Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak in support of C-35, an act to amend the Criminal Code with respect to law enforcement animals, military animals, and service animals, Quanto's law.
In contradiction to the comments just made by the opposition members, I think these are actually very important pieces of legislation to discuss and move forward. This one actually has a huge impact on all Canadians.
This bill is named after Quanto, a dedicated and decorated Edmonton Police Service animal that was killed last year while assisting in the apprehension of a fleeing subject. Quanto's death was widely reported across the country. It reignited efforts by police to have the Criminal Code amended to specifically criminalize acts on law enforcement animals and, more importantly, to recognize the valuable services they provide to Canadians, slightly in contrast to what the opposition member commented on earlier.
A commitment was made in the Speech from the Throne. I am pleased to be able to speak about this very important bill today. I am also pleased to see that the bill has proposed and would provide specific protections, not just to law enforcement animals but to other kinds of service animals, mainly military animals and service animals that assist individuals with disabilities.
Having seen the assistance that these animals provide, particularly for those individuals who have disabilities, I think this is extremely important and something that Canadians overwhelmingly support.
The proposed amendments would amend the Criminal Code to create a specific offence prohibiting the wilful and unlawful killing or injury of a law enforcement, service, or military animal. The bill defines each of these terms:
...“law enforcement animal” means a dog or horse that is trained to aid a law enforcement officer in carrying out that officer’s duties.
While the focus of this bill has properly been on Quanto, a German shepherd, I think it is important to recall that horses are also still a significant part of Canadian law enforcement agencies. For example, police service animals are used in crowd control situations. They are well suited for this type of patrol activity, as long as they are trained properly. Officers on the horses have a commanding view of the crowd.
More importantly, the added height and visibility the horses give their riders serve in both ways: they allow officers to see what is going on in the wider area, but they also allow people in that area to know where the officers are. This helps deter crime, but it also helps people find the officers when they need them.
I had first-hand experience with this, having been in New York City in an urgent circumstance. I was in downtown New York, travelling with my younger sibling. She is a diabetic, and she experienced a reaction. I had taken her out of the cab we were in, and the first person I saw was a law enforcement officer on horseback, who came immediately to our aid and was able to support us.
I would not have seen such individuals if they were just walking in the crowd. I was able to see the officer immediately and got care immediately for my sibling, and she was actually taken to a hospital within a few minutes.
That is very similar to incidents like one in May 2010, when two street vendors in New York sought help after they saw smoke rising from what turned out to be a crude car bomb. Again, it was an opportunity for citizens to react, to know where help is, to move to those police officers who could respond and clearly help innocent bystanders, moving them out of the way, and to help the circumstances.
In an emergency, the horses are able to move through the crowd easily. During non-emergency situations, horses and officers are typically well received by crowds. Well-trained horses do not spook when they hear loud noises or sudden bangs, and they stand firm and calm, often calming the crowd.
I am certain members will also recall a very high-profile incident that occurred in 2006, when Brigadier, an eight-year-old Toronto Police Service horse, was killed in the line of duty by a motor vehicle whose driver barrelled into the horse and mounted officer. Both of Brigadier's front legs were broken, the left one shattered so badly that he never could have recovered. Brigadier had to be put down after a long term of service.
A military animal, according to the new act:
...means an animal that is trained to aid a member of the Canadian Forces in carrying out that member’s duties.
A service animal is defined as:
....an animal that is required by a person with a disability for assistance and is certified, in writing, as having been trained by a professional service animal institution to assist a person with a disability.
Most Canadians see this work every day. They see these animals in the workplace and community aiding individuals with disabilities so they can get better access to their community and all of their surroundings.
The conduct described by the offence is also prohibited under the more general animal cruelty offences, which apply to all animals. However, their targeted nature reflects the somewhat distinct harm caused when a service animal is attacked, relative to animals that might otherwise just be pets, for instance.
The new offence would carry a maximum penalty of five years' imprisonment on indictment, and 18 months and/or a fine of up to $10,000 on summary conviction. This is also consistent with the sentencing range for the more general animal cruelty offences. However, Bill C-35 would require courts to give primary consideration to denunciation and deterrence as sentencing objectives in respect of the new offence.
Many have spoken in this chamber about the importance of protecting law enforcement animals and animals that perform valuable services for other government agencies, such as the Canada Border Services Agency and the Canadian Forces. However, I will speak specifically to the aspect of the legislation with respect to protecting service animals, which perform tasks that permit individuals with disabilities to live more independent lives.
Like their counterparts that assist police services, service animals perform a variety of functions. Perhaps the most well known to most Canadians are seeing-eye dogs that assist visually impaired individuals to navigate through their daily lives. These animals, in particular, have opened up wide and far-reaching experiences for Canadians with visible and visual disabilities.
However, there other kinds of service animals. Just as guide dogs are trained to alert their owners to potential hazards they cannot see, hearing dogs are similarly trained with respect to fire alarms and to make sure that those with hearing impairments are well taken care of.
For children who have a dog that hears for them, it allows them to more purposely participate in their everyday school activities and, quite frankly, interact with all of their classmates. It allows them to know when the bell rings so they can go out from school. Therefore, it would be a travesty if at any point in time one of these animals were injured, because it would severely limit these children's opportunity to participate in their daily lives at school.
People with mental disabilities make use of psychiatric service dogs to retrieve medications, activate a medical alert, or to be led out of a crowd when anxious.
A person who has epilepsy or other seizure disorders may have a seizure alert assist dog, a seizure response dog, or animal to alert him or her when a seizure might be upcoming. The animal will steer their owner away from danger during a seizure or something that may activate a medical challenge.
Other types of service dogs can assist persons with physical disabilities, whether helping someone out of a wheelchair, carrying specific objects, pushing buttons, using the elevator, or providing balance for a person with mobility challenges.
I can tell members that these animals play a pivotal role for Canadians with disabilities. It means that they can better integrate into their communities. It means that they can go out and enjoy time with their friends, as opposed to staying only at home. It often means just functioning well at home for the basic necessities so they can lead more independent lives.
As I have said before, making sure that these animals are well protected and protected under the Criminal Code is essential. The limitations for these Canadians if they did not have service would be devastating.
The training of a service animal is an expensive proposition and represents months of work. These animals must be trained to be good natured and obedient in a variety of circumstances, to protect their owners, and to interact well with the public. Some breeds are better than others, but we know that dogs are mostly chosen because they are friendly, loyal, and patient. Typically, a potential service animal undergoes extensive behavioural training before being accepted into a training program
Service dogs work with their disabled partners to enable them to have more independence and freedom. Therefore, I think we should be thanking the individuals who train these animals and the animals themselves for their service and companionship.
I am pleased to support this bill and encourage all here in the House of Commons to support it, because it so overwhelmingly helps individuals with disabilities to lead more independent lives and to integrate better into Canadian society.