Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to stand today to address the House on this issue.
I am particularly pleased that the sponsor of this motion has agreed to the amendments proposed by the government. It is the Government of Canada's view that pursuing the continued development of science based standards of animal welfare is a noble goal and that a universal declaration on animal welfare, should it come to be elaborated as an international document, would represent a set of general principles that would help guide all countries, including those lacking in adequate animal welfare legislation, toward taking measures to ensure the appropriate treatment in the handling of animals.
As has been mentioned before, Canada supports the development in principle of a universal declaration on animal welfare because we are committed to making continual progress to improve animal welfare.
It is important to reiterate, however, that while we are supportive of this aim, we must be cautious about the manner in which it is pursued. It is for that reason that we suggested the amendments to the original motion, which have since been accepted, because, before taking steps on the international stage, it is important to thoroughly consider all implications of our action.
Since no internationally agreed upon language for a universal declaration yet exists, it would be premature at this stage for Canada to express its support for the adoption of an eventual document.
International text can change significantly during negotiations and, until the wording is made clear, it is impossible for Canada or any other country to conduct a thorough analysis of the implications that the text might have.
That is why we suggested that the motion be amended such that the House express its support for the development of a universal declaration but not prematurely for its adoption.
I am glad that the honourable sponsor of this motion has been agreeable to this. Similarly, I am pleased that the words “in principle” have been inserted into the motion. This phrase provides the government with valuable flexibility, such that the government can promote the aims of a declaration to the best of its ability, but is not pledging itself to supporting any text that is developed, in the unfortunate event, for instance, that the final text were to be inconsistent with Canadian domestic policy.
This decision is prudent and is consistent with international practice. Indeed, the phrase “in principle” has been used by a variety of international actors already when discussing a universal declaration on animal welfare.
In May 2007, for instance, the World Organization for Animal Health, of which Canada is a member, decided to support, in principle, the development of a universal declaration on animal welfare. In March 2009, the Council of the European Union similarly invited the member states of the European Union to support, in principle, the universal declaration initiative.
Thus, as we can tell, the words “in principle” represent important and accepted language on the international stage when making broad statements of support such as this one. I think it is important that we have included these words here.
Finally, I am thankful that the amended motion does not refer to the United Nations. As was outlined in the first hour of debate on this motion, it is the government's view that the United Nations is not the most appropriate forum to address this issue. The United Nations is not mandated to address issues relating to animal welfare. Instead, it focuses its work on other areas, namely peace and security, economic development and human rights.
Canada's commitment to the United Nations, which was discussed during the first hour of debate, is significant.
A few weeks ago, when the Minister of Foreign Affairs went to the United Nations to deliver Canada's statement to the world, he highlighted this commitment and put particular emphasis on our efforts to promote peace and security, to protect human rights and to make necessary reforms to the architecture of the United Nations itself in order to help it better reflect the realities of the 21st century.
Given the very serious challenges facing Canada and the international community, challenges with which the United Nations must deal, it is appropriate at this time that we not attempt to further stretch the already expansive responsibilities of the United Nations by asking it to take on matters of animal welfare.
I am therefore thankful that the wording of this motion has been amended to make it more inclusive of other forums and to remove its focus on the United Nations, given Canada's ongoing efforts to improve the focus and effectiveness of the United Nations in its mandated areas of activity.
It would be appropriate for a universal declaration on animal welfare to be developed at an institution more directly suited to the area of animal welfare. Thankfully, as we have noted, there is such an institution, the World Organization for Animal Health.
In its capacity as an active member of the World Organization for Animal Health, Canada has been working for over half a century now to co-ordinate its activities with those of a global community, including through the development and implementation of international standards. It is appropriate for Canada to continue its approach on animal welfare through this framework.
Allow me to conclude this speech by reiterating Canada's commitment to animal welfare, both domestically and internationally, and by expressing my thanks to all hon. members for their co-operation in this matter.