Madam Speaker, I am pleased to join in the debate this evening.
I listened with dismay to the replies of my colleague opposite. The replies she was reading out had nothing to do with this very important issue. She claimed to be defending, for example, the hunting community, a community with which I am very familiar. I lived in the north for many years of my life, whereas in fact she has not.
She was using this debate for partisan purposes. I heard some of her references to farmers. She mentioned the value of the hunting and fishing industry in Canada and in Ontario. It is very small in comparison to the value of the farming industry to us in financial terms but also in terms of basic national security, in terms of providing high quality food at reasonable cost under all circumstances. I think my colleague did a great disservice to those communities in the way she spoke to this bill.
As my colleague from the Bloc just said, the bill has nothing to do with those things. It has nothing to do with normal farm practices. It has nothing to do with normal hunting and fishing practices. It has to do with people who are viciously cruel, unnecessarily cruel to animals of any sort.
If ever there was a community in the country that has a vested interest in the care and well-being of animals, it is the farming community. Go to a dairy farm in my riding and see the involvement of the family and children. The children in the 4-H clubs are rearing calves and showing calves. They are not people who wish that unnatural people are free to viciously torture and kill animals. They are people in our society who are well educated, well informed, involved in an industry which is of basic and fundamental importance to us all. The bill has nothing to do with those things. This bill has to do with unnecessary and deliberate cruelty to animals.
The bill has been around for a considerable period of time. For various reasons it did not pass in the House. One of them was the opposition of the Conservative Party members or that party's previous incarnations. The pre-incarnations of the Conservative Party, the Reform and Canadian Alliance opposed it for partisan reasons similar to those mentioned by my colleague. Then it was delayed in the other place, and I deeply regret that. This is something I regret. Of course, it is the responsibility of the other place to manage its own affairs.
I do regret this whole period of time of uncertainty not only for the animals and people who own the animals as to what is animal cruelty and what should be involved in that, but also to the industries upon which doubt is being cast. Farmers are not the people who are cruel to animals and people should know that.
Over the last few years changes have been made here, in the other place and in committee. There has been a stronger and stronger consensus not only among farmers and hunters, I would like to think, and fishers, but also in the research community which initially had concerns with the legislation but now are much more comfortable with it. That is very important.
It is interesting that one of the purposes of the bill, and why this has been delayed for so many years I cannot understand, is quite simply at one level to bring the penalties which have been in existence, and which are in existence as we speak today, up to date. It is no longer the 1950s or the 1960s. The dollar is not worth what it was in the 1950s and the 1960s. The penalties which people face for cruelty to animals today are decades and decades old. One of the purposes was to increase the existing penalties and to make them real.
Today for the worst possible mutilation or torture of an animal one could think of, the maximum penalties are up to six months in jail or a $2,000 fine. In this day and age if someone tortures an animal, be it a puppy, a cow or a deer, and I am talking about deliberate mutilation, not accidents or whatever, the penalties should go up.
In the bill those penalties go up from a maximum of six months to five years in prison, and the decades old ceiling of $2,000 is being removed. This is simply in line with other indictable offences in the Criminal Code. Currently there is a two year maximum on orders preventing the offender from owning and possessing animals. For someone who tortures an animal, be it a large animal or a small animal, there is a two year maximum on preventing that person from owning a similar animal again. This is not appropriate. Anyone, be they a hunter, fisher or farmer, accepts that. The legislation should bring such matters up to date.
Also under the bill I am glad to see that the person responsible for these horrific acts will be responsible for some of the costs associated with it. Periodically we read of people deliberately mutilating cattle. We do not know where this is coming from. People would think it was a grizzly bear, but people were actually mutilating them. Now when a person is caught, in addition to the higher penalties, the person will be involved in repaying the costs for this horrific damage. That is simply good judicial policy.
One of the changes that is involved in this legislation is the creation of the new offence that directly targets the wilful killing of an animal with brutal intention. We heard earlier today about strapping an explosive on an animal or fastening an animal to a rail line. If that is not cruelty, I just do not know what it is. These are despicable forms of cruelty. Goodness knows if the same thing happened to human beings what it would be.
The person may not be caught by our existing law if the person had a legitimate excuse for killing an animal. An example would be if someone had to put down a dog, but instead of euthanizing the dog in a reasonable fashion, in the meantime, the person decided to have some horrific fun and strapped the dog to a rail line and waited until a train came by and took pictures. This is a loophole in the present legislation and it should be changed.
Throughout this legislation we are dealing with intentional brutality. We are not dealing with accidents that happen in the home, accidents that happen on the farm, accidents that happen in hunting and fishing camps. We are not talking about that. We are talking about someone who is deliberately and wilfully cruel to an animal.
Euthanasia, slaughter, hunting practices are humane at the present time. There are codes of practice which protect those things and while there are inhumane people in every walk of life, most of those people know the rules. They have taken the courses. They know what is involved in those areas of activity. They go out of their way to minimize pain and suffering. Those people will not be affected by this legislation.
There is the matter of the definition of an animal. At the moment there is no definition of an animal. I have talked to members of the farm community. Is it better to have a definition of an animal which says “a non-human vertebrate”, or to have no definition at the present time and have someone taken to court for being cruel to a worm? It is incomprehensible. A definition is appropriate in legislation of this type.
Some of the concerns of the people involved in farming or in hunting or fishing is because they have been misinformed by members of the party opposite. However the time has come to pass this legislation.