Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak to Bill C-35.
I am pleased to support this bill, and I think I speak for all of my colleagues when I say that all forms of animal cruelty are unacceptable.
There is no doubt that to us Bill C-35 acknowledges the importance and value of animals and especially our attachment to these animals, such as police or military dogs and horses and even service animals in general, such as dogs trained to help people with a disability or people who are visually impaired.
I think it is very important to highlight the crucial role these animals play indirectly in our lives. People may not be aware, but police dogs play a very important role.
The name Quanto's law is a reference to an incident that took place in Edmonton, in which a police dog named Quanto was stabbed to death.
These dogs, like Quanto himself, have played a role in many arrests and investigations. They play a role in our daily lives, and it is very important for us to be here together today to recognize the work not only of law enforcement dogs, but of service dogs who help people with disabilities on a daily basis. These animals support them, help them achieve their potential and accompany them every day.
In committee, we heard very moving testimony that showed us just how close an animal and a person can become and how much we are really all alike. In that sense, it is very important to recognize the merit of the bill, which I will explain in a little more detail.
The bill creates a new Criminal Code offence:
Every one commits an offence who, wilfully and without lawful excuse, kills, maims, wounds, poisons or injures a law enforcement animal while it is aiding a law enforcement officer in carrying out that officer’s duties, a military animal while it is aiding a member of the Canadian Forces in carrying out that member’s duties or a service animal.
This new offence will be added to the section of the Criminal Code on cruelty to animals.
It is important to note that this provision fully recognizes that law enforcement dogs are like police officers. Many witnesses mentioned that in committee as well. Obviously, these dogs do not talk or drink coffee, but they are like police officers because they are trained to do a specific job, such as detecting drugs or tracking a kidnapped child.
These animals are trained to do a job, one that police officers may not even be able to do given humans' limited sense of smell, for example.
These dogs are even trained to do some things that humans cannot do. Because of their special qualities, these animals play an extremely important role in our police forces, and so do service animals. We therefore support that clause because it is well written in that respect.
However, I do want to raise one concern. Numerous organizations and experts have recommended against minimum sentences on the grounds that they do not actually reduce the crime rate. Rather, prevention, education and other approaches solve the problem upstream rather than downstream. Unfortunately, minimum sentences never achieve the stated goal of reducing the crime rate.
The courts are quite capable of judging the severity of a crime and the aggravating factors. For example, in Quanto's case, the court sentenced the accused to 26 months in prison and made sure to mention that 18 of the 26 months were punishment for having stabbed the law enforcement dog to death. The sentence in Quanto's case was two times longer than what is set out in this bill. It is clear that the courts and judges can use their discretionary power to judge aggravating factors and the gravity of an offence. Forcing them to impose a minimum sentence removes that discretion.
Nevertheless, I will conclude my aside and my criticism by saying that subclause 445.01(1) is well written. Here is the first sentence:
Every one commits an offence who, wilfully and without lawful excuse...
This first subsection is written so as to ensure that mandatory minimum sentencing does not apply to those who are defending themselves. Furthermore, in committee, the witnesses said that at least that clause was written so that it will not apply in cases where people fear for their lives and have to defend themselves, which can happen in extreme situations, and those individuals will not automatically be sentenced to the mandatary minimum. This subparagraph is very well written and limits the cases that will be ultimately affected by mandatory minimum sentencing.
In some situations, we do not know how people will react. The witnesses made it clear that there are times when people fear for their lives and have to defend themselves against an aggressive animal. That clause is very well written. Adding the expression, “wilfully and without lawful excuse” means that only those who kill an animal in bad faith are targeted.
As the parliamentary secretary pointed out, someone could decide to drive their car straight into a police service horse. These people have an abnormal desire to kill an animal, as in the case of Quanto, where stabbing a dog to death was considered an aggravating factor.
Since that clause is actually very well written, the NDP will support the bill. However, I still wanted to raise that concern, because the Conservatives have passed many bills that amend the Criminal Code to impose mandatory minimum sentencing. This has been denounced by the Canadian Bar Association, the Barreau du Québec and many other associations, including defence lawyers associations.
