Thank you, Mr. Chair, and thank you to the committee for the opportunity to appear today.
I'm going to start off with four reasons that I believe this committee should defeat this bill. I think they're clear reasons and I hope the committee will consider them.
The first is that the House has actually already--and I'm talking about the House of Commons--passed the same bill that I've introduced, Bill , on two separate occasions. This was done so unanimously, with all-party support. It was the product of an enormous amount of compromise. Members will recall that at that period of time it was very difficult to bring together both those who are involved in animal welfare and those who are involved in the use of animals towards a point of consensus. We got so close that all parties agreed and it passed the House of Commons, and we sent that legislation, effectively the same legislation I have before you today, twice to the Senate.
So why is that relevant to this bill? Because the Senate is telling us today what is possible in this bill. They are rejecting what the House has sent to them twice and have sent something back that is totally ineffective.
That brings me to my second point; that is, to pass an animal cruelty law that has every major animal welfare group opposed to it makes no sense. How in the world we could pass something that every single major animal welfare group is opposed to makes no sense at all. I don't understand how we could possible explain that to our constituents. I'm not talking about people who are involved in animal rights; I'm talking about people who are involved on the front lines of dealing with animal abuse. I'm talking about humane societies and veterinarians who, day in and day out, see terrible, egregious abuse against animals, and they say it's time to put an end to it. They recognize that if you merely increase sentences, it does nothing for the fact that we can't get convictions.
That's the problem--people aren't being convicted. Only one-quarter of 1% of animal abuse complaints results in a conviction. You heard from an SPCA officer here just a couple of weeks ago who talked about how impossible it is to enforce today's existing laws.
The other great tragedy, of course, is that not only do we see these terrible abuses happening to animals, but we see that same abuse of animals then translating into abuse against human beings, violence against human beings. That was one of the reasons this committee heard that in Florida they had a campaign that said, if you can stop animal abuse by reporting it early, you can possibly stop spousal abuse, or abuse in the home. So we have to remember the linkage there—even if we don't care about animals, and I'm sure we all do around this table—that this has towards violence against human beings. I'm sure we all want the opportunity to be able to stop violence early.
The third is Senator Bryden's own comments, both before this committee and elsewhere, in which he said he would not support Bill . If this was merely a step along the path to finally doing something, even though the House of Commons has already said we already have effective animal cruelty legislation, then we would expect the senator to say, well, maybe with some minor revisions we can accept what the House has already passed twice. I know that the government, as an example, is not accepting this with Bill . They want the Senate to pass it immediately. Crime is extremely important. It needs to be dealt with immediately. The Senate shouldn't be telling the House what it should do; it should be dealing with the matter post-haste. Yet when it comes to animal cruelty, there's the application of a very different standard. Even though we've sent legislation to the Senate twice, we are somehow letting the Senate dictate to us what is possible and what should be done.
The fourth comment I would make is the overwhelming outpouring from Canadians. In front of me here are thousands upon thousands of signatures that were received just in the last month that I'll soon be presenting to the House. I had a Conservative member approach me last week with 2,300 signatures from his own riding of individuals who oppose this Senate bill and support Bill . There are over 130,000 signatures that have been attained in a formal format, such as this, calling for the defeat of this Senate bill and for the passage of effective animal cruelty legislation, such as the legislation that the House of Commons has already passed and that is before us again. On Facebook there are thousands upon thousands of members, and there are people everywhere clamouring and calling for something very simple; that is, to update our animal cruelty laws.
The passage of this bill, which only deals with sentencing, will mean that the international embarrassment that is Canada's animal cruelty laws will continue. Today we are behind the Philippines. We are a third world nation when it comes to our animal cruelty laws. This bill would do nothing to fix that.
I would ask that members have the courage to stand up for what the House has already supported, to stand up for the legislation the duly-elected members of the House of Commons have already stood for, and to say to the Senate, enough is enough, it's time to pass effective animal cruelty legislation.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Thank you, Chair and honourable members, for allowing me this opportunity to speak about an issue that is of utmost importance to the World Society for the Protection of Animals, and to Canadians.
WSPA is the world's largest international alliance of animal welfare organizations. We work in partnership with more than 850 organizations in 170 countries. Our global partners include the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the American Humane Association, the American SPCA, and many others. WSPA holds consultative status with the United Nations and observer status with the Council of Europe. We work to improve animal welfare standards around the world through field work and advocacy.
