Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the Parliamentary Secretary for Status of Women.
I would like to begin my remarks today by acknowledging the broad support Bill C-35 has had, the justice for animals in service act. It has received support not only in the House, but also from Canadians across the country. Commonly referred to as Quanto's law, this bill is evidence of the government's continuing commitment to bring forward criminal justice legislation that would contribute to making Canadian communities safer.
By way of background, it should be noted that the Criminal Code has contained offences relating to the treatment of animals since 1893, and the current set of offences has existed since 1953. The penalties in the existing law were increased in 2008. Currently, an offence is committed under section 445 of the Criminal Code when someone wilfully and without lawful excuse kills, maims, wounds, poisons or injures an animal other than cattle. The maximum sentence that may be imposed when this hybrid offence is prosecuted as an indictable offence is five years imprisonment.
As well, paragraph 738(1)(a) of the Criminal Code authorizes the court to order the offender to pay the costs associated with training a new animal as restitution for the loss of the animal where the amount is readily ascertainable.
As many members know, Quanto was an Edmonton police dog who was stabbed to death on October 7, 2013, while he was helping to apprehend a suspect. The person who killed Quanto was later convicted under section 445 of the Criminal Code for deliberately killing a dog and for other offences resulting from the incident that occurred on October 7, 2013. This man was sentenced to a total of 26 months in prison, and the judge who sentenced him specifically said that 18 months of that sentence was for killing Quanto. He said that this was not just an attack on a dog. “It's an attack on [our] society and it's an attack on what's meaningful in society.”
The tragic death of this law enforcement animal struck a chord with a lot of Canadians and many in the law enforcement, legal and community groups called for greater recognition and protection of service animals.
Bill C-35 is the government's response to the commitment made in the 2013 Speech from the Throne to pass legislation such as this in order to recognize the risks taken by the animals used by the police to help enforce the law and protect society.
Dogs like Quanto have been employed by Canadian law enforcement agencies for many years. Sadly, from time to time, some of these law enforcement animals have been intentionally injured or killed by criminals in the course of police operations. The loss of such highly trained and motivated members of a law enforcement team not only has a direct operational impact on its ability to protect the community, it has significant financial implications for the affected police service.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police has estimated that the cost to train a police dog and its handler as a team is in excess of $60,000. The government believes that the creation of a specific Criminal Code offence that includes a specially tailored sentencing regime would contribute to the denunciation as well as deterrence, both general and specific, of such crimes in the future.
Bill C-35 proposes the creation of a new specific hybrid offence of killing or injuring a law enforcement animal, a service animal or a military animal. These three terms are defined for the purposes of the new offence. The objective of the amendment is to denounce and deter this conduct.
A law enforcement animal would be a dog or horse which has been trained to aid law enforcement officers in carrying out their law enforcement duties. A service animal would include an animal that has been trained to perform tasks that assist people with disabilities. This would include, for example, guide dogs for persons who are blind or have reduced vision and dogs trained to assist persons suffering from post traumatic stress disorder.
A military animal would include an animal trained to aid a member of the Canadian Armed Forces in carrying out his or her duties. The proposed sentencing regime for this new offence will be similar to the existing regime of the Criminal Code offence for killing or injuring an animal in section 445, but with the following enhancements.
First, Bill C-35 proposes that the Criminal Code be amended to provide that denunciation and deterrence are the primary sentencing objectives in respect of such offences.
Second, where a law enforcement animal is killed in the line of duty and the offence was prosecuted by indictment, there will be a mandatory minimum penalty of six months imprisonment.
Third and finally, if the offence is committed against a law enforcement animal, the sentence would be served consecutively to any other sentence arising out of the same event.
I would like to say something more with respect to the second and third enhancements, the mandatory minimum term of imprisonment, and the consecutive sentencing.
During the second reading debate of Bill C-35, there were questions raised regarding the constitutionality of the mandatory minimum penalty of six months' imprisonment that would apply to the new offence of killing a law enforcement animal that was assisting a law enforcement officer in carrying out his or her duties. The government's position remains that the mandatory minimum penalty imposed by Bill C-35 would not result in the imposition of a grossly disproportionate sentence that could be found to be cruel and unusual punishment punishment under the charter. If this provision is challenged, the government will vigorously defend its constitutionality.
The requirement that the sentence imposed upon an offender convicted of the new offence of killing or injuring a law enforcement animal, a service animal, or a military animal be served consecutively to any other sentence that might be imposed on the offender arising out of the same series of events is also justifiable.
Our law recognizes that in certain circumstances, the nature of an offence committed is so serious and distinct that it requires the imposition of a consecutive sentence in order to properly denounce and deter such conduct, even though the offence might be committed as part of the same events or series of events. Bill C-35 is consistent with this existing approach.
Bill C-35 would enhance the protection of law enforcement officers through the addition of a section 270.03 to the Criminal Code. Henceforth, the law would require that the sentence imposed on a person convicted of committing an assault on a law enforcement officer, an assault causing bodily harm or with a weapon on a law enforcement officer, or an aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer be served consecutively to any other sentence that might be imposed on the offender arising out of the same series of events.
In closing, I call on all members to support this bill.