Mr. Speaker, I am certainly honoured to stand in this place today and give my thoughts on Bill C-35, Quanto's law. I will be sharing my time with the member for Kootenay—Columbia.
As a former park warden and conservation officer, I will be giving my thoughts at the end of my speech on how the bill would have impacted me if I were still an officer today and how it would impact the colleagues and friends I have made over my years of service, as well as on what my intentions are when I stand in my place to pass the bill.
I am happy to speak in support of Bill C-35, the justice for animals in service act, otherwise known as Quanto's law. The legislation 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 a law enforcement officer in enforcing the law and the offence is prosecuted by way of indictment.
First and foremost, the legislation recognizes the special role that law enforcement animals, military animals, and service animals play in the lives of Canadians and offers them protection in law through the creation of specific offences that carry with them special sentencing measures.
Second, the legislation would add a provision in the Criminal Code that would enhance the penalty imposed on an individual who assaults a law enforcement officer, whether that assault is a common assault under subsection 270(1) of the Criminal Code, an assault causing bodily harm or with a weapon under section 270.01, or an aggravated assault under section 270.02.
As we know, generally, unless the court specifically states that a sentence is consecutive or concurrent to any outstanding sentence, the sentences must be served concurrently. Consecutive or cumulative terms of imprisonment are served one after the other, which means there is no discount.
Clause 2 of Bill C-35 would amend the Criminal Code to direct that a sentence imposed under subsection 270(1), section 270.01, or section 270.02 for an offence committed against a law enforcement officer would have to be served consecutively to any other sentence imposed on the offender arising out of the same event.
Section 718 of the Criminal Code sets out in clear language the purpose of sentencing in the following words:
The fundamental purpose of sentencing is to contribute, along with crime prevention initiatives, to respect for the law and the maintenance of a just, peaceful and safe society by imposing just sanctions that have one or more of the following objectives:
(a) to denounce unlawful conduct;
(b) to deter the offender and other persons from committing offences;
(c) to separate offenders from society, where necessary;
(d) to assist in rehabilitating offenders;
(e) to provide reparations for harm done to victims or to the community; and
(f) to promote a sense of responsibility in offenders, and acknowledgment of the harm done to victims and to the community.
Attacks on law enforcement officers put the lives and safety of the individual officers at risk, and we know the kinds of risks that law enforcement officers face. We saw it this week in Edmonton, where Officer Woodall lost his life in service to his community in the Edmonton Police Service. It is a police service that I volunteered for at the Clareview police station when I was going to the University of Alberta. I have good friends who are serving with the Edmonton Police Service today. They are friends I grew up with in my hometown of Lacombe, Alberta. My thoughts and prayers go to them and the entire Edmonton Police Service family.
Attacks on law enforcement officers also undermine the justice system more broadly. In recognition of this, in 2009 Parliament enacted section 718.02 of the Criminal Code, which provides that when a court imposes a sentence for an offence under subsection 270(1), section 270.01, or section 270.02, the court shall give primary consideration to the objectives of denunciation and deterrence of the conduct that forms the basis of the offence.
This is quite technical, but what it means is that the requirement for sentences imposed on persons who commit assaults on law enforcement officers to be served consecutively is consistent with the objective of denunciation and deterrence of such conduct.
I am pleased to see that Bill C-35, which is being debated today, contains a similar provision. It provides that a sentence imposed on a person convicted of killing a law enforcement animal while it is aiding a law enforcement officer in carrying out that officer's duties 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. What this means for every law enforcement officer, for every dog handler, and for everyone who rides a horse or uses a service animal is that when it comes to sentencing, the offence against the service animal would be treated in the same way as an offence committed against a colleague on the force.
Bill C-35 also sends a clear signal that an attack on any law enforcement animal, military animal, or service animal is a serious matter, and that denunciation and deterrence of such conduct deserve to be the primary considerations in sentencing in such cases.
Section 718.03 would require that a court impose a sentence for the new offence under proposed new subsection 445.01(1) to give primary consideration to the objectives of denunciation and deterrence of the conduct that forms the basis of the offence.
