Mr. Speaker, I am very proud to stand and speak in favour of Bill C-35, the justice for animals in service act, or Quanto's law.
I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Northumberland—Quinte West.
This legislation would ensure that those who harm law enforcement service and Canadian Armed Forces animals would face serious consequences. Our government recognizes the special role that these animals play in protecting our communities and improving the quality of life of Canadians.
This bill is aimed at denouncing and deterring the wilful harming of specially trained animals used to help law enforcement officers, persons with disabilities, or members of the Canadian Armed Forces. The introduction of this legislation fulfills our government's promise in the 2013 Speech from the Throne to recognize the daily risks taken by police officers and their service animals in their efforts to enforce the law and protect Canadians and communities.
The legislation honours Quanto, a police dog that was stabbed to death in the line of duty while trying to apprehend a fleeing suspect in Edmonton, Alberta. Quanto had four years of decorated service and had participated in more than 100 arrests prior to his death in October of 2013.
The Prime Minister noted in a press release upon announcing this important bill that:
This legislation honours those faithful animals and emphasizes the special role that they play. Our Government is committed to ensuring that people who wilfully harm these animals face the full force of the law.
In our society, service animals have become an integral part of law enforcement. They assist with search and rescue efforts; tracking criminals; searching for narcotics, explosives, crime scene evidence, and lost property; VIP protection; crowd control; hostage situations; and police community relations.
The RCMP currently has 157 police service dogs in service across Canada. Of these, 135 are general duty profile dogs, and 22 are detection profile dogs. In addition to the RCMP, provincial and municipal police departments across Canada have integrated police service dogs as part of their everyday service delivery in our communities.
Service animal involvement in law enforcement goes well beyond police. The Canada Border Services Agency has 53 dog and handler teams that help to detect contraband drugs and firearms, undeclared currency, and food, plant, and animal products. Additionally, Correctional Service of Canada uses dogs to help stop the flow of illicit drugs and contraband into federal correctional institutions. They have over 100 dog and handler teams across Canada.
As members can see, service animals are active and indispensable members of our society. With their handlers, they work with dedication to ensure Canadians remain safe in their communities. Not only have they been given important responsibilities, but they also have an unbreakable bond with the officers who have the honour to be their handlers. This is something that makes losing a service animal in the line of duty very difficult.
Constable Matthew Williamson of the Edmonton Police Service Canine Unit, who was Quanto's handler, was shocked by the loss of their friend, along with the entire Edmonton Police Service.
Scott Pattison, spokesperson with Edmonton Police Service Communications, noted the strong connection between the handlers and their dogs, saying, “The dogs go home with the members and they're part of their own families, really. These animals perform their jobs every single night on behalf of the citizens of this city with extreme courage.”
That is why our government was extremely proud to introduce this legislation to ensure that harm committed against these dedicated animals becomes a criminal offence.
Bill C-35 proposes Criminal Code amendments that would create a new offence specifically prohibiting the injuring or killing of animals trained and being used to help law enforcement officers, persons with disabilities, or members of the Canadian Armed Forces. Persons convicted of such an offence could face up to five years of imprisonment, with a mandatory minimum sentence of six months in prison if a law enforcement animal is killed while assisting an officer in executing the law and the offence is prosecuted by indictment.
In order to ensure that persons convicted of harming police service animals are sentenced properly according to the crimes committed, Bill C-35 contains measures whereby if a law enforcement officer is assaulted or a law enforcement animal is injured or killed while on duty, the sentence for that offence would be served consecutively to any other sentence imposed on the offender arising out of the same event. This will ensure that the punishment matches the nature of the crime.
The justice for animals in service act applies to law enforcement animals, service animals, and Canadian Armed Forces animals. In practical terms, dogs would be the primary animals protected by this new legislation, given the fact that they are the animals most often trained and used to assist law enforcement officers and persons with disabilities.
However, horses are also used by some police forces. Also, other kinds of animals can be trained as service animals to assist people with disabilities. They would all be protected under this legislation.
Our government's tough-on-crime commitment is being met with continued dedication as we work to ensure that our justice system is fair and efficient. The development of the justice for animals in service act is part of the government's plan for safe streets and communities. This plan focuses on tackling crime, enhancing victims' rights, and ensuring a fair and efficient justice.
Enacting this legislation would finally codify an official offence for the act of injuring or killing service animals. We must stand up and protect these animals. They are giving their lives to protect Canadians and ensure that our communities are safe. They deserve nothing less than our gratitude, care, and protection. I strongly encourage the NDP and the Liberals to support this important legislation. I ask them to stand with the government in protecting our service animals from criminals who would seek to harm them. This legislation is something all Canadians can stand behind, knowing that the Conservative government is fulfilling its commitments to make our streets safer and protect the most vulnerable members of our society.