A number of associations are saying that, unfortunately, minimum sentences do not produce the desired effect, which is to lower crime. What is more, they add an extra burden on the provinces and the justice system.
For example, last year, a Quebec justice system report noted an increase in costs associated with the number of mandatory minimum sentences. That is the case not just in Quebec, but also everywhere else, including the United States. The more mandatory minimum sentences are imposed, the heavier the financial burden on the provinces and the resources within Canada's justice system. Unfortunately, we are entering a vicious circle that is long on delays and short on resources. There are not enough judges and crown prosecutors. I think we need to take a balanced approach when it comes to our justice system. It is important to emphasize that, even though we recognize the importance of protecting animals.
That brings me to my second point. I think it is important to note that the witnesses unanimously agreed that the bill was necessary. We too often hear people talking about service animals. As I said, we are talking not just about police or military service dogs, but also service dogs for people with a disability or with reduced mobility. The witnesses unanimously confirmed the importance of recognizing the support these animals provide in our lives and how extremely important it is to protect them.
However, one witness from the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies, the CFHS, said that Bill C-35 was a step in the right direction. Unfortunately, that is often the case with the Conservatives. They take a step in the right direction, but they never see things through.
The fact remains that the section on animal protection should be revised and improved to protect all domestic animals. Far too often we hear in the news about people torturing animals. Videos on YouTube and even Facebook show puppy mills and mills for other animals. There are really some very troublesome cases of animal cruelty happening. It is important to go a bit further and establish better protection for all domestic animals in the Criminal Code.
That brings me to the initiatives brought forward in the House of Commons by my NDP colleagues. For example, my very hon. colleague from Parkdale—High Park introduced Bill C-232. I know that it is extremely important for her. She has been working very hard for many years to help protect animals and to bring this issue to Parliament's attention. I would really like to thank her for all of her hard work.
Her bill, Bill C-232, would make it possible to move animals out of the property section and create a separate section dealing with animal cruelty. They would not be recognized as people under this legislation, but they would no longer be considered property. Animals are living creatures.
Bill C-35 does this for law enforcement animals, military animals and service animals, but not for all domestic animals. My colleague's bill would address that issue and provide additional protection for animals by moving them out of the property section of the Criminal Code and creating a section for living creatures.
Her bill would also allow the justice system to better define such situations and to deal more effectively with animal cruelty offences, which would increase the possibility of conviction for such offences.
I would also like to thank my colleague from Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine. I know how much she cares about protecting all of our animals. She has worked extremely hard on this issue since she was elected. I would like to thank her for that. She also introduced Bill C-592, which would provide a better definition of “animal” and would change the definition of “animal cruelty offence” to include the notion of intent.
My colleague, the parliamentary secretary, mentioned this. Unfortunately, the notions of neglect and intent are currently unclear and remain undefined in the section dealing with animal cruelty. This means that people who commit animal cruelty offences can use different forms of defence. We must take this step to define what constitutes intent in the section dealing with animal cruelty offences.
I thank the parliamentary secretary for the interesting statistics he shared. These figures show that this phenomenon is much more common than we think. Unfortunately, when someone pleads guilty to other offences, the animal cruelty offences are often dropped. For example, this is the case when someone pleads guilty or signs a plea bargain with the crown. These measures could also make it possible to see more convictions in cases of animal cruelty.
With respect to sentencing, I would also like to mention that in Saskatchewan, for example, the maximum sentence for animal cruelty and for injuring a law enforcement animal is two years. This bill already has a five-year maximum. Accordingly, we see the legislator's clear intent to punish those who injure, mutilate or kill law enforcement animals during the course of their everyday work. I would like to thank all the police and customs officers who work with these animals. I know how important this bill is to them. We support them in their work and now through the bill being studied.
However, I would like to reiterate the two concerns I described. It is a step in the right direction, but it would now be appropriate to go further and to update the animal protection provisions. Minimum mandatory sentences are not always necessarily the solution for preventing crimes.
We will support the bill. I would like to thank the parliamentary secretary for his initiative and the good work he has done, which has allowed us to have this important debate in the House of Commons.
On that note, I thank you very much, Mr. Speaker, and I will now be pleased to answer my colleague's questions.