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House of Commons Hansard #132 of the 41st Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was animals.

Topics

On the Order: Private Members' Business

October 16, 2013—Second reading and reference to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs of Bill C-524, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act (election advertising)—Mr. Kevin Lamoureux.

Canada Elections ActPrivate Members' Business

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

The hon. member for Winnipeg North is not present to move the order as announced in today's notice paper. Accordingly, the item will be dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.

Suspension of SittingCanada Elections ActPrivate Members' Business

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

We will suspend until 12 o'clock.

(The sitting of the House was suspended at 11:05 a.m.)

(The House resumed at 12 p.m.)

The House resumed from October 23 consideration of the motion that Bill C-35, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (law enforcement animals, military animals and service animals), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Justice for Animals in Service Act (Quanto's Law)Government Orders

Noon

NDP

Jinny Sims NDP Newton—North Delta, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-35, also known as Quanto's law. It would amend the Criminal Code regarding law enforcement animals, military animals and service animals. I support the bill at second reading, though I hope that some work will be done to it in committee.

First of all, it would be remiss of me if I did not acknowledge what happened last Wednesday and what it felt like to be back in my riding over the weekend. I can tell members that wherever I went in my riding, people were deeply concerned. They were very thankful for our safety, but they were also very sad about Corporal Nathan Cirillo.

For many of them, to see their MP back in their riding and back doing the work of Parliament gave them a certain amount of reassurance. I remember talking to some constituents about other MPs as well. Many of the constituents expressed that it was good that we were not going to let what happened last Wednesday make us take drastic steps. We should let the authorities do their work and the investigation, and we need a very measured response to what happened.

Absolutely, we need to review things, but right now, we are thinking of Corporal Cirillo. We are also thinking of his six-year-old son, his family and his friends.

I also want to acknowledge our heartfelt gratitude to all of the men and women in uniform in our building here, and those who came in, who risked their lives. They put themselves in harm's way in order to ensure the safety not only of the MPs but of the young children visiting and the other members of the public and the staff on the Hill as well.

It is these kinds of tragedies that remind us that Canada is a multicultural nation. It is a nation that loves. For me, I was so touched this weekend, because for so many people, that is what it was about. Let us not look at our neighbours with different sets of eyes. Let us just hold hands and get through this together. I felt that over and over again.

Many of the religious places helped, whether they were a masjid, or mosque as many of us would say, a gurdwara, a mandir, or a church. Many held prayers over the weekend. Once again, they were prayers of gratitude and prayers acknowledging what has happened. People were praying that we continue to be the peaceful nation that we are, that we continue to love as we have always done, and that we continue to be inclusive.

It would have felt strange if I had not said a few of those things today in light of what happened last week, but as we are here to do the business of the people and debate the bill, I will get back to talking about this particular piece of legislation.

As we all know, this legislation is now being labelled as “Quanto's law”, which is in memory of the Edmonton Police Service dog that was stabbed to death while trying to stop a fleeing suspect in October 2013. Paul Joseph Vukmanich pleaded guilty to animal cruelty and other offences, including evading the police. He was sentenced to 26 months in prison and banned from owning a pet for 25 years.

We all know the important role that enforcement animals, military animals and service animals play, and we are all very concerned when any harm is done to them deliberately. It is because of this that the bill is here.

Having come from a family that has had dogs for many years, since the kids were little, it is very hard for me, and I think for many of us in this room, to imagine how someone could attack a dog or any other service animal. However, it does happen. When I was telling my grandchildren that we would be debating the bill, my granddaughter's reaction was, “Why is it only for law enforcement animals?”, so I explained the background of the bill to her. Of course, she still cries about Buddy, who passed away a while ago, every time she looks at her photos. Our pets are very close to us.

However, we have some concerns with Bill C-35, even though we are supporting sending it to committee. Once again, our concerns point to something we have seen all too often. When we see a piece of legislation come forward, it does not matter what it purports to do, because when one looks at the details, there is always a little twist in there that makes it more difficult for us to see what it would entail. However, there are two areas of the bill that cause us major concern, and it will not be news to anybody, because I have expressed concern about minimum and consecutive sentences before. The introduction of minimum and consecutive sentences causes us great concern, and we will bring amendments at the committee stage.

I am hoping, unlike in the past, that we will see a certain level of co-operation from the government side so that we can address the legislation in the way that parliamentarians are supposed to in a democracy. The opposition at committee stage and in the House plays a critical role in pointing out flaws in a bill, and a good government, one that believes in democracy and the parliamentary process, would heed some of that input, accept amendments and then have a robust debate.

What would Bill C-35 do?

Concretely, the bill would amend section 445 of the Criminal Code. It would create a new offence for killing or injuring a service animal, law enforcement animal or military animal while the animal is on duty. It would set a minimum sentence of six months if a law enforcement animal is killed while an offence is being perpetrated, and it would provide for the sentence imposed on a person to be served consecutively to any other punishment imposed for an offence arising out of the same event or series of events.

Members can see the difficulties we have with the bill, which are points two and three that I just made. As in much of the legislation that has come from across the way, including omnibus legislation, which is usually thicker than the phone books in most municipalities in the country, the devil is always in the details.

