moved 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.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to be here once again in the House of Commons to speak to a very important initiative that pertains directly to our four-legged friends, animals that can be described as in service of our country and in service of our community.
Bill C-35, the justice for animals in service act, is also known as Quanto's law. It is named after Quanto, who was a five-year-old German shepherd Edmonton police dog who was fatally stabbed October 7, 2013, sadly, while assisting the police in apprehending a suspect. Quanto and his handler, Constable Matt Williamson, were in pursuit of a suspect in a stolen vehicle. When the vehicle became disabled at a gas station, the driver jumped out and fled. Constable Williamson ordered the suspect to stop. When the suspect refused to do so, the officer deployed Quanto, his partner, his dog. Constable Williamson, then in pursuit, eventually witnessed what took place. Quanto did catch the suspect who was fleeing, but in the midst of holding him while waiting for Constable Williamson to arrive, Quanto was stabbed with a knife repeatedly. Medical treatment was applied, but despite efforts to save Quanto, he succumbed to his injuries.
Sadly, this particular incident is not an isolated incident. This has happened in other cases across this country. It speaks to the need to do more when it comes to protecting service animals. It speaks to the recognition of the vulnerability of these animals in supporting law enforcement, our border services, and other law enforcement services.
At the outset, I want to pay tribute to the member for Richmond Hill, who is the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, who brought this initiative forward. However, because of a procedural requirement that when he became a parliamentary secretary he could no longer pursue this initiative, the government has picked it up and taken it forward. It was also referenced in the Speech from the Throne.
The proposed amendment to the Criminal Code is to recognize the daily risks taken by police officers and their service animals. They work very much in unison.
I note that this bill defines each of the terms. The proposed amendments would create a new specific offence prohibiting the killing or injuring of a law enforcement animal, service animal, or military animal. I will come back to those definitions.
A law enforcement animal is defined as a dog or a horse that is trained to aid a law enforcement officer in carrying out the officer's duties.
A military animal is defined as an animal that is trained to aid members of the Canadian Forces in carrying out members' duties. This would include the very critical task that we saw in recent years in Afghanistan with bomb disposal units. Dogs, as we all know, are gifted with very sensitive olfactory systems. That is, they are able to smell things that other animals and humans cannot. Despite great advances in technology around bomb disposal, the dog is still the very best indicator in many cases of where these IEDs, the landmines, are located. However, we can imagine the great risk they are under. We can also imagine how incensed the Taliban is when its random attempts to kill and maim people are foiled by the dogs. This makes these dogs a target just as, in a criminal sense, dogs who apprehend those who may flee justice or those who may be involved in the drug trade are specifically made targets.
Therefore, I come back to the purpose of the bill, which is to recognize both the harm and the danger to which they are exposed but also to elevate criminal sanctions to protect them and send a signal to recognize their specific vulnerability.
A service animal is defined as an animal that is required by a person with a disability for assistance and, importantly, is certified in writing as having been trained by a professional service animal institution to assist a person with a disability. Again, I would suggest that the intent of the bill is to elevate the importance of what these animals do, the service they provide, and the potential vulnerability that is present in their life because of their service.
While the bill bears the name of Quanto, that name really represents a much larger body of animals. Quanto, incidentally, was recently elected into the Purina Animal Hall of Fame, I am told, as special recognition of his service to country.
The Criminal Code has contained offences relating to treatment of animals since 1892, and the current set of offences has existed since 1953. The penalties in the existing law were in fact increased by this government in 2008. The offence of killing, maiming, wounding, poisoning, or injuring an animal that is kept for a lawful purpose is found in section 445 of the Criminal Code, and this particular section was used, in fact, to prosecute Quanto's killer.
The maximum sentence that may be imposed where there is a hybrid offence and it is prosecuted as an indictable offence is up to five years, and the law provides that the court may, in addition to any other sentence, on application of the Attorney General or on its own motion, order that the accused pay the reasonable costs incurred in respect of an animal as a result of the commission of the offence. This gets at the fact that the training and purchase of these animals, because they provide such special service, is significant.
