I'd like to call the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights to order. Pursuant to the order of reference of Friday, November 30, 2007, Bill S-203, an act to amend the Criminal Code, cruelty to animals, is under review and debate.
Before us we have a number of witnesses. I'd like to first thank all of those witnesses for appearing today.
Starting with the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies, we have Shelagh MacDonald, program director, along with Hugh Coghill, chief inspector.
From the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters we have Mr. Greg Farrant, manager, government relations.
From the International Fund for Animal Welfare we have Barbara Cartwright, the campaign manager, and Kim Elmslie, campaigner.
We have representation from the Canadian Professional Rodeo Association, Jim Pippolo, acting general manager.
And from the Canadian Association for Humane Trapping, we have Mr. Don Mitton, project director.
I will start with the list as noted on the agenda, with the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies, and the presenter will be Ms. MacDonald.
Good afternoon, honourable members. Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today on this very important issue.
The Canadian Federation of Humane Societies is a national animal welfare charity formed in 1957, and it is the only national voice of humane societies and SPCAs across Canada. Humane societies and SPCAs are mandated under provincial law to carry out investigations of suspected animal abuse and to enforce the federal Criminal Code as well as provincial animal protection legislation.
Under today's law, only half of 1% of animal cruelty investigations are prosecuted in court. I want to emphasize that the CFHS is not an animal rights organization and does not espouse an animal rights philosophy. As an animal welfare organization, we promote the responsible and humane use of animals, reflecting the values of the majority of Canadians. The CFHS respects the need to safeguard heritage activities in Canada, such as farming, fishing, hunting, and trapping.
As l'm sure you know, the CFHS is adamantly opposed to Bill S-203. We cannot understand why our Canadian Parliament would want to enact 1892 legislation, simply adjusted for inflation. I'm just going to run through some of the problems with the current legislation.
We see wilful neglect as the biggest problem with the current law, because it requires proof that a person intended to neglect their animals, which is virtually impossible to prove; it's a bit of an oxymoron.
There are holes in the law with regard to trying to prosecute cases of animal fighting, which is a particularly horrific and bloody activity--
Number three, it is currently an offence to kill an owned animal without a lawful excuse—that would include farming, fishing, hunting, trapping, animal research, or protection of life or property—but it is not an offence to kill an unowned animal without a lawful excuse. Currently, animal crimes are considered property offences under the Criminal Code. The vast majority of Canadians have stated that they think all animals should be protected because they can suffer, regardless of whether they are somebody's property.
There is currently no offence for particularly heinous crimes of brutally and viciously killing animals. This kind of offence is needed to address hopefully very rare but very violent crimes that would otherwise fall through the cracks and are certainly an indication of violent crimes in our society that need to be addressed.
Having a separate section for cattle doesn't make any sense in the 21st century, and also referring to different types of animals in the current legislation, such as birds, dogs, cocks, is just very outdated. We think it needs to be fixed. And of course there are the inadequate penalty provisions, which this bill does fix.
We feel that Canada's current animal cruelty law is an embarrassment: it's out of date, it's ineffective, it's inadequate. Passing will relieve neither the embarrassment, the ineffectiveness, nor the inadequacy.
It appears that there is considerable pressure to get passed. Most politicians seem to be tired of discussing animal cruelty amendments and just want to get something enacted. But passing archaic, inadequate legislation just to get something passed is not what Canadians expect of our Parliament.
Canadians have spoken out against repeatedly and in large numbers. The horrific case a little over a year and a half ago of Daisy Duke, a dog in Didsbury, Alberta, that was beaten, bound, and dragged behind a car, last year sparked a petition, which 111,000 Canadians signed, specifically worded as opposing Bill S-203, at that time called Bill S-24. That's a very large number of signatures on a petition.
A national survey conducted by SES Research in November 2006 found that more than 85% of Canadians think wild or stray animals should be protected from cruelty. The response to that question was virtually the same from all regions of the country, from urban and rural areas, and from those who hunt or fish.
More than 76% of Canadians support changing the law so that animal cruelty crimes are no longer property offences. In fact, people living in rural areas, those who hunt or fish, and people who traditionally vote Conservative are even more likely to support that change.
As you know, Mark Holland has tabled , which is almost identical to the bill that had gained widespread support in 2003. Let's not forget that the said bill had the support of all political parties in the House of Commons, of animal protection organizations, veterinarians, police associations, and the majority of animal use industries, including farmers, trappers, and researchers. You are now considering passage of a bill that doesn't have anywhere near that level of support.
One rather powerful sector that didn't support the bill in 2003 was the hunting and fishing lobby, which actually asked for a specific exemption from the animal cruelty sections of the Criminal Code. That is like asking for the right to be cruel to animals, which is not appropriate in the Criminal Code. I'm quite sure most hunters and anglers have no desire to be cruel to animals, so they certainly don't need such an exemption, and it's just not appropriate.
