Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise to speak, for the second time, to Bill C-35, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (law enforcement animals, military animals and service animals), also known as Quanto's law.
Quanto was a police dog in Edmonton that was stabbed to death when trying to intercept a fleeing suspect. That was in October 2013. The suspect pleaded guilty to animal cruelty and other offences, including evading police. He was sentenced to 26 months in prison and banned from owning a pet for 25 years. I want to say that this bill is commendable in itself. I think it sends a message to society that it is unacceptable to stab a police dog and that there will be serious consequences. Once again, that is commendable.
However, I want to get back to the topic of minimum sentences, because I think that is a flaw in the bill before us. Unfortunately this flaw was not fixed in parliamentary committee.
Barbara Cartwright of the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies appeared before the parliamentary committee. I will quote her testimony, which shows that we need to amend the Criminal Code.
I will quote her in English because she testified in English.
....Brigadier, a different animal, a police horse that was compassionately euthanized after he and his rider, Constable Kevin Bradfield, were struck in a hit and run incident. The driver of the vehicle was charged with dangerous operation of a vehicle causing bodily harm and failing to remain at the scene of an accident. It is believed that he deliberately struck the horse and the rider. Brigadier sustained fatal neck and rib injuries in the accident.
This is a repugnant act that I think would have benefited from the modifications that we have in front of us to send a clear signal that this is precisely the kind of act that this House and our society in general condemns.
This bill applies only to animals working for the state. I will come back to that because it is an important point.
As my colleague said in her speech a few minutes ago, this measure was presented by the government in the 2013 throne speech as we began the second session of the 42nd Parliament. Specifically, the government wants to amend the Criminal Code to create a new offence specifically prohibiting the killing, wounding, poisoning or injuring of trained animals working for law enforcement, people with disabilities or members of the Canadian Armed Forces.
In the 2013 throne speech, the government alluded to private service animals and people with disabilities. Unfortunately, that is not reflected in the bill before us. Government members said that that is already in the Criminal Code. Section 445 of the Criminal Code sets out penalties for animal cruelty. Some provinces, including Quebec, have recently adopted their own penalties for animal cruelty.
I asked this question the last time I gave a speech on this bill, and I am asking it again: If this is already in the Criminal Code, why are we studying a new bill, considering the severity of the penalties?
Section 718 of the Criminal Code of Canada outlines sentencing principles.
From this section we have seen that appeals have been brought before many courts, on a number of occasions and at many levels, specifically challenging the fact that the sentences are inappropriate, that they are cruel and unusual, and that they go beyond what is acceptable in a free and democratic society.
Just in the past 10 minutes I heard one of my Conservative colleagues suggest that authorities in the United States are seriously backtracking on minimum sentences. He thinks this is happening because their mandatory minimum sentencing went too far in the first place.
However, he failed to mention, or perhaps he does not realize, that in Canada, there are many cases before the courts right now, and that over the past few years minimum sentences have been overturned in many cases in Canada.
We should really look at our own jurisprudence to properly understand why minimum sentencing is very problematic for our courts today. In the most recent cases, trial judges have even refused to apply some elements of minimum sentences, because they felt they constituted cruel and unusual punishment.
We have to ask ourselves the following question: when we impose minimum sentences, why do we not trust trial judges, who should be capable of applying the appropriate sentence according to the circumstances?
We are in no position here in Parliament to presume in advance what sentences should be handed down under the circumstances. That is why the trial court is in the best position to hand down the right sentence according to the circumstances.
In French we refer to the lower court judge. I think it is even clearer in English. It is the trial judge. The appeals courts are superior courts, and the Supreme Court of Canada is the highest court in the land.
Superior court judges do not decide on the facts and the merit of the cases, but determine whether the law has or has not been properly applied. In some cases, the law or certain aspects of the law are overturned. Sentences that have to be imposed under the law are overturned when superior court justices feel comfortable doing so and believe that the sentence is cruel and unusual. It is really up to the trial judge to hand down an appropriate sentence according to the circumstances.
We have to trust our trial court judges because they are capable of handing down a reasonable, fair and appropriate sentence according to the circumstances. When we impose minimum sentences, we are setting aside the role of the trial judge.
I do not understand why the government often, not to say always, focuses on establishing minimum sentences when many experts believe that they will be overturned by the appeal and superior courts.
It seems like Parliament is creating jobs for lawyers, who continue to bill their clients for proceeding with appeal after appeal, and ultimately dealing with an issue that was already, and repeatedly, considered by our courts. I would like to see bills that strike a better balance.
Once again, imposing harsher sentences than those provided for in the Criminal Code is probably commendable. It signals that Parliament considers it unacceptable to attack a law enforcement animal.
In my opinion, sending a very clear message is the right thing to do. By moving to impose harsher sentences, Parliament is expressing, in probably the best way possible, its intention to make it clear that we do not approve and that it is completely unacceptable to attack a law enforcement animal.