I would now like to say a few words about the mandatory minimum sentence of six months in prison in cases where a law enforcement animal is killed while assisting a law enforcement officer in enforcing the law and the offence is prosecuted by indictment. In the course of the second reading debate of Bill C-35, concerns were raised with regard to the constitutionality of the mandatory minimum penalty proposed in Bill C-35.
In a decision released on Tuesday, April 14, the Supreme Court of Canada considered the constitutionality of a mandatory minimum penalty imposed on persons convicted of possessing loaded prohibited firearms contrary to section 95(1) of the Criminal Code in R. v. Nur and R. v. Charles. The court found that the three-year minimum penalty for a first offence and five years for a subsequent offence violated the cruel and unusual provisions of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. However, as the Minister of Justice correctly pointed out when he appeared before the justice committee on Monday, April 27, the court did not rule out mandatory minimum penalties as an option for the Criminal Code sanctions.
As the minister explained, Bill C-35's proposed mandatory minimum penalty is tailored to ensure that it would not result in a sentence that would be grossly disproportionate to the offence committed. The minister referenced several reasons to support this point. First, the criminal conduct directed at the law enforcement animal must occur while it is aiding a law enforcement officer in the execution of the officer's duties.
Second, the mandatory minimum would only apply when the Crown prosecutor has elected to proceed by way of indictment. As the minister pointed out, prosecutorial discretion is always exercised with a careful eye to proportionality, constitutionality, and totality, which are the same considerations used by a judge. Where the Crown elects to prosecute this offence as a summary conviction, the mandatory minimum penalty would not apply.
Finally, in terms of the length of the mandatory term of imprisonment, the six-month term of imprisonment is at the lower end of the range. In this respect, it is worth noting that the court that sentenced Quanto's killer to a global sentence of 26 months for a series of offences made it quite clear that 18 of those 26 months were specifically for the killing of Quanto.
I would state that it appears to me that considerable care was taken in the drafting of this bill. Some serious gaps existed in our criminal law at the time, and we have been respectful of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. I want to thank the Minister of Justice and my colleagues for what they have done.
I am going to talk a little bit about my personal experiences with this. I spent a number of years wearing a uniform in service to my province and to my country. I was a national park warden in Jasper National Park, where I had the opportunity to witness the great work that national park wardens do, not only in the backcountry search and rescue operations that they do.
I was a backcountry warden. I patrolled a large area of Jasper National Park called the Willow Creek district. I was the Willow Creek warden. My job was to patrol that area on horseback. I had three horses at a time with me. I would go in to the north boundary of Jasper National Park for 15 days at a time, come out for 6, and get showered and rejuvenated before I headed in again.
I was very pleased when this particular piece of legislation was brought forward because I thought to myself about it many times, whether I was riding the horses in the backcountry or in the front country, doing front country operations, because there are front country wardens who do similar things. They were great horses. I had this big thoroughbred named Moberly. He is probably in a green pasture in the sky right now because he was an old trooper at the time. My second horse was Yaeger. He was a mousy grey horse and one of the toughest horses I ever had the pleasure of working with. My third horse was Vim, a small chestnut quarter horse. These were my three horses that I was assigned. From time to time, I would take a different horse, Cowboy, to come out with me. He was a young horse that we were training.
During the time I was there, had something happened to me or had I been in a situation of duress, or had my horses been shot, say, by somebody who was poaching, while I was trying to execute my duties as a national park warden, the horses would not have been given any consideration. There would have been no crime committed by the perpetrator had the horses been injured or killed in the line of duty, serving me as a national park warden.
I was very clear in the committee and I asked questions of the experts who came. Although the bill does not specifically say that national park wardens are covered, it does say “peace officer”. Section 18 of the Canada National Parks Act actually defines national park wardens as peace officers, so I want to be very clear to any court that might challenge this at some particular point in time that, when I stand in this place and vote for this bill, and as I am speaking about it today, I am speaking with the intention that every park warden, every conservation officer, and everybody who is in the natural resources field who uses a service animal in the aid of their duties should be considered covered by this legislation, as well as any law enforcement officers and military personnel who are prescribed in that particular way.
That is my intent for this legislation. I am proud to support this piece of legislation. I am glad the government brought this legislation forward. I thank all my colleagues who are going to support it.