These powerful groups, the anglers and hunters, have successfully convinced politicians that a bill like would make hunting and fishing illegal because they don't think it would be considered a lawful excuse. That premise is precisely why these groups are here today trying to convince you to pass this bill. But really, the term “lawful excuse” means “that which is lawful”. It is preposterous to suggest that heritage activities such as hunting, fishing, or trapping would not be considered lawful.
Those groups that oppose do so not because of what it does but because of what it does not do. That is why you should oppose this bill, and that's why we oppose it.
Many have acknowledged that this bill doesn't fix all the problems but suggest we should do this now and fix the rest later. As politicians, you know that's not likely to happen. You know it will take years, maybe decades, before this Parliament is prepared to consider more animal cruelty amendments.
So the question is whether you support a wholly inadequate bill, just so you can say you did something, or you listen to Canadians and to SPCAs across Canada that enforce the laws, and reject this archaic and defective bill that won't improve the lives of abused animals.
I'm going to pass it over to Hugh. He's the chief inspector for the Ontario SPCA.
Thank you for the opportunity to speak before this committee of honourable members.
I'm here today in my capacity as the chief inspector for the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and our more than 50 branch and affiliate societies across Ontario, representing over 250,000 supporters province-wide.
Created in 1873, the Ontario SPCA is among the oldest humane organizations in Canada. The Ontario SPCA is a member of the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Like the CFHS, the Ontario SPCA is not an animal rights organization. The Ontario SPCA Act, first enacted in 1919, provides inspectors with the powers of a police officer for the enforcement of any act or law relating to the prevention of cruelty to animals. There are no provisions in the OSPCA Act for prosecution of animal abusers except for the relatively new section introduced in 2002 to address puppy and kitten mills. The cruelty to animals section of the Criminal Code has been the only tool in Ontario until recent years.
That being the case, our 200 officers have a great deal of experience in dealing with prosecutions under our very old Criminal Code. We're painfully aware of certain terms in the law that severely restrict our ability to present cases for prosecution. We consult with crown attorneys regularly in an effort to ensure we are doing the best we can, given the inadequacies of the current federal legislation.
In 2006, out of over 15,000 complaints investigated, 517 charges were laid, 355 of those under the Criminal Code. Over 2,000 Ontario SPCA orders were issued to animal owners in an effort to relieve animals from distress. In many cases, the first action taken by the SPCA is to educate owners on providing proper care for their animals. Prosecution of offenders is a last resort.
When an Ontario dog owner pushed his dog to the ground with such force that he broke the dog's leg and a veterinarian indicated that the force needed to cause the injury was consistent with being hit by a car, the judge dismissed the Criminal Code charge because he felt that the accused did not wilfully intend to break the leg of the dog and thereby cause the pain and suffering.
When the owners of a small zoo simply walked away from the animals because they were not making enough money, leaving the animals to starve, the court felt that they had not wilfully intended to starve the animals and the charge was dismissed.
When a man shot and killed a stray dog for no apparent reason, he could not be prosecuted because our inspector could not prove that the dog was kept for a lawful purpose, since no owner was ever found.
I respectfully submit to you that the Ontario and the Canada of the late 1800s are substantially different from the time we live in now, and the laws that rule and govern conduct must reflect current policy, current society, current needs, and current crimes. It would be a mistake to pass Bill S-203, and on behalf of the Ontario SPCA, I urge you not to pass this bill. Thank you.
Good afternoon, Mr. Chair and members of the committee.
On behalf of the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters, our wildlife affiliates in B.C., Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia, Quebec, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, the Northwest Territories, and the Yukon, the Canadian Sportfishing Industry Association, and the Delta Waterfowl Foundation, I appreciate the opportunity to appear before you today to comment on Bill S-203, introduced on October 17, 2007, by the Honourable Senator John Bryden.
You have before you a copy of my original comments, but due to some time constraints, I'll give you an abridged version of my remarks. In the process, I want to acquaint you with an example of a similar debate that occurred in another jurisdiction not too long ago—which Mr. Coghill in fact has already referred to—and demonstrate how it parallels the situation here today.
As Senator Bryden has noted repeatedly—and, in our view, correctly—there is a general consensus among Canadians that currently in the Criminal Code penalties dealing with animal cruelty are not sufficient, are not reflective of the seriousness of these crimes, and do not provide an effective deterrent. We agree. The debate over changes to the Criminal Code with respect to cruelty to animals, which began 10 years ago, has, however, failed to advance the issue one iota. Passage of offers us the opportunity to correct that wrong.