I have a very good friend, Duane Rutledge, who is a dog handler with the New Glasgow Regional Police Service back in my home constituency. He has, over the years, trained and worked with three separate dogs. Most of these dogs are German shepherds, brought in either from the Czech Republic or from Germany. These animals can cost thousands of dollars, and when one factors in the training that goes into preparing these animals for service, the cost goes even higher. Estimates, in some cases, put a single service animal, by the time it reaches maturity, at $60,000; so there is cost to be incurred as well. Not to diminish the loss and the human side in injury to an animal, the financial costs associated with an animal being taken out of service, or worse yet, killed, are significant.
Further, paragraph 738(1)(a) of the Criminal Code authorizes the court to order the offender to pay the costs associated with training a new animal as restitution for the loss of an animal where the amount is readily ascertainable.
The person who killed Quanto, for example, was sentenced to a total of 26 months imprisonment on various charges arising out of the events of October 7, which I spoke of earlier. Eighteen months was specifically designated for the killing of Quanto. He was also banned from owning a pet for 25 years.
Quanto's killing was only the most recent instance in which a police service animal was killed in the course of a police operation. Another high-profile incident involved the death of an eight-year-old horse.
The horse, Brigadier, was a Toronto Police Service horse killed in the line of duty in 2006. In that case, a driver in a fit of rage, while waiting in line at a drive-through ATM, made a U-turn and barrelled into the horse and his mounted officer. Both of Brigadier's front legs were broken, the left one so badly that he could never have recovered. The horse had to be put down.
We have another example in which a service animal, in this case a horse, was injured severely. The person drove a car into the animal, into the police horse, and was subsequently convicted. There were charges for dangerous driving causing bodily harm to Brigadier's mounted officer.
Members of this House would also be aware of the many ways that law enforcement dogs and horses can assist handlers in protecting the public.
A police dog is trained specifically to assist police and other law enforcement personnel in their work, such as searching for drugs, explosives, people who are lost in the woods, and evidence such as weapons, and protecting their handlers. Law enforcement canine units, like Quanto's unit in Edmonton, are common components of municipal police, as well as provincial police forces and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
We are all very aware of the Musical Ride and the service it represents, as well as the entertainment factor. It is a source of pride for both the RCMP and all Canadians.
In 1995 in Montreal, after 23 years, a new version of the Montreal police canine unit was established.
Today, this canine unit is composed of 11 police officers and 10 operational dogs. The canine unit supports Montreal police officers in their investigations and daily activities. It is also called upon to work in certain operations where its specialties are required. For example, the unit will cooperate with other police forces that do not have canine units.
The canine unit also works during major events. It is also called upon to participate in media, community and cultural events at schools and community meetings or on television shows to promote the canine unit, the police service and the City of Montreal. The dogs of the Montreal police canine unit each specialize in specific types of work.
We know that some dogs are trained for a very specific purpose with respect to the detection of narcotics. Other dogs have specialized skills in searching buildings and in explosives detection. Some dogs have specialized training that takes years to perfect.
On the international front, looking outside our borders, a number of American states, such as Indiana, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Ohio, Oregon, and others, have enacted special laws making the intentional injuring or killing of a police dog a felony offence, subjecting the perpetrator to harsher penalties than those that exist in statutes embodied in local animal cruelty laws. Just as the assault on a police officer may currently result in harsher penalties, we believe there should be an elevated sentence to be meted out when a police animal is injured or killed.
In terms of law enforcement horses, as I mentioned, after special training, law enforcement horses may be employed for specialized duties, ranging from patrolling a park or wilderness area, where police cars would be impractical or noisy, to riot duty. Nothing garners attention in a large crowd where a riot might be erupting like a 1500-pound police horse coming into that area. It tends to garner attention. It tends to have a calming effect on the nerves for many, upon seeing that police horse arrive.
Police horses serve to send a very strong message when attempting to disperse crowds, through their larger size. Police horses provide the officers who ride them with added visibility and an added capacity to see what is happening in what is sometimes a very scattered and chaotic situation. They give riders the ability to observe a much wider area and allow police officers in that area to garner the attention they need and deserve. The service horses help, therefore, to deter crime. They help people find officers when they need them.
