Madam Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the debate on the issue of animals and animal cruelty in particular.
The motion before the House today, which is in the second hour of debate, calls on the government to support the development and adoption of a universal declaration on animal welfare at the United Nations, as well as at all relevant international organizations and forums. I am aware that a couple of minor amendments that were requested were acceptable to the member, but the essence of the motion is unchanged.
I thank and congratulate the member for Scarborough Southwest who brought the motion before the House. I am a strong supporter of private members' bills and motions because they give an opportunity for all hon. members to pick an area where they have a passion and a need to make a difference and bring to the floor something that will encourage more attention to the important issues of the day in the eyes of many Canadians. This particular issue, obviously, has caught the attention of many Canadians.
I know the member. We served on a committee together and I know she has done her work because she always does. She comes to committee prepared to do the job. With the materials that she has provided to all hon. members and with the collegial dialogue that she has had through the House over this period of time to finally get it to this stage, I know that she has earned the respect of her colleagues and the support for this motion. I congratulate her for that.
For Canadians who may not be aware, the universal declaration on animal welfare is an agreement among people and nations to recognize that animals are sentient. That is going to be heard in the debate. That means that they can feel pain, suffering and pleasure as well. It is to respect their welfare needs and to end animal cruelty for good.
I was involved in the last bill that was before this place on animal cruelty. It was a very simple bill that had to do with increasing the penalty structure for those convicted of animal cruelty. It was a small step. We assured Canadians that was not the last step, because there were problems with a more comprehensive bill.
I am sorry that the government has not set animal cruelty issues as a priority. I am sorry that it has not brought or developed a bill or at least asked a parliamentary committee to study the issue of animal cruelty. Canadians across the country responded to Parliament by saying that this was an important issue.
We have this motion and it should reignite that commitment that we have as a Parliament to addressing the issues of animal cruelty. This universal declaration on animal welfare would be structured as a set of general principles that acknowledge and emphasize the importance of animal welfare.
The purpose of these principles would be to encourage nations to put in place or, where they already exist, improve animal welfare laws and standards. The universal declaration on animal welfare would be a prescriptive piece of binding legislation and, therefore, not concerned with attributing legal rights to animals. Ostensibly what we are talking about is to declare our commitment, understanding and solidarity in regard to the issue of animal cruelty.
Animal welfare concerns the physical and mental well-being of sentient animals. It involves considerations on how animals evolve in their natural environment and it is a description of the state of animals and the effect on them of care or mistreatment. However, any definition of animal welfare should be guided by the five freedoms as stated in the draft of the universal declaration on animal welfare.
This motion asks us to support this declaration because it is needed to help animals and, by doing so, help people as well. The livelihoods of over one billion people depend on animals. It is part of the petition that many members have been giving in this place in support of this initiative.
The implementation of this declaration would also improve the condition in a number of areas that members or Canadians might not be aware of.
One such area is environmental sustainability. Taking better care of animals would mean putting more thought into land use, climate change, pollution, water supplies, habitat conservation and biodiversity. It is extremely important and it paints a picture of the linkages among the key priorities that most industrialized countries have. Many of these issues are before our Parliament at this time. This kind of initiative is complementary and should be supported.
Another area is human health. Treating animals well would reduce the risk of food poisoning and disease crossing over from animals to humans. Companion animals has also been shown to have a therapeutic effect. I do not think I need to explain that when we see how many people, the disabled, the blind, et cetera, have animals for comfort and for guidance.
Another area is disaster management. Taking animals into account during emergency preparation and response would help the people affected to recover their lives and livelihoods afterward.
Poverty and hunger is another area of implication. Improving animal welfare would also improve productivity.
Social development is another area. How we treat animals effectively would help to determine how we treat each other.
Animals are very important. I have had so many letters from constituents about this issue and they want us to support this. They want us to make a commitment, not just to adopt this universal declaration, but to take the first steps toward appropriate legislative changes that would reflect not only our value but our commitment. Talk is cheap. What we need after this is action. I hope the hon. member will play a constructive role, as she always has, in working with all hon. members to come forward with constructive ideas on how we can act legislatively to reflect our commitment to this declaration.
In Canada, the universal declaration is supported by many organizations, including the World Society for the Protection of Animals, the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies, many of its member societies, the Animal Alliance of Canada, the Global Action Network, the SPCAs in British Columbia, Ontario and Montreal, and the SPA in Quebec.
Almost two million people worldwide have signed a petition to support the universal declaration of animal welfare, and worldwide organizations, including the World and Commonwealth Veterinary Associations, the Humane Society International, the Compassion in World Farming, the American SPA and the Royal SPCA in England.
When we look at this, it is a modest grouping of words but it means so much. It means that this House is being asked to take a leap of faith that joining with countries around the world to support the universal declaration on animal welfare will represent a foundational decision that this House makes, a value system, establishing that value system on which we can build, as I said, through other legislative initiatives, which I think are necessary because in our legislative system right now we do not have effective, up-to-date animal cruelty legislation.
Our history on that kind of legislation has been somehow to confuse farming animals with domestic house animals, like cats, dogs, et cetera. The problems have been enormous. I would encourage the government that when we come forward with animal cruelty legislation, if the government ever becomes moved to come forward with such legislation, that we would deal ostensibly with the spirit of the universal declaration, that we are talking about animals that are there for companionship. When we see those new stories of these severe cases of animal cruelty, the public reaction tells all Canadians just how important it is that we do need to have changes in our laws.
I believe this is a starting point and I believe the member has done a great service to the House. I think she has acquitted herself very well as an early member of Parliament. I congratulate her and wish her well when this passes this week.