The bill provides us with the means of addressing the need for increased fines and penalties against animal abusers without changing the existing substantive offences in the Criminal Code. All existing defences and rights, including aboriginal rights, would be preserved. This would lead to a certainty of interpretation due to the existence of a well-established body of case law. Under a bigger bill, new offences would be created with no case law to back them up.
It also speaks to the need to make changes to the Criminal Code that may in fact help eliminate the patchwork of punitive measures that exist across the country currently.
In June, 2007, the OSPCA expressed concerns about the inability of the Ontario courts to levy more serious penalties against an individual accused of a specific animal abuse. They noted that had the defendant lived in Alberta, British Columbia, or New Brunswick, the person would have been subject to the exact same penalties being proposed by Senator Bryden in this bill, since those provinces had already moved to strengthen provincial statutes.
The Ontario government has also been watching the progress of with great interest. Last fall, the Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services stated that amendments to the Ontario SPCA Act, including the removal of the current cap on orders prohibiting an offender from possessing an animal, were being contemplated but may not be necessary if Bill S-203 is passed into law.
The increased penalty levels proposed in mirror those that were included in several previous government bills and are based upon an extensive survey of the animal cruelty statutes in other jurisdictions. The changes proposed by Bill S-203 are consistent with where other jurisdictions have been going in this area, are consistent with the sentencing scheme that applies in the Criminal Code in general, and, according to a senior justice official, “constitute a significant improvement to the current law regarding sentencing, with which all Canadians would agree”.
Senator Bryden and others have already spoken in detail about , and as skilled legislators, you all understand what the bill does and does not do. So I'll use my remaining time to review the parallel example I mentioned earlier.
In 2002, in the province of Ontario, two bills were introduced to amend the Ontario SPCA Act. The first simply sought to increase fines and penalties against illegal puppy mills. The second bill contained similar penalty provisions. But it went well beyond simply increasing fines and penalties by proposing sweeping changes that had the potential to impact negatively upon legal, regulated practices.
The first of these bills was similar in intent to . The latter was similar in many ways to previous government bills that have been before Parliament over the last decade but did not pass. In Ontario, the simpler bill passed with the help and support of us and our colleagues at the Ontario Farm Animal Council. Understandably, the OSPCA initially supported the more comprehensive bill, but in the end, they realized that some progress was better than nothing and threw their support behind the other bill to move forward.
Since the passage of that bill, illegal puppy mills have faced increasing scrutiny, and the opportunity to lay charges has been strengthened.
Over the past two weeks, articles have appeared in several media sources across the country extolling the virtues of both previous government bills and the bill introduced by the honourable member for Ajax--Pickering. These same articles included a comment that suggested that the passage of would be a sad day.
It defies belief how the passage of simple legislation that increases the court's ability to more severely punish animal abusers could be construed in this fashion, unless there is another agenda at play.
My confusion was apparently shared by a former animal cruelty inspector, who responded to these same media articles with a sense of indignation. He noted in his letter to the media that the cases cited in the articles could already be prosecuted under existing law. So what was the purpose of bringing in new laws? His comment is supported by statistics provided by a previous witness who quoted figures in the OSPCA annual report that demonstrate that the number of charges being laid are up. Convictions are successfully achieved in 80% to 90% of the cases under the current law. The former inspector who responded to those media articles noted that simply increasing the penalty should suffice, which is something that does.
Last week, with reference to the previous government bills that failed to pass, a witness before this committee pointed out that poorly written laws are no substitute for inadequacies in the current law. We strongly concur, as apparently does the animal cruelty inspector I referenced before, who noted that bad laws won't protect animals from cruelty, but tougher enforcement and longer sentences might.
In this country there is strong, broadly based support for the new penalties contained in Bill S-203, both inside the government and in the broader general public. The bill has already been approved by the Senate. It represents the best opportunity in the last 10 years to pass legislation that addresses legitimate public concerns about heinous acts of animal cruelty and provides a more effective response than what is currently available.
Despite the unfortunate characterization by some of Bill S-203 as the lesser of two evils, which it clearly is not, passage of the bill will change the status quo and will give the courts the tools to sentence persons convicted of criminal offences against animals to more meaningful penalties that reflect the nature of these crimes.
We find ourselves on the cusp of an opportunity to do the right thing. The will to effect change clearly exists, and the debate around this issue has dragged on long enough. Before me you will see the evidence of that. These are all the debates in Parliament we've been through on these bills over the last 10 years, and yet no progress has been made.
Senator Bryden's attempt to propose a workable solution should be applauded. His bill may not be all things to all people, but it is a step forward and needs to be passed unamended; otherwise the debate will continue and the best opportunity we've had in a decade to achieve something of value will have been lost.
I thank you again, honourable Chair and members of the committee, for your time, your courtesy, and the opportunity to appear before you here today. Thank you.