I have to express my deep concern that here we have a laudable bill that could have gone through with much speed, although the government across the way has other ways to achieve that speed. However, the bill could have gone through, but it has been tainted by the introduction of minimum sentencing, which clearly reflects the repressive agenda that the government is bringing forward. Once again, it would tie the hands of our judiciary, and once again it would have the legislative branch hampering the work and independence of the judiciary.

Even before the judge in question or a jury hear the case, the sentence has been predetermined, and that is disconcerting. The sentence may have happened anyway, or it might have even been a longer sentence, but once again it takes away the judiciary's discretion.

I want my colleagues across the way to think seriously about the consequences of minimum and consecutive sentencing on the criminal justice system. If crime could be solved just by putting people in prison, then the U.S. would have no crime today. Many states spend more on prisons than on many of their other programs. If just putting somebody in prison could solve the issue, then the U.S. would be crime free.

We hear about overcrowding in our prisons. We have heard testimony to that end with regard to another bill. That creates a concern as well.

My major concern is that we would be tying the hands of the judiciary. We would be taking away the jobs of those who are appointed to make judgments.

Hope springs eternal, in me at least, and I am sure in many of us. I am still hopeful that the government will not use many of the tools that it has used before to silence debate in the House.

Legislation has been sent to committees where no witnesses have been heard, and I am talking about a major piece of legislation that would have redefined citizenship. The government's majority on the committee used bullying tactics and time allocation to make sure the legislation was pushed through without hearing from any expert witnesses. A closure motion was brought forward only last week. My colleagues across the way seem to feel that time allocation is the way that they have to do business. I find that disconcerting.

I am hopeful that when we look at legislation now, especially after last week, that we realize we are here to represent our constituents. When we debate bills here, all of us, no matter whether we are independents, Conservative, NDP, or Liberal, have a contribution to make. Every one of us is here to represent our constituents. Every one of us wants legislation passed through the House that has had due diligence, proper oversight, and that will not be open to all kinds of other challenges.

I grew up with in England with a saying that sometimes people can be “penny wise and pound foolish”. I think of that saying often, as we rush through legislation that ends up being challenged in the courts and costing Canadian taxpayers a huge amount of money. I think of that when laws are passed that make no sense and take away people's rights.

My colleagues and I support this legislation at second reading, but we do have major concerns. We want to hear from witnesses and we want to express those concerns. We will definitely be bringing forward amendments.

I would love to have a bill go through all stages in a respectful manner, and being respectful does not mean just sitting here; it means listening and responding to the issues that are raised.

There is already legislation in place and fines set out, in section 445 of the Criminal Code, for all animals other than cattle. That is already there. Therefore, we can reassure our families and friends who have cats, dogs, or other pets, that there is already legislation in place. This is an amendment to that legislation, which specifically targets service, enforcement, and military animals. It is there for a reason. We have legislation when a crime is committed against RCMP officers or the military while they are on duty, and this is to parallel that.

It is no surprise that there are forces and police departments across this country who may be supporting this bill. I know that the Edmonton Police Service does support the bill, and it is fair to assume that there are others who support it too. I support this bill because it is good to have legislation that is very explicit. However, as I said earlier, I do have some concerns.

I would like to quote Staff Sergeant Trevor Hermanutz of the Edmonton Police Service canine unit, who said that officers are pleased with the law. He stated:

We know that now we have a law that is going to put some teeth to the matter—the fact that when people want to injure or kill law enforcement animals, there are some serious legal consequences to their actions....

I would advise members, and the numbers may have changed since I read this document, that the RCMP currently has 157 police dogs in service across Canada. The Canada Border Services Agency has 53 dog and handler teams. We are not talking about thousands of animals, but there is definitely a number that is over 200.

There is not a person in this House, it does not matter which side, who in any way condones animal cruelty. I can say on behalf of my colleagues that we condemn all forms of animal cruelty. That is a position we have supported for a long time. It is reflected in Bill C-232 and Bill C-592. At the same time that we condemn that cruelty, we are also very cautious. We have been bitten one too many times, I suppose. The Conservatives, my colleagues across the way, always manage to put some zingers in the bills that they introduce. Sometimes I wonder if those zingers are to see whether we would oppose the bill. However, this time I am seriously hoping that they will look at our concerns at committee stage and assist us in adding some amendments.

I want to say again that we support this bill. However, there are two things that we do have serious concerns with and which I will reiterate; they are the minimum sentences and the consecutive sentences. We are looking forward to hearing expert witnesses, but not one or two witnesses being given to the opposition and then the government saying it is done. We want a robust debate. This is an opportunity for us to discuss minimum sentencing, its impact on the system, and how it impacts the role of the judiciary.

Justice for Animals in Service Act (Quanto's Law)Government Orders

12:20 p.m.

Calgary Centre-North Alberta

Conservative

Michelle Rempel ConservativeMinister of State (Western Economic Diversification)

Mr. Speaker, it is my understanding that this piece of legislation is widely supported across a wide variety of stakeholder groups and that it is seeking to impose stiffer penalties for those who would harm or kill service animals in the line of duty. It is something that I think all of us support here. We certainly heard that support from my colleagues in the NDP.

My colleague across the way mentioned that she is looking forward to a fulsome debate in committee, to having a full set of witnesses, and to discussing potential amendments. This particular line of inquiry happens at committee stage.

