Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleagues for that accommodation.
I rise today to speak on Bill C-35, justice for animals in service act (Quanto's law). As members know, Bill C-35 is commonly referred to as Quanto's law, after an Edmonton police service dog was killed in the line of duty in 2013.
In response to that incident, this bill makes it a specific criminal offence to injure or kill a law enforcement, military or service animal. The Liberals will vote for Quanto's law. We support providing additional protection to law enforcement, military and service animals. They provide tremendous service to society and require significant investment in training. At committee, we heard it was $40,000 for a police dog.
These animals deserve the full protection of the law, which in the case of police dogs and horses, they assist in upholding. Any attack on a law enforcement animal is an attack on law enforcement. Parliament must rightly denounce such affronts to our system of law and order.
That last point, the purpose of this specific crime, is the main distinction between Quanto's law and our current animal cruelty laws in Section 445(1) of the Criminal Code. A conviction under Quanto's law or the animal cruelty section carries the same maximum penalty of five years' imprisonment. However, morally and legally, language makes a meaningful difference.
A conviction under Quanto's law will carry a special stigma for offenders. We know this because of the outpouring of public condemnation when these incidents occur.
At committee, we heard of this bill's importance to stakeholders. Staff Sergeant Troy Carriere joined us from the Canine and Flight Operations Section of the Edmonton Police Service. He described the stabbing death of Quanto after that police dog was deployed to pursue a suspect, Paul Vukmanich, who had fled on foot from a stolen vehicle and turned out to be wanted on a warrant for armed robbery. Staff Sergeant Carriere also described the public response to Quanta's death.
There was overwhelming response and support from the community and other policing agencies from across Canada. This tragic event struck a public nerve that, in my 22 years of policing, I have never been witness to.
Quanta's death resulted in a charge of animal cruelty. That conviction, together with other charges, resulted in a sentence of 26 months for the offender. However, as we heard at committee and in debate earlier today, 18 months of the sentence were for Quanta's death. That is an important point when we're talking about the penalty provisions in Bill C-35 that I will return to.
The committee also heard from Stephen Kaye, president of the Canadian Police Canine Association, whose own police service dog was shot and killed in 2001. He described the place of law enforcement animals in society in terms that I would like to share with this Chamber. He said:
To suggest that law enforcement has become dependent on these uniquely specialized creatures is simply an understatement. They have become as public a servant and ambassador for us as has any human member or officer. Some people may not care very much for the police, but a service dog always draws a crowd and much attention at public presentations.
The committee also heard from Barbara Cartwright, the chief executive officer of the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies. Ms. Cartwright informed us that many other jurisdictions have greater protection for police and military animals, including some U.S. jurisdictions, where the intentional injuring or killing of a police dog is a felony.
I would be remiss not to mention the excellent testimony of Diane Bergeron, who is blind and appeared with her guide dog Lucy. Ms. Bergeron had a very moving personal tribute on how much she owes to her guide dogs over the years. She said:
I have gone skydiving, rappelled down the outside of the Sutton Place Hotel in Edmonton, 29 stories ... and driven a stock car. In the last couple of years, I have decided to challenge myself just a little bit more by doing triathlons, including two half Ironmans, and this year, at the age of 50, I am going to compete in my first full Ironman at Mont Tremblant. None of this would have been possible without the starting dog of Clyde. Over the years, my dogs have guided me to so many places, but most of all they have guided me towards my hopes and dreams.
These stories are really what Quanto's law is about, a statement from the Parliament of Canada on the value of the animals that serve our society so well. We were reminded of their service by a story out of the U.S. a couple of weeks ago.
In Mississippi, three men attacked a sheriff's deputy and slashed him with a box cutter. Fortunately, the deputy was able to activate a button that opened the door to his vehicle, releasing his service dog, which bit and repelled the suspects. Really it was quite amazing and there are many stories of this kind of devotion from service animals.
However, in supporting the bill, I do not want to overstate the magnitude of this problem or the frequency of attacks on these animals. At committee we were not able to get a reliable number on injuries to service animals, but the Canadian Police Canine Association indicated that 10 police dogs were killed in the line of duty between 1965 and 2013, with three of those occurring in the last decade.
While the bill is a worthwhile improvement to our criminal law, it does not respond to a trend and is more driven by a particular incident than evidence about where government attention is required. While Liberals support the bill, we want to emphasize our strong objection to the government's policies on criminal justice in general.
One reason comes up when we look at the specific provisions of the bill. As I said, Bill C-35 creates a specific offence for injuring or killing a law enforcement, military or service animal. On summary conviction the penalty is a maximum fine of $10,000 or 18 months in prison, or both. On indictment, the maximum penalty is five years with a minimum punishment of six months in prison.
Bill C-35 also amends the code to require sentences for assaults on law enforcement officers to be served consecutively to punishments for offences committed in the same course of events. The one provision that caused me pause was the mandatory minimum penalty on indictment as it is in the best interests of society to preserve judicial discretion to tailor particular sentences to particular crimes. However, legitimate concerns are mitigated by the fact that the offence has a summary procedure avenue without the minimum penalty.
It is also relevant that in Quanto's death the judge gave 18 months specifically for the killing of that service animal. We should expect to see similar sentences handed down across the country for these types of incidents on the principle that similar crimes deserve similar penalties and 6 months is well below the 18 months in that case. Therefore, this mandatory minimum is less offensive than most.
Finally, I want to end on a philosophical note. In considering Bill C-35, one issue that I thought about is whether the purpose of this law is to protect these animals merely because of the value they provide to humans. Certainly that is the perspective the Minister of Justice emphasized at committee. I wonder whether the legal purpose of protecting animals is not also because they have some value for their own sake. I think that members of the House would agree that animals do have value independent of our use of them.
As a Liberal, I believe that all animals deserve to be treated humanely and that federal animal cruelty laws should be informed by the best scientific evidence available. I also believe that treating animals humanely is consistent with important cultural and economic practices like farming, ranching, fishing and hunting. That would include a humane, regulated seal hunt that takes into account the interests of affected communities.
As we pass Quanto's law and reflect on the value of service animals, we might also pause and think whether the principles underlying the bill should have other progressive legal applications in the future.