I'll begin, and then Kim will follow up. Thank you.
Honourable members of the House Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today.
My name is Barb Cartwright, and I'm the campaign manager at the International Fund for Animal Welfare. Today, I will provide you with an overview of why I oppose Bill S-203 and why it will not effectively protect animals from acts of cruelty. Then my colleague, Kim Elmslie, will present you with information on how Canada's legislation is falling behind other countries around the world.
The International Fund for Animal Welfare's mission is to improve the welfare of wild and domestic animals throughout the world by reducing commercial exploitation of animals, protecting wildlife habitats, and assisting animals in distress. IFAW seeks to motivate the public to prevent cruelty to animals and to promote animal welfare and conservation policies that advance the well-being of both animals and people.
IFAW has more than two million supporters and is staffed by 300 experienced campaigners, legal and political experts, and acclaimed scientists in 16 offices around the world. IFAW has more than 45,000 supporters here in Canada.
As our name suggests, IFAW is an animal welfare organization and not an animal rights organization. We are a science-based organization that works closely with industry groups and governments to provide constructive input into policies and standard practices.
For the past nine years, IFAW has worked alongside parliamentarians to develop modern and effective animal cruelty legislation. We want to continue that work with you now to bring Canadians the legislation they expect.
IFAW is opposed to Bill S-203 because it is an ineffective piece of legislation, making a perfunctory attempt at dealing with the vast majority of Canadians' concerns about our outdated and inadequate laws dealing with animal cruelty. Bill S-203 upholds inadequacies and loopholes that exist in the current legislation and maintains its ineffectiveness in gaining convictions. Less than 1% of complaints about animal cruelty lead to successful convictions. Raising fines does nothing to raise conviction rates, and this is not acceptable.
You will hear time and again that this is an issue of high importance to Canadians. Our office is inundated with calls and emails from our supporters and from the public requesting IFAW do something to protect animals from cruelty. Canadians want offenders punished. However, to be punished, they first must be convicted. A 2006 poll conducted by SES Research found that more than 85% of Canadians wanted legislation that will make it easier for law enforcement agencies to prosecute those who commit criminal cruelty to wild and stray animals.
During the last session of Parliament, a petition was entered into the House in which 111,000 Canadians opposed Bill S-213, S-203's predecessor. Recently, our office has received more than 170,000 letters and postcards also opposing Bill S-203.
Although Canadians continue to demand substantive changes to our legislation that will truly protect animals from cruelty, the Senate has championed legislation that does nothing to address the well-known inadequacies or modernize the Criminal Code of Canada. Merely increasing penalties is not the critical issue. Creating effective, enforceable, and comprehensive law is.
We have heard testimony during committee that parliamentarians should pass Bill now and fix it later. It is not responsible lawmaking to pass legislation that is known to be ineffective and unenforceable, with the hope that someone else will fix it later.
It is possible to pass detailed, strong animal cruelty legislation and have a thriving animal-use industry as well as a hunting and angling society. We see evidence of this in the many countries around the world that have passed such legislation and continue to farm, fish, research, and hunt, some avidly.
I will now ask my colleague Kim Elmslie to discuss some of that legislation with you.
My name is Kim Elmslie and I'm the anti-cruelty campaigner for IFAW. We're here today because almost every day there are horrific acts of cruelty to animals. Within the first two weeks of January, there were three high-profile cases, including a house cat that was killed in a microwave by four teenagers, five puppies that were thrown down a public outhouse to die, and a man who killed a puppy with a hammer.
These stories outrage and anger Canadians and renew calls for modern and effective legislation. IFAW recently completed a report entitled “Falling Behind - An International Comparison of Canada's Cruelty Legislation”. IFAW compared Canada's animal cruelty legislation with that of 13 other countries around the world, including Austria, Croatia, Great Britain, Germany, Malaysia, New Zealand, Norway, the Philippines, Poland, Portugal, South Africa, Switzerland, and Ukraine.
The report revealed some startling facts. Canada is the only country that makes it virtually impossible to prosecute cases of neglect. Canada ranks at the bottom of all comparisons. Canada is alone in offering virtually no protection for wild and stray animals. Canada's legislation does not include a clear definition of “animal”, whereas other countries are explicit. Canada is the only country that does not provide protection for animals being trained to fight each other.
Effectively updating the Criminal Code of Canada will provide the courts and police with the clear means to prosecute and convict, and potentially reduce the instance of unacceptable animal cruelty. It will also allow politicians to respond to the overwhelming majority of Canadians, representing all political parties, who are outraged by heinous acts of animal cruelty.
Finally, modern and effective legislation to protect all animals will bring Canada up to standard on the global stage.
