-depth study is done. The Bloc Québécois is aware that animals are living beings and that it is important to respect them and treat them with dignity. That is why we are supporting a universal declaration on animal welfare in principle.
The purpose of this declaration is to develop a series of principles acceptable to all those who recognize that animal welfare is a major issue with respect to the social development of nations worldwide.
The Universal Declaration of Animal Rights was formally proclaimed in Paris on October 15, 1978, at UNESCO headquarters. This universal declaration is a philosophical position on the relationship that should henceforth exist between humans and animals. The text was revised by the International League of Animal Rights in 1989 and published in 1990.
The Bloc supports the international efforts made. It also believes that cruelty towards animals is unacceptable and that the federal government must take action to ensure that it is roundly condemned. In recent parliaments, our party has carefully examined the issue of bolstering the law in order to explicitly condemn animal abuse and to put to an end to cruel breeding operations.
Although some amendments were recently made to the Criminal Code, the Bloc Québécois believes we must do more and it is in favour of a real reform of the animal cruelty provisions.
The current maximum sentences under the Criminal Code are too lenient for the seriousness of the acts committed.
The Bloc also favours making the ban on owning animals indefinite in order to prevent certain foreseeable animal abuse from taking place. A breeder who has been found guilty of mistreatment should not have the right to re-open a kennel the day after being sentenced. We call those operations puppy mills.
Above all the Bloc Québécois feels that the definition of the term animal should be included in the Criminal Code. At present, the section on cruelty to animals is found under property offences. That does not seem to reflect today's reality.
That is why, during committee study of Bill S-203, the Bloc Québécois proposed the idea of introducing a definition of what an animal is, sought to protect stray as well as domestic animals, wanted to clarify the criterion for negligence, thereby making it easier to prove, and proposed an amendment to formally ban training cocks to fight.
Unfortunately, the Bloc's proposed amendments were rejected and the committee agreed on February 14, 2008, to report the bill without amendments.
That did not stop the Bloc Québécois from supporting Bill S-203 in that it was a small but real step in the right direction and it did not prevent the possible study and adoption of a more comprehensive bill in line with Bill C-50. The NDP tried to kill the bill.
But Bill S-203 would have helped protect animals from certain forms of cruelty—one of the concerns of the Bloc Québécois—and would have increased the maximum penalties set out in the Criminal Code to reflect the seriousness of the crime, sent a message to people who mistreat animals, and sent a message to judges who would have had to take this into account in their sentences. In fact, the seriousness of a crime is partly determined by the maximum penalty a criminal may be subject to.
Bill S-203 also enabled judges to prohibit an individual found guilty from owning or residing with animals for a period of five years, and to order the offender to reimburse the costs incurred by their actions. Lastly, Bill S-203 did not threaten legitimate activities involving the death of an animal, such as agriculture, hunting and fishing.
The NDP and the Liberals had some twisted logic. Instead of voting in favour of improving the bill—it is true that there is more to be done—they preferred to stick to the status quo that they so fiercely protest. They passed up a perfect opportunity to participate in the advancement of animal rights.
If the NDP and the Liberals truly had animal protection at heart, they would have acted differently. They would have followed the Bloc Québécois' example and acted responsibly. Although the Bloc Québécois is aware of the limitations of Bill S-203, it finds that this bill is a small but real step in the right direction, and does not hinder the possible study and adoption of another, more comprehensive bill.
The Bloc Québécois is making no secret of this. It is in favour of a real reform of the animal cruelty provisions and will seriously study any proposals brought forward on this matter again.
The Bloc was particularly in favour of the principle of Bill C-50, which would have created a new section in the Criminal Code to address cruelty to animals, removing this topic from the sections of the code that deal with property.
In closing, of course we support the principle of Motion M-354. We think it is important to adopt a universal declaration of animal welfare, but we also think we must go further. As legislators, we must go ahead with a real reform of the Criminal Code in order to really address the fundamental problem of cruelty to animals.