Given that my colleague and her colleagues have expressed support and that we have a a wide base of stakeholder support across communities, and given that this next stage of inquiry happens at committee stage, I wonder if my colleague would answer as to why she will not push the bill toward committee stage at this time.

Justice for Animals in Service Act (Quanto's Law)Government Orders

12:20 p.m.

NDP

Jinny Sims NDP Newton—North Delta, BC

Mr. Speaker, as I said earlier, and my colleague across the way may not have been in the room at the time, I do support it at this stage. I do want it to go to committee, and I do want to have a full array of witnesses come forward.

One point that I will disagree on with my colleague across the way, with a great deal of respect, is that what she is saying is not always the case. She made the assertion that at committee stage witnesses are heard and a robust debate takes place. However, since I have been in this Parliament, we have had a major piece of legislation go through without any witnesses being called.

I have been the vice-chair on a number of pieces of legislation at committee, and I have seen how they have been pushed through with very little attention being paid to opposing points of view on anything that the government has brought forward.

Justice for Animals in Service Act (Quanto's Law)Government Orders

12:20 p.m.

Liberal

Arnold Chan Liberal Scarborough—Agincourt, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to express that I fully agree with the hon. member's comments with respect to her concern as it relates to consecutive and minimum sentencing. I certainly share her concern that it would be helpful to give discretion to the judiciary and the prosecution in terms of looking at the facts of a case before setting out sentences.

However, I do want to direct her specifically to section 445.01(2)(b), which deals with summary conviction offences. In this particular instance, it does not actually set out a minimum prison sentence. It sets out the potential for a prison sentence of up to 18 months, but not a minimum.

Therefore, depending upon whether the prosecution decides to proceed by an indictable offence or a summary conviction offence, if it proceeds on the lesser charge, there may not be a minimum sentence imposed.

Does this alleviate her concern with respect to minimum sentencing?

Justice for Animals in Service Act (Quanto's Law)Government Orders

12:20 p.m.

NDP

Jinny Sims NDP Newton—North Delta, BC

No, Mr. Speaker, it does not.

Justice for Animals in Service Act (Quanto's Law)Government Orders

12:20 p.m.

NDP

Françoise Boivin NDP Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, as justice critic for the New Democratic Party, I think second stage consideration is important. I appreciated hearing what my colleague had to say. I think second stage is a very important part of the process. When we get to committee we will have heard all of these comments, be they from the new Democrats, the Conservatives, the Liberals, or whomever.

I appreciate the member's concern with respect to minimum sentencing. I appreciate her concern with respect to consecutive sentencing. The problem is that often, as she said, the devil is in the details.

What concerns the member the most? Is it the consecutive sentencing or the minimum sentencing? Since the minimum sentence in similar cases seems to be higher than what has been proposed in the bill, would it be more of a concern with the consecutive sentencing, which might create a problem inside the judicial system?

Justice for Animals in Service Act (Quanto's Law)Government Orders

12:25 p.m.

NDP

Jinny Sims NDP Newton—North Delta, BC

Mr. Speaker, the member is far more of an expert in this area than I am. I appreciate that she is the critic for this area and does amazing work, not only in representing her riding but also in educating us on many issues.

I am looking forward to the debate. Right now both concern me, and the consecutives concern me more. However, I need to hear more debate.

We have parliamentary democracy for a reason and legislation goes through the various cycles for a reason. My big fear at second reading is that just because the government has a majority, it seems to think it can truncate different parts of that parliamentary process to get to the end goal. Sometimes when that it is done, harm is done.

For me, every stage of the legislation is important. I have been in the House for second reading of some bills and have not seen one colleague from the other side stand to speak to it. In this case, members might wonder who they are debating. The government brings in the legislation and we need to debate that with the it, as well as hear from colleagues on this side and from the other opposition party at the other end.

As well as participating and hearing from this side, a critical element is to have government members stand, debate and present their cases. If those cases are compelling, then my mind could be changed. That is why I come to the House. Those who have known me for the last number of years, in whichever job I have done and wherever I have been, know I do listen and I do change my mind if I hear cogent and coherent arguments.

Right now, some of my colleagues are saying that I do not. It is very disrespectful because they are impugning my intentions. Only I have the right to determine what I say and what my intentions are.

Justice for Animals in Service Act (Quanto's Law)Government Orders

October 27th, 2014 / 12:25 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, the member for Newton—North Delta clearly outlined why the New Democrats will support the legislation. However, she also outlined some of our concerns.

I want to refer to the speech that was given by the member for La Pointe-de-l'Île, in which she highlighted the fact that the New Democrats had two private members' bills before the House dealing with animal cruelty.

In her speech, she referenced Bill C-232 from the member for Parkdale—High Park. Her bill would remove animals from the section of the Criminal Code on property and create a new section for animal cruelty offences. In short, animals would be considered people and not just property. She went on to say that the definition of animal was inadequate, which Bill C-232 would attempt to address.

The second private member's bill is Bill C-592 from the member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine. That bill seeks to better define what an animal is under the Criminal Code and what is meant by intents and acts of cruelty.

Since 2006, we have seen a failure on the part of the Conservative government to address some very valid concerns with regard to animal cruelty. Could the member comment on the government's failure to address some of those other issues?