You have before you a copy of our report. I'm going to go into a couple of brief examples. The cruelty provisions within the Criminal Code of Canada have not been updated since 1892. There's wording within the code that is outdated and counter-productive to its purpose. This is obvious in the use of the term “wilful neglect”. This phrasing requires the courts to prove that neglect was intentional. Not one of the other 13 countries studied in our international report requires the courts to prove that neglect is intentional. Rather, the trend in other countries is to ensure that a minimum duty of care is met for those who care for animals.
For example, in New Zealand, the Animal Welfare Act states that those who keep or are in charge of an animal must take all reasonable steps to ensure that the physical health and behavioural needs of an animal are met with both good practice and scientific knowledge. This means that it does not matter whether the individual intended to contravene the act or intended neglect. The actions or inactions of offenders are sufficient to charge them with neglect. The Norwegian Animal Welfare Act states that neglect suffered by an animal does not need to be done wilfully by the owner; the actions themselves are sufficient for an offence to have been committed.
In Canada it is a crime to be present at an animal fight; however, due to outdated loopholes in the legislation, it is still legal to breed, train, or profit from fighting animals.
Of the 14 countries we surveyed, Great Britain's Animal Welfare Act 2006 provides one of the most progressive stances towards animal cruelty. It discourages both animal fighting and the training of animals to be aggressive. Section 8 of the act makes it an offence for a person to cause an animal fight, to take money for admission to such fights, to publicize or promote animal fights, to inform another person of an animal fight, to be in possession of something used for an animal fight, to keep and train animals for fighting, to keep premises for animal fighting, or to be present at an animal fight.
The act also makes it an offence to supply, without lawful excuse, a video of an animal fight; to knowingly publish a video of an animal fight; to knowingly show a video of an animal fight; or to possess a video of an animal fight.
Criminalizing the training of animals to fight each other is also present in legislation in Austria, Croatia, Germany, New Zealand, and Ukraine, among others.
Globally, there is an increasing trend in the political prioritization of animal welfare. Over the last few decades, countries from all over the world have created legislation that moves animals out of the realm of property, as they're designated in Canada--a designation that is maintained in Bill S-203--and recognizes them as beings that require minimum standards of protection. The concept of animal welfare addresses the obligation we have to ensure good stewardship for the animals we make use of.
IFAW requests that the justice committee oppose Bill S-203. It is ineffective in protecting animals from wanton acts of cruelty and doesn't provide law enforcement officials with the tools they require to successfully charge individuals. Bill S-203 is out of touch with global laws created to protect animals from cruelty and disregards the wishes of a vast majority of Canadians.
Thank you again for letting us present today.
Good afternoon. My name is Jim Pippolo. I'm the acting general manager and rodeo administrator for the Canadian Professional Rodeo Association based in Calgary, Alberta.
It's an honour for us to be here to give you our opinions on Bill S-203, and we thank Mr. Hanger and all the committee members for inviting us.
The Canadian Professional Rodeo Association is the official sanctioning body for professional rodeo in Canada. We sanction approximately 55 to 60 rodeos in Canada every year, with a payout of nearly $5 million annually. Almost one million people attend our events yearly.
There are approximately 1,400 members in our association. These members care for animals on a daily basis. They have thousands under their care, whether they're their own or belong to people they work for. Our members come from ranching backgrounds and have been raised around livestock their entire lives. The heritage of some of them can be traced back to the start of this great country we live in.
We feel that our members are expert livestock handlers. Rodeo is part of our chosen lifestyle--a tradition handed down from our forefathers, who developed the events and turned them into a competition. Who could ride the unrideable horse, who was the best roper, or who had the fastest horse all became part of our chosen sport--rodeo. It has evolved over the years into a cultural sport for ourselves, just as urban friends enjoy their sports of hockey, football, lacrosse, track and field, to name but a few.
The Canadian Professional Rodeo Association's board of directors governs the sport in Canada. They are assisted by up to 20 professional rodeo judges and 11 directors. Our judges attend seminars to ensure that our rules and regulations are enforced in a fair and consistent manner and that the code of practices for the handling of rodeo livestock is adhered to. We have almost 60 rules and regulations that deal with the safety and welfare of our rodeo livestock--in fact, they are our co-competitors in competition.
Disciplinary action comes in the form of fines, suspensions, disqualifications, or a combination of them, and they are not taken lightly by our association.
From Bill C-17 through Bill S-203, our association has closely followed the development of bills that deal with animal cruelty. We feel that Bill S-203 can achieve what is required to protect all animals from intentional cruelty or wilful neglect. It will increase the penalties, both monetarily and through lengthened prison sentences. It will remove animals from the possession of convicted persons, and it could place lifetime bans on serious offenders from ever caring for or owning livestock. It will give prosecutors the option of trying cases by way of indictment or summary conviction, depending on the seriousness of each case. It will empower the courts to make restitution orders if the costs are readily ascertainable.
