Mr. Speaker, over the past four years, I have had an opportunity to debate a wide range of topics.
Although the matter before us today might seem like a strange blip on the list of government priorities, I do not wish to denigrate it, because it is indeed important. However, it does seem like a strange fixation, to go to the wall defending dogs. Nevertheless, Bill C-35 was even mentioned in the throne speech, which, in my view, is going a little too far.
I would remind everyone that last night, Canadians were treated to the 100th gag order to expedite the debate, because we are supposedly in such a hurry and so many bills need to be rammed through as soon as possible. At the end of the day, we are using our time in the House for time allocation motions and to debate Bill C-35. There is not enough time for the budget or for Bill C-51, but let us talk about animals.
Today we are discussing one aspect of animal rights, more specifically, one very precise category: animals that have been trained to work with law enforcement or military personnel, or those that assist people with a disability.
Under Bill C-35, anyone who physically harms such an animal with the clear intent to act in bad faith will be sentenced to a minimum of six months in prison. If a law enforcement animal is injured or killed in service, the sentence for that offence would be served consecutively to any other sentence imposed on the offender.
I am very pleased to say that I intend to vote in favour of this bill, despite the reservations I have about its scope. Bill C-35 is a very kind initiative that no one can oppose, except maybe to say that this issue does not necessarily need to be debated by the entire federal legislative apparatus.
Out of respect for voters, I would therefore suggest that my colleagues quickly express their kindness and their love for animals, which is somewhat boring, so that Bill C-35 can be sent to the Senate as quickly as possible and we do not have to talk about it any more.
In case there is any doubt, I really love animals. I have never felt inclined to crush baby chicks or skin cats. I completely understand that police horses and guide dogs benefit society and that these animals represent a significant financial and emotional investment.
It should also be said that many of these animals often carry out heroic acts under some extraordinary circumstances. After all, there is a tradition of recognizing the courageous war-time efforts of these animals. A commemorative bas-relief adorns the Memorial Chamber located in the Peace Tower in the Centre Block. Dogs often show admirable courage and save lives.
In committee, all the witnesses supported this initiative, but they must have been a little surprised to be testifying in such a formal setting about a topic outside of the usual parliamentary discussions. Animal cruelty is quite frankly deplorable and shameful, and we must combat it.
Bill C-35 amends the Criminal Code and will not so much combat as punish, or avenge, these crimes, which is in keeping with the Conservatives' obsession with the illusory absolute justice that they seek everywhere but do not find. It is not easy to reinvent oneself.
Conservatives believe that judges are always too accommodating and too often forget their discretionary powers. They want to decide for the judges; justice is an election issue. Punishment must always be meted out in an absolute and grandiose manner.
Although I support this bill, I always have a hard time with minimum sentencing. I agree with creating an offence to ensure that offenders who abuse or murder a service animal are punished. However, I think that our judges are capable of determining the most appropriate sentence for those who commit these crimes.
If the judge feels that the criminal should be sent to prison, he can do so. However, once again, setting minimum sentences takes away the courts' discretion.
Bill C-35 also opens the door to a grim topic no one really wants to touch, which is legislating animal rights. Since the dawn of humanity, we have had a hard time accepting that the death of an animal—of any kind—can have an impact on our lives and our future as human beings.
Bill C-35 promotes a specific category of animal to a superior status protected by law. To be legally valid, this new category can only make sense if these animals are considered property with monetary value.
After all, they had to be trained by humans who were paid for their work and their expertise. Otherwise, we will fall into an endless debate on whether animals have souls, which would be extremely difficult, if not completely absurd.
We are legislators and esoteric considerations have no place in our debates.
Bill C-35 presents an interesting solution to the lack of a special category for abusing or murdering animals. Supporting this bill is a good thing, and that is why I will encourage all of my colleagues to support it so that it can move to the next stage.