Mr. Speaker, I am proud and honoured to add my voice in support of Bill C-35, the justice for animals in service act, also known as Quanto's law. This is yet another piece of legislation that our government has introduced with the goal of making Canadian communities safer. In this case, the focus of the legislation is on deterring persons from harming law enforcement animals or other service animals as well as from assaulting law enforcement officers.
From the outset, there has been broad support in principle in this House and across the land for this legislation. What concerns there may have been with regard to one aspect of this proposed legislation, the mandatory minimum penalty of six months' imprisonment for the killing of a law enforcement animal that was assisting a law enforcement officer in carrying out his or her duties when that offence is prosecuted by way of indictment, have, I believe, been addressed in the course of the justice committee's study on the bill.
Before I go further, I want to express my appreciation to all the witnesses who appeared before the justice committee and provided their helpful perspectives on the legislation. It is the personal experiences and expertise they share with parliamentary committees that help us to better understand the objectives of proposed legislation and to sometimes improve it through amendments.
The most common type of law enforcement animal in use today is probably a police dog. Police dogs are specifically trained to assist police and other law enforcement personnel in their work, such as searching for drugs and explosives, searching for lost people, looking for crime scene evidence, and protecting their handlers. Police dogs must remember several hand and verbal commands. The most commonly used breed is the German shepherd.
In the United States, anyone who kills a federal law enforcement animal will face fines and up to 10 years in prison. Similar statutes exist to protect police animals from malicious injury in every one of the states in the United States except South Dakota.
It is the sad truth that Quanto's law could have been named in honour of several other police dogs that have been killed in the line of duty. The Canadian Police Canine Association maintains a valour row on its website. Quanto's story is there, as are accounts of how 10 other law enforcement dogs were killed in the line of duty between 1965 and Quanto's death in 2013.
However, as the association's president admitted before the justice committee, the valour row does not present a complete picture; it includes only those animals that have been brought to the association's attention.
Bill C-35 recognizes and honours the important contribution that police dogs such as Quanto make to law enforcement. However, Bill C-35 also acknowledges the very important role that other service animals play. Through the work of the justice committee, we are more aware of the invaluable assistance that service animals provide to persons with disabilities. I am pleased that the bill would recognize the importance of other service animals. Service animals are trained to assist in performing some of the functions and tasks that persons with disabilities cannot perform for themselves. There are several different kinds of service dogs, including guide dogs, hearing dogs, mobility dogs, seizure alert/response dogs, psychiatric service dogs, and autism dogs.
I suspect that the type of service animal with which most people are familiar are Seeing Eye dogs used by individuals who are blind or have low vision. However, there are other types of service animals that assist persons with other kinds of disabilities in their day-to-day activities. These animals require the same type of recognition and the same type of protection from persons who would wilfully cause them harm.
A psychiatric service animal is a dog that is individually trained for people with an emotional or psychiatric disability so severe that it substantially limits their ability to perform at least one major life task. Psychiatric service dogs would be considered service animals under Bill C-35.
Proposed subsection 445.01(1) would create a new Criminal Code offence that would be distinct from the general offence of cruelty to animals in section 445 of the Criminal Code.
In terms of how this new offence would improve the protection of law enforcement animals, military animals, and service animals over the protection offered under the existing animal cruelty provisions of the Criminal Code, I would note that the enhancement is chiefly about sentencing.
While section 445 and proposed section 445.01 share the same maximum penalties whether the crown proceeds by way of indictment or by way of summary conviction, proposed new section 718.03 of the Criminal Code would require the courts to give primary consideration to denunciation and deterrence as sentencing objectives in respect of the new offence described in subsection 445.01(1).
While courts are required to impose a sentence that is proportionate to the gravity of the offence and the degree of responsibility of the offender, this amendment would have a significant impact on the sentence imposed by the court. It is worth noting that courts are currently required to give primary consideration to denunciation and deterrence as sentencing objectives in regard to assaults committed against peace officers or other justice system participants.
Another important aspect of Bill C-35 is its proposal regarding the sentencing of persons convicted of committing any type of assault on a law enforcement officer, whether it is a common assault, an assault causing bodily harm, an assault with a weapon or an aggravated assault. It would require that a sentence imposed on the offender convicted of having committed such offence be served consecutively to any other sentence that might be imposed on the offender, arising out of the same event or series of events.
For example, there is a report of a break and enter. As the police arrive a suspect is seen running away from the house. A police officer engages in a foot chase with the fleeing suspect. The officer quickly catches up to the suspect and tackles him. The suspect pulls a knife, stabs the officer, wounds him and endangers his life. The officer is taken to the hospital and thankfully survives. Later, the offender is convicted of aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer, pursuant to 270.02 of the Criminal Code. In addition to being convicted of breaking and entering into a dwelling house contrary to section 348, in such a case the proposed amendment would require the sentence imposed for the aggravated assault to be served consecutively to the sentence imposed for the break and enter.
In closing, Bill C-35 would be a fitting legacy for Quanto. It is my view that the spotlight that has been placed on the intentional killing or infliction of harm on law enforcement animals as well as service animals will not soon be forgotten. By enhancing the protection afforded to these working animals we would also be making Canada a safer place for all.