The Canadian Professional Rodeo Association supports this progressive and improved legislation to increase protection for animals from cruelty and abuse without compromising the legitimate use of animals in our daily business, be it ranching, show jumping, farming, horse racing, rodeo, or many others. Bill S-203 does this. It is time the laws were updated.
Unfortunately, animal cruelty has not and may never be eliminated, but to strengthen the power of well-established laws that already exist is a great step forward for all Canadians. I think in everyone's life there has been a time when an animal has truly touched our hearts, be it a cat, a dog, a horse, or, in my case, a rodeo animal. That special moment will stay with us forever.
On behalf of the Canadian Professional Rodeo Association, its members, and the millions of rodeo fans out there, I would like to thank you for this opportunity to address this committee on what we feel is truly a step in the right direction to eliminate animal cruelty, which is Bill S-203.
Good afternoon, honourable members, and thank for the opportunity to speak to you today about amendments to the animal cruelty sections of the Criminal Code.
I'm Don Mitton, project manager for the Canadian Association for Humane Trapping.
Since 1954, the Canadian Association for Humane Trapping has been diligently and responsibly working toward abolishing the pain and suffering of animals that are trapped for any reason. We have done that by encouraging and supporting research and development of more humane trapping systems and devices, through promoting appropriate legislation, and by encouraging and promoting trapper education.
The current cruelty to animals sections of the Criminal Code are archaic and for many years have not reflected Canadian society's view of animals and what is acceptable treatment. Reform is long overdue. But reforming only the sentencing provisions and leaving the outdated offences unchanged just makes no sense.
One problem in the current law is that the offence of killing an animal without lawful excuse applies only to owned animals. CAHT believes that this protection should be afforded to all animals, including wildlife, since lawful excuse already includes such activities as hunting, trapping, fishing, and scientific research, etc.
As you know, efforts to modernize Canada's federal animal cruelty law have been going on for more than eight years now, starting with a bill introduced by the Liberal government of the day in 1999. There has been considerable debate, both at the political level as well as among various stakeholders, over the years. Compromise was made and, with a few amendments, accepted in 2003. Almost all stakeholders were in agreement.
It is important to note the extremely broad support the bill had in 2003. Humane societies, SPCAs, animal care and control agencies, other animal protection groups, veterinarians, and police associations have been onside since the beginning.
But various animal-use industry groups were concerned about being exposed to risk of prosecution for carrying out their standard practices under the proposed new bill. These concerns were put to rest with the amendments in 2003, and the bill was supported by dozens of national organizations representing farmers, trappers, researchers, and others.
Many of these animal-use industry groups formed a large coalition that actively and repeatedly called on government to reintroduce the bill after it died on the order paper. I understand you heard from this coalition last week. Unfortunately, the one group that did not agree was the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters, which shamelessly asked for a specific exemption from the Criminal Code. Asking for an exemption from the animal cruelty section of the Criminal Code equates to asking for permission to be cruel to animals.
The fundamental concepts of good animal cruelty legislation are to prohibit wilfully and negligently causing unnecessary pain and suffering, killing animals without a lawful excuse, and abandoning or negligently failing to provide proper care for an animal. Why would anyone need an exemption from these offences? It is akin to exempting police officers or hockey players from assault laws, and we don't do that. No one should be exempt from the Criminal Code.
The CAHT believes that this radical position taken by the powerful lobby groups representing hunters and anglers led to the very introduction of . These groups convinced politicians that the bill that had so much support in 2003, now tabled as , would make hunting and fishing illegal.
With all due respect, that is an absurd notion. There is absolutely no legal basis on which to suggest that hunting, fishing, or trapping would become illegal any more than farming, scientific research, and euthanizing animals have been illegal for the past 115 years. The term “lawful excuse” permits lawful activities.
The Criminal Code responds to an individual's crimes against animals rather than legitimate industry practices to kill or use animals. Reasonable, widely accepted industry standards that avoid causing unnecessary pain, suffering, or injury will qualify as a lawful excuse.
Legislation, regulations, and other lawful excuses permit over 400 million animals to be raised and killed in Canada each year. SPCAs and humane societies kill many thousands of unwanted or unhealthy animals each year, as authorized by provincial statutes in accordance with approved euthanasia methods.
Statutory provisions enable householders to kill mice, rats, and legally defined pests. Slaughterhouses are federally or provincially authorized to kill livestock. Researchers can kill experimental animals pursuant to the guidelines of the Canadian Council on Animal Care. Licensed hunters, trappers, and anglers are authorized by provincial legislation and permits to kill wild animals and fish.
However, the requirement that no one can intentionally cause pain and suffering or injury to an animal using any means that is unnecessary continues as a fundamental requirement in all cases. This is how it is today and how it would remain under a bill like .