The bill would go further and proposes to extend specific protection, not only for law enforcement animals but also for trained service animals and military animals. Service animals perform tasks to help their disabled human masters live independent lives.
Most service animals are dogs, such as seeing eye dogs. However, other kinds of animals may also be trained to serve their masters, to serve individuals they are tasked to work with. The costs associated with training these new service animals is also significant.
I mentioned the Canadian Armed Forces and the variety of animals that are often contracted and used for those purposes. These animals assist Canadian Forces members by locating bombs. Again, I say for emphasis, what courageous work.
Like the men and women of the Canadian Forces who are tasked with this highly dangerous task, service animals have an enormous role to play in helping to detect IEDs, which are hidden and have a horrible impact, as we know, on human life. We have certainly seen the horrific aftermath and chaos that results when individuals step on IEDs. We have many service members in Canada now living with those ailments and ambulatory disabilities as a result.
Each of these service animals is required to have received specialized training to enable it to accomplish very specific tasks in support of its human handler.
It should also be noted that this offence would only apply where the animal was killed or injured in the line of duty. Animals that did not fall within the scope of this new offence would nevertheless be protected by existing animal cruelty provisions of the code.
As with existing sections under 445 of the code, the proposed offence would require the offender to have intended to kill or injure one of these animals. That mens rea, that intentional element, exists. In that way, accidental or negligent conduct would not be criminalized.
As with other provisions under section 445 of the code, the new offence would carry a maximum penalty of five years' imprisonment on indictment, and 18 months or a fine of up to $10,000 on summary conviction.
It is important to note that the proposed amendments would also require courts to give primary consideration to denunciation and deterrence as sentencing objectives as they relate to this new offence. We must underline here that there would be a mandatory minimum penalty of six months' imprisonment where a law enforcement animal was killed in the line of duty and the offence was prosecuted by indictment.
The bill also includes a provision that would require the sentence imposed on a person convicted of an assault committed against a law enforcement officer to be served consecutively to any other sentence that might be imposed on the offender for the offence committed at the same time. We know that these police officers and military members work with the animals essentially as a unit, so an offence committed against the officer would be served consecutively to that which would pertain to the harming or the killing of the animal.
The murder of a police officer is classified as first degree murder automatically and is punishable by life in prison with a mandatory minimum period of parole eligibility of 25 years, as a reflection of that seriousness.
The Criminal Code specifically prohibits assaults committed against peace officers in the performance of their duties through a number of offences, including section 271, assault on a police officer; and section 270.01, assault with a weapon or assault causing bodily harm to a police officer. That recognition exists.
Regrettably, data from the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics adult criminal court survey reveals that there are still too many assaults being committed on police officers across the country. There were, in fact, a total of 31,461 charges in the years 2011-12.
Again, we believe that there is consistency in bringing this matter forward. The Criminal Code was amended to require courts, when sentencing persons convicted of assaults on police officers, to give primary consideration to the objectives of denunciation and deterrence. This new amendment to the Criminal Code would be in that same vein.
I am sure that all would recognize that attacks not only put the lives and safety of individual officers at risk but also demonstrably put animals' lives at risk when violence and weapons are used. The attack undermines the justice system more broadly. Thus, recognizing the wilful killing or injuring of a law enforcement animal undermines the justice system more broadly.
The bill would require the sentence imposed on a person convicted of wilfully killing or injuring a law enforcement animal to be served consecutively to any other sentence imposed on the offender for the offence committed at the same time.
In closing, I want to indicate that I am looking forward to the justice committee's deliberations on this important bill and the study that will take place there. I urge that the bill be referred to committee without undue delay.
I believe that in this highly charged partisan atmosphere in which we sometimes work, this is a bill that should really receive broad support.
It is intended to improve safety and the ability of police and service animals to do their important work in service of Canadians, in service of law and order in this country, and I would encourage all members to support this bill.