Mr. Chair, I will be providing 10 minutes of remarks followed by some questions for the minister.
I am pleased to have this opportunity to speak today. I will focus my remarks on Bill C-84, which was passed by the House of Commons on May 8, 2019. It proposes a number of important reforms to address bestiality and animal fighting. These reforms would offer greater protections to children, other vulnerable persons and animals.
With respect to bestiality, the bill responds to the 2016 decision of the Supreme Court of Canada in R. v. D.L.W. in which the court found that, absent a statutory definition of bestiality, the common law meaning of the term is limited to penetrative sex acts with animals. The consequence of this is that a gap has been identified in the law: bestiality offences do not apply to non-penetrative sexual acts with animals. This leaves children and other vulnerable persons without adequate protections from all acts of bestiality. Child protection and animal protection advocates, and members of the public, have called for legislative action to address this gap.
Bill C-84 proposes to remedy this by adding a definition to the bestiality offences that would include “any contact, for a sexual purpose, with an animal.” As mentioned by other hon. members, this definition would not apply to legitimate animal husbandry activities, such as artificial insemination. In fact, agricultural stakeholders have expressed their views, both in writing to the former minister of justice and before the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, that they have no concerns that the proposed definition would apply to current agricultural standards.
This proposed amendment received broad support from parliamentarians and witnesses who appeared before the justice committee. It pleases me to see members of all parties come together in support of a common desire to provide stronger protections for the most vulnerable members of society.
The committee also passed two motions related to enhancing Criminal Code protections for bestiality offences.
The first motion proposed to amend the Criminal Code to provide that a court may issue a prohibition or restitution order for a person convicted of a bestiality offence. In the case of a prohibition order, the court would have the authority to issue an order prohibiting the person from possessing, having control over or residing with an animal for any period, up to a lifetime ban. A restitution order would be available to order the person to repay the costs to an individual or organization of maintaining the abused animal. These types of orders are already available for the animal cruelty offences, and it makes sense that they should also be available for the bestiality offences.
The second motion passed by the committee would add the bestiality simpliciter offence to the list of offences for which a convicted person must adhere to the requirements of the National Sex Offender Registry. I believe that this is a meaningful amendment to the bill, as it would increase protections for public safety by recognizing that oftentimes, those who abuse animals will also commit violent acts against people, and as such, these individuals should be tracked.
Other hon. members supporting the bill mentioned that they thought the reforms did not go far enough to increase protections for animals. However, I believe the bill does offer important changes that target the most vicious forms of animal abuse, bestiality and animal fighting.
The amendments in the bill would address animal fighting in two ways. First, the amendments would increase the list of prohibited activities that support the animal fighting industry, including promoting, arranging or receiving money for animal fighting. This would make it easier to prosecute an animal fighting offence by clearly setting out the prohibited acts, thereby encouraging more prosecutions under the Criminal Code. The second amendment would expand the prohibition against keeping a cockpit to ensure that the provision applied to keeping an arena for the fighting of any animal. This amendment is particularly important considering that dogfighting is now the main form of animal fighting.
When the bill was being reviewed by the committee, it heard detailed evidence from the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association about the types of injuries that dogs suffered, including deep lacerations, broken bones and infections when forced to fight another dog. Law enforcement has reported that dog fighting, as with many illicit underground operations, is often connected to organized crime.
I am pleased that Bill C-84 will offer additional measures to combat animal fighting and make it easier for the criminal justice system to track these offenders.
The committee also passed a third motion, which the government supports, to delete the section in the offence of keeping a cockpit that required the destruction of birds found in a cockpit. This provision exists because such birds are often injured or trained to be aggressive and are unable to be held with other birds.
I agree with the position that the decision to destroy an animal should be made on a case-by-case basis after the animal has been examined rather than by operation of law. The destruction of animals that are seriously injured or aggressive, with no reasonable chance of recovery or rehabilitation, is already provided for under provincial animal protection legislation and does not need to be included in the Criminal Code. Moreover, it would be inconsistent with the objective of the amendment to the provision, which is to expand the prohibition on cockpits to apply to any animal and then to retain a provision that only applies to birds involved in cockfighting.
The measures proposed by Bill C-84 will strengthen public safety and protections for animals significantly. There has been much discussion about the correlation between violence against animals and violence against humans. In fact, in the United States the FBI has a national database that contains data on incidents of animal abuse in order to prevent violence against animals from escalating to violence against humans, including domestic abuse and serial murders. As well, many victims of domestic violence report that their abusers either abuse or threaten to harm pets in order to assert even more control over the victim. If a child witnesses animal abuse, that itself is a form of child abuse.
I would like to thank the members of the committee and the witnesses who appeared before us for their helpful testimony and important examination of the bill. As a result, three meaningful motions were passed by the committee and then supported in the House. The discussions that have taken place and the suggested amendments have produced a bill that has been strengthened through consensus and collaboration.
It is important that the bill be enacted as soon as possible, given the importance of these proposed amendments.
I have questions for the minister. I have heard from my constituents that they are pleased that our government is taking important steps with Bill C-84. Some even pointed out to me that these reforms did not go far enough. Has the minister encountered this sentiment from Canadians or stakeholders?