CAHT urges this committee to listen hard to the views of the majority of Canadians, and to humane societies and SPCAs across Canada, the very people who are using and applying the law. These organizations promote animal welfare, not animal rights.
CAHT knows that Canadians want better animal cruelty legislation. They have spoken out against .
We hope this committee will see that good legislation is about so much more than just penalties. Given the polarization of this issue, rushing to make a decision is both ill-advised and contrary to the democratic process.
First of all, I apologize for having missed the first part of your presentations, but there was a debate in the House on the security certificates. From time to time the committee sits while we are dealing with bills for which that committee or a related committee is responsible.
The Bloc Québécois caucus recognizes the superiority of Mr. Holland's bill in terms of definition and scope. There is no doubt that the two bills cannot be compared. The discussion must establish a comparison with the status quo. Apparently it is a question of prison terms from six months to five years. There may be restitution orders. The bill defines what it means to inflict cruel treatment causing pain. It seems to us that the bill we are dealing with is not incompatible with Mr. Holland's bill, that we will be studying later on if there are no amendments. The more we listen to witnesses, the more we are convinced that you are asking us to defeat this bill. The two bills are not fundamentally incompatible. If we had to choose between the two, and if we were told that before a certain number of years a single bill would be studied by elected representatives, Mr. Holland's would obviously be far more satisfying. Given the number he has drawn in the House's order of precedence, must we make do with the status quo, or wait for Mr. Holland's bill? Why not take advantage of this intermediate measure that this bill is putting forward, which represents a clear improvement in comparison with the status quo? I am open to all arguments. Perhaps Ms. Freeman and I should be making other arguments to our caucus, but we believe that we should vote in favour of this bill, which is not incompatible with Mr. Holland's, and, ultimately, we should adopt his bill.
I find that that is not the perspective of the people who have been appearing before the committee for the last few days. I will begin with you, Ms. Elmslie. Are you happy with our strategy or would you invite us to abandon it?
You're quite correct. I appreciate the question. I don't share that opinion, nor do the people I represent. Realistically, I don't think anybody sitting at this table would suggest that the passage of Bill will end the debate on this issue either now or in the foreseeable future.
The question you have to ask yourselves is this. It's been 10 years since the justice department first put out its consultation paper on potential amendments, or proposed amendments, on this issue, and we're still sitting here debating this issue. Nothing has been advanced in that time.
We're all aware of the vagaries of Parliament. We're also aware that all of you sitting here today are subject to what is euphemistically known as the largest public consultation, a general election. There is rumour consistently on the Hill that an election may be coming sooner than later. If that, indeed, is the case and it comes sooner than we would have hoped, both of these bills will be lost and we are back to square one again.
Bill is at a stage now in the House much farther advanced than we have managed to get it in a long time. With all due respect to the honourable member for Ajax—Pickering, his bill is far behind this in the rota in the House.
This bill before you today requires a vote on report when it comes out of committee, third reading, and it's done. We at least, then, should we be subject to the possibility of a future general election—
Thanks to all the witnesses for being here and for all your briefs. We've all had an opportunity, I'm sure, to read over those and listen to your testimony. It's all very interesting.
We've had representatives from the International Fund for Animal Welfare visit my office, and we've had a bit of this discussion. The situation we find ourselves in with this bill is a little odd. We, as a Parliament, obviously have rules that you are all probably becoming familiar with over the course of the debate on animal cruelty. We deal with one bill at a time in a committee like this. Usually when we have a bill before the committee, whatever the nature of the bill, our discussion is focused predominately on the bill in front of us.
The way things usually work here is that we don't pick one bill or another. That's what makes this issue complex. For one reason or another, whether it's deliberate or not, it's been put to parliamentarians to pick one piece of legislation or another, and that is actually not the way we usually operate. Usually we have a bill in front of us, and we decide around the table if we support the bill or not. Then we decide on other things on other days. We can only really deal with what's in front of us.
My colleague Mr. Bagnell put this question to the panel of witnesses: do you support raising the penalty for animal cruelty? I didn't hear anyone say they didn't support that. I haven't heard any of the members around this table say that they don't support increasing the penalty for a conviction under animal cruelty.
The problem we're faced with is that we have a bill in front of us that admittedly does only one thing: it increases the penalty for animal cruelty. We have a panel that's saying we should increase the penalty for animal cruelty, and yet we're being told not to support the bill. I'd like to know how people reconcile that.
Some witnesses have said that they liked another bill better. That's fair enough. The only problem is right now, today, we're not dealing with that bill. What I would say to that is that we can only deal with this bill now.
