Mr. Speaker, the idea behind Bill C-35—protecting service and law enforcement animals—is a good one.
The NDP is in favour of studying the bill because law enforcement animals are often injured by criminals who could have injured a police officer. Quite often, a police dog is stabbed or shot instead of the police officer. If the criminal had done the same thing to an officer, he would be accused of attempted murder of a police officer. However, since the individual shot at a law enforcement animal, the line of thinking seems to be that he was just shooting at an animal, which is not the same thing. That is why we need more specific protection for these animals.
Service animals are also becoming more common in society. I am not just talking about guide dogs for the blind. For instance, therapy animals give autistic children contact with the real world. Clearly, these animals are not just stray dogs. They may become the eyes of a blind person or the opportunity for an autistic child to communicate and connect with society as a whole. For these reasons, these animals need very specific protections.
Hurting any animal for fun, deliberately and unnecessarily, is terrible, cruel and mean. We should not tolerate that type of behaviour in our society. However, we need to recognize that the harm caused to our society in general when a service or law enforcement animal is injured is a more significant crime.
Personally, I like service dogs. I am always tempted to pet guide dogs whenever I see them. I know you must never do so, but I am always tempted. I almost always have some chocolate in my pockets. Unfortunately, the member for Terrebonne—Blainville takes them from me, which is good for me and works for her. However, I could easily see myself giving a chocolate to a police dog or horse. The police officer might not be okay with that, but I would really like to do that. I adore animals and would never hurt them.
It is important to discuss this bill in committee with experts and with people in these situations, so they can tell us when it is really important to give these animals special protection in the Criminal Code. We need to have this discussion, which is especially important now because these animals are being used more and more. Unfortunately, some terrorist attacks have been committed using explosives. Sniffer dogs are one of the primary resources used to protect the public from these attacks with explosives.
These animals can also help with certain social phenomena, such as children with autism. We want to reintegrate these children into society, and service dogs are being used more and more to help with this. They are also being called upon more and more to help seniors. There will be many such animals, and they will become more and more helpful. Depriving someone who needs the assistance of a service animal is appalling. That is a serious crime. Attacking someone's animal is the same as attacking the person, since the animal is like an extension of the person, helping them with their senses or their mobility.
Clearly, then, yes, it is important to protect these animals, but as usual, the NDP has a few concerns regarding the minimum penalties. This will be discussed in committee.
I have the sinking feeling that the government is not listening to the Supreme Court when it renders decisions or to the great legal minds when they say that minimum sentences do not work. We should let the judges do their jobs and not try to give them so little discretion that they feel uncomfortable.
All of the courts, including the Supreme Court, have rendered decisions before. I am thinking, for example, of the minimum sentence for possessing a prohibited weapon. Let us look at one of the cases on which a judge ruled. An individual went to visit friends and they were a bit drunk. They were having fun. One of them pulled out an illegal revolver and began playing around with it. Another friend filmed the whole thing on his telephone. The person who was holding the weapon committed a criminal offence. He was charged and faced five years in prison because that is the minimum sentence.
The judge said that it was clear that this person was not particularly bright, and everyone can agree that what he did was not a good idea. However, putting an individual in prison for five years because he played around with an illegal revolver at a friend's home does not make sense.
The judge said that he was not going to take into account the Criminal Code provisions dealing with possession of a prohibited firearm. I am sorry, but he was right. Imagine putting someone in prison for doing something stupid for 15 seconds. That person did not threaten anyone with a firearm and did not commit armed robbery. He simply held a firearm when he was a bit drunk at a party and was filmed doing so.
One of my colleagues from British Columbia was saying that a minimum sentence should be imposed for kidnapping a minor. We want to protect children and doing so is a good thing. However, he proposed a rather harsh prison sentence, and that could cause problems.
A young man who is 18 years old and therefore considered an adult has a 16-year-old girlfriend and they break up. He is not happy. He wants to talk to her, so he takes her by the arm and drags her to his car. That becomes kidnapping because it involves an act of violence. He dragged her to the car by force. Clearly, this young man has problems and needs to change his behaviour. He completely deserves to get a strict talking to by a judge.
Still, do insensitivity and boorish conduct merit 15 years in prison? If a young man, just 18 years old, snaps and does something stupid like this, should he be sent to jail for 15 years? That does not make sense. The punishment has to fit the crime.
That is why we are against minimum sentences. We have to let judges judge. They are the ones who hear all of the information about the case and every possible defence.
If a young man kidnaps his girlfriend because he wants to force her to listen to him, not a lot can be said in his defence. However, he might say that he is in university and will do volunteer work. He might ask for a lesser sentence so that his whole life does not end up going down the drain because of that one time he did the stupidest thing imaginable. That kind of behaviour does not deserve the social stigma associated with a disproportionate prison sentence.
We have every reason to send this bill to committee, where members can listen to what the expert witnesses have to say. One of these days, the government will have to listen to the message judges have been sending them about how displeased they are with minimum sentences. The government will have to listen to that message, pay attention and act accordingly.