Justice for Animals in Service Act (Quanto's Law)Government Orders

12:25 p.m.

NDP

Jinny Sims NDP Newton—North Delta, BC

Mr. Speaker, the member for Nanaimo—Cowichan has been one of my mentors, even before I became a member of Parliament. She has done amazing work in the area of aboriginal and first nations communities. She has also been very calm and thorough in addressing critical issues. The member is a role model for many us on how to do the work of a parliamentarian, and I thank her for that.

As with many other issues that need to be addressed, we have seen a pattern in the government. There can be legislation introduced by the opposition that just sits there. The Conservatives do not want to debate it or address those issues. However, when they put forward legislation, they want to rush it through.

I think there is unanimity in this room. We do want to address cruelty to animals. However, this bill, even though it goes part way, has major flaws that we want to see debated.

Justice for Animals in Service Act (Quanto's Law)Government Orders

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

Before resuming debate, I should advise the House that there have been more than five hours of debate on this motion during this first round. Consequently, the speeches will now be 10 minutes and the period for questions and comments will be 5 minutes.

Resuming debate, the hon. member for Nanaimo—Cowichan.

Justice for Animals in Service Act (Quanto's Law)Government Orders

12:30 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for Newton—North Delta for her very kind comments. She has also done yeoman's work in the House, particularly with regard to issues recently around child care. I want to acknowledge the good work she has done. As well, the member clearly indicated that the New Democrats would be supporting Bill C-35. It was interesting to hear questions from the other side.

We talk about this place being a democratic institution. Part of being a democratic institution is ensuring that my constituents are represented in the House. That means as members of Parliament we should have an opportunity to rise in the House to speak to particular legislation. The members ask why do we not just get it to committee. I do not happen to sit on the justice committee, so I would be unable to participate in the questioning of witnesses and in any debate at the committee with regard to the legislation. Therefore, it is important that I am able to rise in the House to express what I think are concerns for my riding and to have that voice on the record.

Again, we support the bill and as the member for Newton—North Delta rightly pointed out, we do have concerns. However, let me talk about what the substance of the bill is.

According to the legislative summary, Bill C-35, an act to amend the Criminal Code (law enforcement animals, military animals and service animals), is as follows. It is also called Quanto's law in honour of the police dog which was stabbed to death while helping to apprehend a fleeing suspect in Edmonton, Alberta in October 2013. Quanto had four years of decorated service and had participated in more than 100 arrests. The legislative summary says:

Currently, an offence is committed under sections 444 and 445 of the Criminal Code (Code) when someone wilfully kills, maims, wounds, poisons or injures cattle or when someone kills, maims, wounds, poisons or injures a pet wilfully and without lawful excuse.

There are also a number of provisions that address cruelty to animals, including section 445.1 of the Code, which establishes that it is an offence to cause unnecessary suffering to an animal.

The legislative summary goes on to talk on to talk about what the new offences are and it indicates:

Clause 3 creates new subsection 445.01 (1) of the Code,3 which establishes that it is an offence to wilfully and without lawful excuse kill , maim, wound, poison or injure a law enforcement animal while it is aiding a law enforcement officer in carrying out that officer's duties; a military animal while it is aiding a member of the Canadian Forces in carrying out that member's duties; or a service animal while it is assisting a person with a disability.

It goes on to say that, “A minimum punishment of imprisonment for a term of six months takes effect only if a law enforcement animal is killed”.

Subsequently it refers to the consecutive sentences clause 2:

Clause 2 of Bill C-35 creates new section 270.03 of the Code, which establishes that, if the abovementioned offences are committed against a law enforcement officer...the sentence imposed shall be served consecutively to any other punishment imposed on the person for an offence arising out of the same event or series of events.

We certainly support an initiative that protects service animals. We know they play a very important role in aiding police officers, border security in airports where the service animals are being used for drug detection. We support legislation that enhances the protection for these animals, but as other members have rightly pointed out, there are some serious concerns with regard to the continuing use of mandatory minimum sentences and the consecutive sentencing clause within the legislation.

I want to turn for a moment to the mandatory minimum sentences. There have been a number of scholarly articles written over the last several years with regard to the effectiveness of mandatory minimum sentences in the United States. I want to quote an article that was published February 10, 2014, by the Heritage Foundation. The articles says, “Reconsidering Mandatory Minimum Sentences”. In the abstract, it indicates:

Mandatory minimum sentences are the product of good intentions, but good intentions do not always make good policy; good results are also necessary.

With respect to each crime, is justice best served by having legislatures assign fixed penalties to that crime? Or should legislatures leave judges more or less free to tailor sentences to the aggravating and mitigating facts of each criminal case within a defined range?

There were numerous arguments with this article, both for and against. As members can probably tell, I am not in favour of mandatory minimum sentences, so I will quote from the parts that support my argument.

I do not have time, unfortunately, to go through some of the cases, but in the conclusion, it says:

Congress was right to be concerned about reducing sentencing disparity and ensuring that sentences are neither unduly lenient nor unduly harsh. Nonetheless, just as law should be tempered with equity, so should rigid sentencing rules leave room for adjustment in certain cases where a legislatively fixed sentence would be manifestly unjust. No statute can account for every variable in every case, and the attempt to do so with mandatory minimums has given rise to punishments in some small-scale drug possession cases that are completely out of whack with the purpose of the federal sentencing laws.