We've had all kinds of legislation in this committee on gun crimes, for example. The police come, and the bar association comes. On impaired driving, MADD Canada will come, the Quebec Bar Association, and victims groups. We are never under any illusion that there will never be before this committee another bill dealing with gun crimes or another bill dealing with impaired driving.
The witnesses come, and they say they support this bill because it does this, or they oppose the bill because it does that. We don't usually have a witness say that they support what the bill does, but it doesn't do everything they want so they want us to oppose it now. I've never had anyone say that before now.
In light of that, I'd like to put it to any of the witnesses to comment a bit on the peculiar situation that I think we're being put in. It's a bill that does something that every one of you is asking us to do, and yet some are asking us to oppose it. Does anyone have any comments on that?
Thank you very much for coming here this afternoon.
I will pick up where the parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Justice left off. We have before us a very specific piece of legislation, that is Bill . We may, of course, always compare it to previous bills, but even if they were good, in fact excellent, they all died on the Order Paper and we are no longer discussing them today. We are trying to draw your attention to something that I feel is very important. A bill has been drafted, and it deals with protecting life. In fact, animals are part of the group to which we belong.
Mr. Farrant, when you read Bill , tabled by Senator Bryden, did you note the fact that it was increasing sentences? I am just expressing my thoughts. That is not necessarily what you wanted to say. There is a difference between an offence punishable on summary conviction—and in my province, that is practically the only measure that is taken—and an indictable offence. If we are talking about an indictable offence, the prosecutor representing the government knows that he can obtain a five-year prison sentence, in some cases. That does not make everything perfect, but is it not progress?
Instead of assessing a ridiculous fine, the judge will be able to impose a prison term. This will be published in the papers and will be better publicized. People will become aware of it. It will not be as it is in my province, where the Society for the Protection of Cruelty to Animals has problems surviving because no one ever hears about them. The fines are absurd. We cannot even manage to shut down the puppy mills or dog mills. Wouldn't the fact that we could see that someone was given a three-year prison sentence on the front page of the papers, which cannot be the case currently in the case of some offences, constitute progress?
Mr. Farrant, I would like your opinion on the subject. Personally, I feel this truly represents progress even though it is not perfect. Following that, I would like to hear Ms. Barbara Cartwright's thoughts. She seems to be saying it is not acceptable. I can tell you that it would help us in my province. When a person is sent to prison for three years, they will not make the same mistake twice.
If I can respond to that, I don't know about that particular instance, if it was in Ontario, but we've been faced with similar issues in Ontario. Courts have felt that with the existing wording in the legislation, the issue of ownership implies the ability to do whatever you want with that animal, as long as it's not done in a cruel way. Ownership is the lawful excuse, so that issue, again, of the use of those words--“kept for a lawful excuse”--becomes a problem for us.
If I can slip back to a previous question about indictable offences, you'll know that section 444 currently exists in the Criminal Code; it is an indictable offence. We've laid a charge under that section twice only in 30 years. The honourable member, being a lawyer, will know that when it first appears in court, crown has the right to make an election. In both of those cases, crown elected to proceed summarily, rather than by way of indictment--so that automatically reduced it--because of the cost factor that's involved. We can understand that as well.
Hybrid offences are fraught with issues as well. They may seem like a good way to go by increasing the penalties, but I think increasing the provisions for a national prohibition order under federal legislation is of paramount concern to SPCAs across Canada.
We can currently, in many provinces--not in Ontario, unfortunately--get prohibition orders under provincial legislation. This has happened many times, and the accused or the convicted person simply moves to another province. If we can get a better prohibition for something more than the two years that are there now, that will be a plus as well.
But there are problems that haven't been addressed with regard to hybrid offences.
I'm sorry, I went way off your question.
How much time do I have? Five minutes?
First of all, I'd like to thank everybody for coming here. It's been very interesting.
I'll basically ask the same questions I asked of the sponsor of the bill and the people who've testified before. I'm very concerned as a farmer and as somebody who represents a rural riding in Alberta that if we go too far we may affect some of the sensibilities of the good folks back home in Alberta, especially those who come from the agricultural sector, those who have used animal husbandry, farming, hunting, fishing, and trapping as a way of life for a certain amount of time in our history.
I'm concerned that if we lose this opportunity right now, we won't have an opportunity. I know there's another bill on the table as well.
But I am also concerned about some of the things that I guess my colleagues have made a point about as well: that there seems to be an all or nothing approach to this piece of legislation before us. When I see an all or nothing approach or see somebody entrenched or with their heels dug in, I'm usually led to believe they have an agenda beyond what's actually being discussed. The rationale I've heard is just not satisfying me, that passing right now would somehow preclude our going further in the future. I want to get some clarification from some of the folks around the table here to see whether I can get at some of the roots of that agenda.
The IFAW is against the seal hunt, isn't that right? Would it be fair to say the IFAW is against all forms of hunting?