However, the minimum sentence is still problematic. I assume that this aspect of the bill will eventually be challenged in court. It will cost the individual in question and the government a lot of money. From the examples that I have seen recently, I seriously doubt that this aspect of the bill will stand up in court. Once again, the government is unfortunately heading for a loss in court. I am wondering why the Conservative government insists on adding minimum sentences when sentencing is the role of the trial judge.
It seems as though the government did not spend a lot of time thinking about private service animals, despite their promise in the 2013 throne speech. The government decided to ignore that aspect and is telling us not to worry because it is already covered by section 445 of the Criminal Code. What is more, I heard the parliamentary secretary saying that we had to respect jurisdictions because privately held service animals fall under provincial jurisdiction. Perhaps I misunderstood, but to my knowledge, the Criminal Code is an area of federal jurisdiction and we have the tools to address that issue.
Let us say that we are infringing on provincial jurisdiction by adopting this minimum sentence. When the guilty parties are given a minimum sentence of six months, they will be sent to a provincial prison at the expense of the provinces.
Once again, the federal government is creating laws and then making the provinces bear the cost and responsibility without any federal assistance. The government is instituting minimum sentences that will cost the federal government nothing but will increase the burden of the provinces, without even consulting the provinces to try to come to an agreement.
The government has done this sort of thing time and time again. The Conservatives like to boast that they want to balance the budget. However, the most recent budget is not really balanced because they helped themselves to $1.4 billion from the employment insurance fund. They simply found another source of revenue and now they would have us believe that the budget is balanced. Meanwhile, what they have done is imposed heavier burdens on poor people in Canada, while the wealthy reap the benefits. That was just an aside.
Let us get back to the bill. The Conservative government has repeatedly downloaded the cost of its bills onto the provinces even though the federal government should bear those costs. Minimum sentences are an excellent example of that. We have seen this over and over in a number of areas, including health, where provincial transfers have been cut. They say they have a $54 billion, 10-year infrastructure program, but last year, the Conservatives spent only about $250 million. Moreover, they took away so many of the eligibility criteria that this has basically turned into another way to transfer the costs to the provinces.
The Conservative government seems to have no qualms about introducing and passing bills with no regard for Canadian taxpayers. It has no problem making them pay, but it would have us believe that the federal government has nothing to do with the fact that provincial income taxes have to go up significantly or their services have to go down significantly to make up for the costs the federal government is forcing them to absorb. That is not a real partnership. A confederation should be a real partnership.
Unfortunately I do not think that is what we have in this country, and the bill before us is a fine example of that. I want to stress once again that the parliamentary secretary is trying to convince us that we cannot help private service animals because that would interfere in a provincial jurisdiction. That is completely untrue. In any case, the government has no problem interfering in other areas of provincial jurisdiction. It makes absolutely no sense that the government would claim today that it cannot interfere in a provincial jurisdiction when it has done so many times.
I want to get back to the bill before us. Those found guilty of such an offence could be sentenced to up to five years in prison, with a mandatory minimum sentence of six months in prison, as I mentioned earlier. The maximum sentence is therefore five years and the minimum is six months if a law enforcement animal is killed while helping a police officer enforce the law and if the offence is prosecuted by indictment. If a law enforcement animal is wounded or killed in the line of duty, the sentence imposed for this offence would be served consecutively to any other punishment imposed on the perpetrator.
That is another aspect of minimum sentences that I find difficult to accept. Consecutive mandatory minimum penalties take away the discretion of trial judges, who are the ones in the best position to determine a reasonable sentence according to the circumstances. The goal here is to ensure that society understands that attacking an animal in service to the state is unacceptable. A penalty must be imposed that reflects the circumstances before the court. The judge is the one in the best position to determine the appropriate sentence. If someone is convicted of certain offences and if mandatory minimum penalties are imposed for any other crime that individual is convicted of, a consecutive sentence means that all of these mandatory minimums would be imposed one after the other, and that individual could stay behind bars for a very long time. Consecutive sentences are very rare in Canada. They are much more common in the United States. We must try to avoid that trend here in Canada. We should not be following the U.S. example and start imposing consecutive sentences. People in the United States can now serve sentences of over 100 years. There is no explanation for how the U.S. got to that point. Perhaps they got there by gradually eroding the trial judges' ability to impose reasonable sentences according to the circumstances. We are not doing Canada's justice system any favours by imposing tougher sentences, tougher than what is considered fair and reasonable in a free and democratic society.
The government should reread section 718 of the Criminal Code, which sets out the principles to be upheld in sentencing. The government has gone astray. I do not believe that it realizes that the purpose of sentences is not just to indicate to people that certain activities are unacceptable in society. Sentences are also intended to ensure that the guilty party can be rehabilitated. We want to find ways to help that person reintegrate back into society. As far as I know, putting someone in prison for years and years can teach him to be a better criminal and commit other crimes in the future. Leaving criminals in crime school is not the best way to run our penitentiary system in Canada. That is why section 718 contains a number of sentencing principles.
I believe the bill before us includes some aspects of section 718. However, I think we got off track when it comes to other aspects of that section. I hope that the government will think about that in future bills. The government failed to include private service animals in this bill. Perhaps it is time to introduce a bill to correct that mistake.