Again, I want to stay with cases in the United States. Over a number of years it has had its “three strikes and you're out” laws and some other mandatory minimum sentencing laws that have now proven to be not that effective.

There was an article on February 22, entitled “Texas an unlikely model for prison reform”. It is a California senator who quoted this, but the article states:

For over 30 years, spending on our prison system has steadily climbed from 3 percent of the state's operating budget to 11 percent. Even during the depth of the Great Recession, spending on prisons and jails increased while spending on education and health care was slashed. It continues to increase today. It doesn't have to be that way. There are alternatives, and unlikely as it might seem, Texas seems to be leading the way...

Among the members of his board of directors are national conservative leaders Grover Norquist and Newt Gingrich.

That is to highlight the fact that it not just the New Democrats or Democrats or Liberals who are indicating that there should be a review of the mandatory minimum sentencing; it is also conservatives in the United States.

The article continues:

How is this happening? Texas is investing in alternatives to incarceration that are proving to be cheaper and more effective at keeping people out of prison. It is also doing a better job of rehabilitating people to keep them from reoffending and...back in prison.

Texas uses risk-assessment and better probation procedures to divert large numbers of nonviolent offenders away from the prison system, keeping them away from hard-core criminals. It requires strict implementation of victim-restitution measures, while offering alternatives to prison such as civil sanctions, drug courts and drug-abuse and mental health treatment. It also offers rehabilitation programs like job training for those in prison to prepare them to re-enter society. And Texas has invested heavily in reducing the caseloads of parole and probation officers so the state can keep better track of the people it supervises and help them move in a new direction.

Texas, which I think most people would agree has had a fairly strong approach to the criminal justice system, is implementing measures that do not rely on mandatory minimums and other such measures. It is actually looking at rehabilitation.

When we talk about prison reform, I want to reference Howard Sapers, the ombudsperson for prisons. For years, he has been raising the issues around how people are treated once they are in the prison system and how many of the things that happen do not contribute to keeping people out of jail once they are released. Many other voices out there are speaking up.

However, the last point I want to touch on is the failure of the current Conservative government to adequately address prevention measures, because the best measure in the justice system is to stop people from going to jail in the first place.

The Institute for the Prevention of Crime at the University of Ottawa has a number of resources, but it also has an article titled, “Building a safer Canada: effective planning for crime prevention”. In the introduction to this, it states:

Safety is a vital component of our quality of life. Our police and criminal justice systems play an essential role in helping to achieve these goals, and we should continue to do everything we can to help make them more responsive, efficient and effective.

However, there are no easy solutions to the problems of crime and victimization, and little evidence that simply relying on more enforcement and more punishment will significantly increase our individual and collective safety...

There is also a convincing body of evidence that prevention is an effective way to move forward. The concern is that Canada is not doing enough to make the best use of this knowledge and expertise—we need a sustained commitment to doing more to translate proven approaches into common practice.

Because my time is almost up, I do not have time to go through the whole article, but it has a framework for prevention planning. It says that there are five interconnected questions. One is understanding the problem and developing a vision, an action plan, and responsibility centres. Second is concentrating resources. Third is relying on evidence-based approaches. Fourth is assuming adequate and sustained support, and fifth is informing and engaging the public.

In conclusion, New Democrats support Bill C-35, but we look forward to a full review at committee.

Justice for Animals in Service Act (Quanto's Law)Government Orders

12:40 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to spend a bit more time pursuing the issue of mandatory minimum sentences. The member noted in her speech that there was a body of academic literature that said that these were completely ineffective.

In reviewing the literature at the time we were reviewing what was then the omnibus crime bill, Bill C-10, in the fall of 2011, I could not find a single peer reviewed, academic paper that suggested any benefit whatsoever to mandatory minimum sentences. It was not just some academic papers, as far as I could find, but all of them.

I wonder if my friend has seen any evidence whatsoever that mandatory minimum sentences are anything other than, as she suggested the right-wing centre in the U.S. has now concluded, good intentions going toward an ineffective policy.

Justice for Animals in Service Act (Quanto's Law)Government Orders

12:40 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, of course, the member is also a lawyer, so she has had some personal exposure to the criminal justice system.

Like many people, I did a Google search today in preparation for speaking. I was looking for both the pro and con arguments with regard to mandatory minimum sentences. Interestingly, the legal memorandum by the Heritage Foundation provides some arguments for and against. The problem is that in the United States, prosecutors are actually the ones making some determinations about mandatory minimums, because prosecutors are defining what the charge will be. Sometimes they are defining the charge so that it does not fall under a mandatory minimum. There are people somewhere else in the chain of decision- making in the United States who are making decisions about whether mandatory minimums will or will not apply. That has been raised as an issue in Congress. Although there are some opinions in favour, they have more to do with procedural things in the United States.

Justice for Animals in Service Act (Quanto's Law)Government Orders

12:45 p.m.

Liberal

Arnold Chan Liberal Scarborough—Agincourt, ON

Mr. Speaker, I too listened with interest to the presentation by my friend, the member for Nanaimo—Cowichan. I very much agree with her perspective with respect to mandatory minimum sentencing. However, I want to direct her specifically to proposed subsection 445.01(1), which sets the legal threshold that it has to be an act that is willful and without lawful excuse.

