Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak to Bill C-35, an act to amend the Criminal Code, pertaining to law enforcement animals, military animals and service animals. I thank the many colleagues who have had the opportunity to speak to this bill today.
I want to begin by saying that the New Democrats and, I am sure, all members in this House would condemn animal cruelty. Animals obviously are sentient creatures; they feel pain. It is unfortunate that the laws in this country are so archaic when it comes to animal cruelty. Our animal cruelty laws essentially date back to 1896 with a small amendment a few years ago. They essentially treat animals like property, and it is very difficult to get a conviction in this country for animal cruelty. Most thinking Canadians would say today that is really an anachronism because, again, everyone in this House would be opposed to any form of animal cruelty.
I will come back to animal cruelty in general, but I do want to speak very specifically to the bill at hand, Bill C-35. It is referring specifically to service animals and it would create a new offence, that of killing or injuring a service or law enforcement or military animal while the animal is on duty. it has a minimum sentence of six months if the animal is killed while a person is perpetrating the offence; and if sentences are imposed they would be served consecutively.
This bill has been called Quanto's law for a dog that was killed in the Edmonton Police Service in the line of duty. He was stabbed to death while trying to stop a suspect a couple of years ago in 2013. The bill, which my Conservative colleague has introduced, is trying to strengthen the penalties against those people who would attack law enforcement animals or any service animal.
We are in favour of toughening up animal cruelty legislation. We do have a concern about the mandatory minimum sentences. We think that is a problem. I have already spoken about that in my question for the member opposite, whereby judges really have their discretion removed by mandatory minimum sentences. My colleague had talked about the law evolving and being a living thing, and that is why judges reflect the law. It is because they are living judges who reflect the norms of the day and they interpret the law based on all of the circumstances at hand.
We are also concerned about consecutive sentencing for a similar reason, in that it would remove any discretion from the legislative system. The member opposite seemed not to hear the comment that I made, but I clarified for him that the justice department has said that it is not in favour of using mandatory minimum sentences as a deterrent. They do not think it is an effective deterrent, and that has certainly been the practice so far. We are generally in favour of the thrust of this bill.
I remember in Toronto a death that outraged everyone in our city. That was the death of a police horse named Brigadier in 2006. In that situation, the police horse was on duty and a person who had been stopped by the police was angry. He got in his car and intentionally drove it into Brigadier, almost killing him. The officer who had been riding him had to put him down. It was something that horrified our city. Torontonians would agree that this kind of practice, this willful and criminal act of attacking and killing a service animal is unacceptable and it needs to be dealt with.
I am very much in favour of the act itself and creating this offence. It would distinguish between someone who kills a service animal with intent and someone who might do it accidentally. That is an important distinction, because it is quite possible that through an innocent action a service animal could be killed, just as bystanders or anyone could be killed through an innocent action. The bill is for someone who is held criminally responsible and we would support that.
I remember the outrage in Toronto at the death of the horse Brigadier. I think most Torontonians would support this kind of initiative, with the caveat that we do not think that having a mandatory minimum sentence or consecutive sentences is a really wise move. In a way, it diminishes the bill, which would otherwise have very enthusiastic support. The goal has enthusiastic support, but the bill has been weakened by the inclusion of these measures.
I do want to speak a bit more about the whole issue of animal cruelty. Views have changed about animals over the last more than 100 years. Our laws currently recognize animals as property, not as creatures capable of feeling pain.
Animals can suffer cruelty in a variety of ways. They can suffer cruelty from neglect. One of the things that first got me involved in thinking about animal cruelty legislation was a situation that occurred in my riding in Toronto in the neighbourhood of Parkdale. It was a hot summer day and some passersby noticed a dog that had been left in a car with the windows rolled up. It was evident that the animal was in serious distress. It was really upsetting for everybody around. Ultimately, the window was smashed open in order to rescue the dog. Unfortunately, over the course of a summer, somewhere in this country there are animals that suffer in similar situations and not all of them are rescued. Some animals have died through that kind of neglect.
We have seen other examples of neglect. We have seen companion animals that have been starved or that have suffered from dehydration or inadequate shelter. We live in a very cold country, yet animals are left outside when it is 30 degrees below zero. We have seen animals that are left with parasitic infections, infestations or that are ill or injured, and their owner failed to seek adequate medical care. These are all examples of neglect. I have seen pictures of animals whose nails have not been clipped or their hooves not trimmed, which causes a great deal of pain to the animal.
Then there are situations of absolute wilful cruelty to animals. There are some awful examples of that. There was a situation a couple of years ago where a group of huskies was no longer needed in the north. Tourists had taken these husky teams out on runs. A staff person was assigned to kill all of those beautiful husky dogs. I think the country was horrified by that. It was a terrible situation.
We have also heard about situations where animals have been wilfully burned, or cut or tortured in some way. Obviously people who would do that have a serious problem. It is very upsetting, and I do not know what law would stop that kind of cruelty in 100% of the cases.
Neglecting to update our animal cruelty laws for more than 100 years sends absolutely the wrong message. People have to really be aware that animal cruelty, whether it is neglect or intentional abuse, is wrong and that animals need to be treated with proper care and attentiveness.
I want to salute the work of organizations, like the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies, and all the member humane societies across the country, and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. They do terrific work in educating Canadians. Certainly, they have called for Canada's laws to be upgraded. They do an admirable job, for example, of trying to deal with puppy mills or getting animals adopted.
I also want to give a salute to the Moosonee Puppy Rescue, the group that takes dogs that are left to run wild, in not great conditions, up north. It tries to find them adoptive homes.
I also want to spend the last few minutes talking about the importance of updating all of our animal cruelty legislation. Back in 2011, I introduced Bill C-232, calling for an amendment to the Criminal Code to improve the treatment of animals.