Would my friend like to comment on whether perhaps the reason the government is suggesting there should be a minimum sentence of six months is that it reflects the fact that it believes that a crime committed against a service animal is abhorrent and requires some kind of penalty that reflects society's abhorrence of the impact on service animals?

Justice for Animals in Service Act (Quanto's Law)Government Orders

12:45 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, the Conservative government, with its continued use of mandatory minimums, seems to be saying, in part, that it does not trust judges to review the evidence before them and use their knowledge, expertise, and long history in the courts to make the appropriate determination about what an appropriate sentence would be. By imposing mandatory minimums, in this particular case, it continues that line of reasoning and thought that seems to be evident in so many other pieces of legislation we have seen before the House.

Serious concerns have been raised, with regard to Bill C-10, the omnibus crime bill that was referenced, and a number of other bills, that the Conservatives continue to undermine the ability of judges to make appropriate decisions.

If there are judges who are completely outside the norm in sentencing, there are other ways of dealing with it other than putting mandatory minimums in bill after bill.

Justice for Animals in Service Act (Quanto's Law)Government Orders

12:45 p.m.

NDP

Matthew Dubé NDP Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Speaker, I ask for your indulgence and that of my colleagues as well. I know that our remarks must be relevant to the matter at hand; however, this is the first time I have risen to speak since the tragic events of last Wednesday. First and foremost, I simply want to thank the Sergeant-at-Arms and his team who, when it comes right down to it, saved our lives. I do not want to exaggerate, but that really is the case. I also want to thank everyone in my riding, Chambly—Borduas. We have received many emails over the past few days in a show of solidarity. Through you, Mr. Speaker, I would like to say how proud I am, even more so than last week, to be able to represent my constituents in the House and speak on their behalf. I have found a positive side to this very difficult tragedy. I have come to realize how much of a privilege it is to be here for them and to continue this work.

Having said that, I will move on to today's debate on Bill C-35, which is known as Quanto's law because it is named after a police dog in Edmonton that was killed while a crime was in progress. As many of my colleagues have said, we support this bill because, really, who would not?

According to my latest information, Canada's Criminal Code is not quite up to date on animal cruelty compared to other countries like ours around the world. We have a lot of catching up to do. I know that over the past few years many of my NDP colleagues have introduced bills about this issue.

That is why, obviously, we support the bill. As I just said, who would not? However, we do have some major concerns, and unfortunately, they often come up whenever we are dealing with bills that would change the Criminal Code. The two issues we are concerned about are minimum sentences and consecutive sentences.

We just heard an excellent speech from my colleague from Nanaimo—Cowichan, and several other colleagues of mine, regarding minimum sentences. It is important to note once again that we are seeing this pattern more and more from this Conservative government. According to published articles on crime and the justice system, it is becoming increasingly clear that minimum sentencing is not producing the desired results. It is doing nothing to improve prevention, even though, at the end of the day, our main objective should be to ensure that future crimes are prevented.

If we take a closer look at minimum sentences, we find all kinds of other problems. One problem is quite common. In many of the government's proposals, the minimum sentences are sometimes lighter than what judges have imposed in some cases. We have a situation where the justice system has proven that imposing minimum sentences was unnecessary. This measure appears to be more politically motivated, to show that the government is trying to be “tough on crime”, as we often hear, but in fact, the justice system is already doing its job. Minimum sentences are being imposed in some situations where the justice system was already doing a good job and where the sentences imposed were sufficient.

Some discretion is being removed from the justice system. We could examine our system in Canada, or even comparable systems, such as those of the United States or England, and have a debate on the unique aspects of each system. Nonetheless, one aspect is comparable and that is the division of powers. Obviously, Parliament has a responsibility to enact laws, but the justice system has the responsibility to ensure their enforcement and their interpretation. Just because we are disappointed in how a law is interpreted, that does not always mean that it is Parliament's responsibility to change the law immediately.

The government wants to change legislation every time it disagrees with what the justice system is doing. We must ensure the independence and discretion of the justice system and not legislate on a case-by-base basis, because that is a very slippery slope. Unfortunately, this government does that far too often, especially when it comes to minimum sentences. It is a worrisome trend.

In some cases, we support these bills, because, contrary to what my colleague heckled earlier, we cannot be against what is right. For example, when it comes to victims' rights or animal cruelty, including cruelty against police service dogs in a criminal context, we cannot be opposed.

However, when this type of situation occurs, the Conservatives too often move time allocation or closure motions. A government minister asked us why we did not stop debating and immediately send the bill to committee if we were in favour of it.

The reason is quite simple. First, committee is not the place to debate with our colleagues opposite. There are sometimes debates with witnesses, since we do not necessarily agree with them. However, the primary purpose of committee is to learn from the expertise of witnesses so that we can better understand our own concerns. We are not all lawyers, and if we do not have the expertise to explain the subject matter in simple terms, we cannot make informed decisions and amend a bill if necessary.

Committee is therefore not the place to address our colleagues. Furthermore, as in the House, it is not allowed. However, in the House, we have the opportunity to hear Conservative members and members of other parties speak, to ask them questions and to hear their answers.

Unfortunately, the government is preventing us from voicing our opinions on a bill because it does not believe that we should speak about it if everyone supports it. Although we support the bill, we still have concerns about justice and crime issues, particularly with regard to minimum sentences, which are at the heart of this matter.

When we have the opportunity to ask our Conservative colleagues questions—and that is not the case—the time for debate is limited. Although we recognize how important and urgent the issue is in some cases, rather than just rushing the bill to committee, it is important that we all have the opportunity to speak, ask our questions and present our arguments. Committee is not the place for 308 members to discuss a bill.

That is why we have debates, and government members must stop downplaying their importance. It does not do justice to Parliament or the legislative process. It results in mistakes, for example bills that are thought to be unconstitutional or must be fixed in committee. If more fulsome debate were allowed, we could advance these arguments and avoid these problems.

In closing, I would like to say once again that my colleagues and I support this bill. I am saying so for the third time. Who would not?

However, as several of my colleagues also mentioned, these details matter to us. We have concerns about minimum sentences and consecutive sentences, which take away discretion or judicial authority. As legislators, we are beginning to take over the work of judges. That is not how the system is supposed to work. Although animal cruelty is terrible and we are pleased to see the government bring in legislation, we must nevertheless pay attention to the separation of powers.

Justice for Animals in Service Act (Quanto's Law)Government Orders

12:55 p.m.

NDP

Laurin Liu NDP Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his excellent speech.

As he mentioned, the Conservative government has a habit of introducing bills in the House containing mandatory minimums, including omnibus bills it has introduced since 2012. The NDP is against animal cruelty. There are many people who have spoken in favour of this bill, including Edmonton police officers. We support sending this bill to committee.

That said, I would like to know whether my hon. colleague could talk about the bills containing mandatory minimums that the Conservative government has introduced in the past. I would like him to talk about the negative effects that these mandatory minimums can have on our legal process.

Justice for Animals in Service Act (Quanto's Law)Government Orders

12:55 p.m.

NDP

Matthew Dubé NDP Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for her question.

She mentioned omnibus bills. We all remember Bill C-10, which illustrates the points I raised earlier regarding the importance of having a full debate in the House and the opportunity to speak to all the different aspects of the bill.

As for the member's question about mandatory minimums, indeed, this is something we are seeing more and more, and it is one of our two main concerns with this bill. Since I was elected in 2011, we have seen mandatory minimums for every issue associated with the Criminal Code.

The hon. member for Nanaimo—Cowichan spoke about the chain of decision making; she spoke about prosecutors and judges. That is what is important. Imposing minimum sentencing seems to ignore the existing judicial hierarchy. That is troubling and problematic. Judges and lawyers are there to look at cases one at a time. If we create broad legislation that imposes minimum sentences, we could be looking at some problematic situations. It will also impact the prison system. We need to allow judges to make that distinction instead of having to navigate the murky waters of government legislation. However, as my colleague also noted, despite our support, we also need to be aware of these problems and bring them up in committee.

Justice for Animals in Service Act (Quanto's Law)Government Orders

1 p.m.

NDP

Peggy Nash NDP Parkdale—High Park, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his very thoughtful comments on this bill. I would like to ask him about mandatory minimum sentences, which are once again provided for in this Conservative bill. In a way, they undermine the goal of the bill, which is to ensure that there are adequate and serious penalties for people who harm service animals.

A recent documentary called State of Incarceration, which aired on CBC's Doc Zone and was produced by a constituent of mine, very graphically showed how mandatory minimum sentences and other kinds of supposedly tough-on-crime legislation in fact undermine the criminal justice system. They lead to overcrowding in our prisons and less support and assistance for criminals and people who are incarcerated to be rehabilitated, get back into the community, and ultimately become contributing and productive members of society.

My colleague may not have seen it, but can he comment on the intent of this video, which was to shine a light of this undermining of effective criminal justice systems? Even the U.S., which pioneered this tough-on-crime agenda, is turning back and going for rehabilitation as a more cost-effective measure to treat serious crime.

Justice for Animals in Service Act (Quanto's Law)Government Orders

1 p.m.

NDP

Matthew Dubé NDP Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for her question.

Unfortunately, I have not seen that documentary; however, now that I know about it, I am very interested in seeing it.

Even though I have not seen the documentary, it is becoming increasingly clear that minimum sentences are not the solution. The issue with the way the government approaches the debate about prevention and rehabilitation is that when it hears those words, “prevention” and “rehabilitation”, it assumes they mean befriending criminals. What is interesting—and the government always forgets this—is that prevention and rehabilitation are good for the safety of our communities. Rehabilitating criminals and focusing on prevention will protect victims and prevent future victims. Those are the kinds of things that lawyers, prosecutors and judges can take into consideration.

Of course, as legislators, we have a responsibility to make the necessary adjustments. However, too often the government seems to want to take a generalized approach whenever something does not go its way. That is not a responsible way to work, and that is what concerns us.

Still, the fact that the government is supporting service animals and does not want to see animal cruelty in general gives us reason to support this bill.

Justice for Animals in Service Act (Quanto's Law)Government Orders

1 p.m.

NDP

Irene Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

Mr. Speaker, I also want to thank the member opposite for bringing forward a bill that takes into account a need to respond to the killing or injuring of a service animal.

As a compassionate community, we are well aware of the many times that animals have come to the assistance of people and have served as law enforcement animals, military service animals, or service animals that support persons with disabilities. The stories are many and legendary.

One example is that during Hurricane Katrina, a 19-year-old dog saved his 80-year-old owner from drowning. A 19-year-old dog is perhaps even older in years than some of us here in the House. This particular situation was very poignant inasmuch as the elderly gentleman, George Mitchell, said that he would have given up his struggle against the surging waters of Katrina had it not been for the actions of his long-time pet, his long-time friend. Clearly there is a sentient reality to animals, and we have to be very cognizant of that.

There is also the example of Yoshi, a police service dog in Waterloo region. Yoshi had served the community since his deployment in 2009 and was known as a top cop. He was highly skilled in capturing suspects, finding narcotics, and finding missing persons. This last skill of finding missing persons touches us closely. We think of elderly people who have gone missing and children who are lost. Service dogs are incredibly important and instrumental in addressing those kinds of situations.

Bill C-35 is called “Quanto's law” in remembrance of Quanto, the police service dog killed in Edmonton trying to stop a fleeing suspect. The assailant was charged with animal cruelty and sentenced to 26 months in prison. The decision in this case was made at the discretion of a judge and was based on years of jurisprudence, existing law, and the evidence presented in court. That is how it should be. A sentence should be determined in a court of law by an experienced judge in an effort to ensure the sentence fairly reflects the crime. That is at the centre of our concerns about Bill C-35.

Bill C-35 is laudable in its sentiment, and we should indeed be concerned about animal cruelty. Section 445 of the Criminal Code sets out penalties and fines for those guilty of injuring all animals other than cattle.

I want to be very clear: New Democrats condemn all forms of animal cruelty, a position that we have supported for a long time. We have expressed those concerns over the past number of years regarding this Parliament's inability to truly protect animals. Members may recall some of these situations, because at present, animal cruelty crimes are considered property offences. It is not an offence to train animals to fight other animals or to receive money from the fighting of animals. There is no specific offence for particularly violent or brutal crimes against animals, and no additional protection is afforded to law enforcement animals.

Bill C-35 seeks to change that by bringing forward specific and additional protection for law enforcement and service animals. However, we have to look carefully at what is proposed in this legislation.

Bill C-35 would create a new offence, as I said, for killing or injuring a service animal, a law enforcement animal, or a military animal while the animal is on duty. It proposes a minimum sentence of six months if a law enforcement animal is killed by an individual while that individual is perpetrating an offence. It proposes that sentences imposed on a person be served consecutive to any other punishment imposed on that person for an offence arising out of the same event or series of events.

Like all Conservative legislation, the devil is in the details. This is a laudable bill but it has been tainted and undermined by introducing minimum sentencing, which clearly reflects what we can only call a repressive agenda. It does not take into account that we have courts and jurisprudence with respect to those courts and sentencing. We once again see a government showing its desire to deprive those courts of their discretion in sentencing, which is a very important part of a workable and intelligent justice system.

I am certain that every member of the House knows that there are circumstances. There is nothing that is absolute. There is no situation that can be absolutely deemed like any other. We have many examples of that in the courts. We simply cannot forget that and set it aside.

The Conservatives should also be aware of the consequences of minimum and consecutive sentencing on the criminal justice system. In this case, we have to hear from the experts about the consequences of minimum and consecutive sentencing. That is why we are recommending that the bill be studied carefully in committee. We need to hear from experts on what the consequences of this particular legislation could be and would be. We have to pay attention to those experts and to warnings from the courts.

I am sure members are well aware that in January of this year a B.C. judge challenged Ottawa's tough on crime legislation and found that mandatory minimum sentences violated the charter rights of those being condemned. I am concerned that Bill C-35 would also face such challenges. The Supreme Court is looking at a specific B.C. case regarding a criminal who was convicted of drug trafficking. In that case, Judge Galati said that in that situation a one-year minimum sentence would constitute cruel and unusual punishment, which is prohibited under section 12 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. At the time, Judge Galati declared the law in question to be of no force and effect in B.C. That is why it is now being heard by the Supreme Court. It is important that we wait for the decision and rely on the wisdom of that court before we go ahead with any other legislation that could be challenged under the charter.

The lawyer in that case said that mandatory minimum sentences are problematic because they remove the discretion of judges. He said that the federal government's enactment of mandatory minimum sentences was more political than reasonable. This notion that being tough on crime would somehow make us safer is a misconception. We are no safer now than we were 10 years ago. That is a simple fact.

Other jurisdictions have eliminated or have begun to reduce mandatory minimums, most notably the United States. They are moving away from those practices because they are found to be ineffective. Most Commonwealth countries with mandatory minimums have an escape clause so that judges can bypass the minimums when they deem it necessary. Therefore, we are going in the opposite direction of much of the rest of the world at a time when our crime rate is historically low.

Finally, I would like to say that New Democrats, of course, condemn all forms of animal cruelty. We have held that position for a very long time and have supported legislation such as Bill C-232 and Bill C-592.

We do believe that this particular bill is undermining what is otherwise a laudable idea. We have to be very careful of that. We have to be very cognizant of that.