WSPA Canada is based in Toronto. We are a Canadian charity and have more than 30,000 supporters across the country, and hundreds of thousands worldwide. If one takes into account the supporters of our member societies in Canada, we represent the voices of over 200,000 Canadians.
WSPA joins its member societies, the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies, the Ontario SPCA, and other international groups, such as the International Fund for Animal Welfare, in opposing . It is suggested that this bill was introduced to improve the protection of animals, yet not a single animal protection group in the country supports it. We oppose this bill because it is not an effective improvement to the current animal cruelty provisions in the Criminal Code, which haven't been significantly revised, as you know, since first enacted in 1892. This antiquated bill does not address the deficiencies in the current legislation, which allow so many animal abusers to slip through the cracks unpunished.
As you know, the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies was already before this committee. They've calculated that less than 1% of animal abuse complaints made across the country lead to a conviction. increases sentencing penalties; this is the only change it makes. We do not support this bill because we do not believe these increases are very useful if law enforcement officers are unable to prosecute animal abusers in the vast majority of cases. What difference does increasing penalties make if offenders cannot be successfully prosecuted?
requires the court to prove that someone wilfully intended to neglect an animal. We have heard from SPCAs across the country that the burden of proof is too high, and that it is one of the main reasons so few complaints about animal abuse lead to convictions under the Criminal Code. Prosecutors have not been able to convict people who have starved their animals, because they cannot prove that the owners intended to cause harm, even though any reasonable person knows that animals, like people, need food daily and suffer when they are hungry, and that an emaciated body clearly indicates that an animal has been starved for a long period of time. The inactions or actions of the offender should be sufficient to convict them in these cases.
We believe the language in makes this offence much clearer and will, therefore, improve conviction rates in cases of neglect.
does not make it an offence to breed, train, or sell animals to fight each other to death, so long as the person is not found actually present at the fight. I'm sure you understand that illegal blood sports are not exactly publicized. Dog fighting should be prohibited as explicitly as cock fighting is in this bill. It is our submission that training dogs to fight and being in possession of dog-fighting equipment should both be prohibited. We believe this is necessary to crack down on the people who are participating in and encouraging this brutal blood sport. Great Britain's Animal Welfare Act takes it even further by making it an offence to profit, publicize, and promote any animal fighting.
Like the antiquated legislation currently in force, provides less protection for unowned animals, even though stray, feral, and wild animals suffer just the same. So it's not an offence to kill, maim, poison, or wound unowned animals without a reason or a lawful excuse. It is legal now, and would continue to be legal, to beat a stray dog with a baseball bat, so long as the dog dies quickly. WSPA strongly believes that all sentient animals should be equally protected from being killed, maimed, poisoned, or wounded, in addition to being protected from suffering and neglect.
If the government is serious about tackling crime to build stronger and safer communities in Canada, it should not ignore the strong relationship between crimes against animals and crimes against people. Research shows that people who abuse animals are more likely to commit future acts of violence against people. Some of the most notorious serial killers abused animals before they murdered people. Their first crimes against animals should have served as an early warning that they were predisposed to harming people next.
The government has the opportunity to pass effective legislation that not only addresses animal abuse effectively, but can also help stop a cycle of violence in our communities. I do believe that if people are taught to respect the sanctity of animal life, it will contribute to the respect for the sanctity of human life as well.
I have summarized our main concerns with this bill, but there are many other problems, which I won't elaborate on, including the fact that it retains the illogical categorization of animals and the strange definition for cattle that is currently in the Criminal Code. As well, still distinguishes animals as property, and it categorizes offences against them as property offences. Unlike inanimate objects, animals have the capacity to feel pain and suffer. Since their sentience is why we have legislation to protect them, this very basic fact should be reflected in the language of the law and how these types of offences are labelled and how the offender is punished.
Your committee has heard a lot of unfounded hysterical fears that the amendments animal protection groups support, such as those that are in , will somehow affect the right to hunt, trap, and go fishing. Some stakeholders have accused this bill's opponents of having an ulterior motive, such as an underlying animal rights agenda. Comments like these are absolutely absurd.
WSPA and the many other groups that are supporting are simply advocating for legislation that effectively protects animals from horrific acts of cruelty, abuse, and neglect. Amendments like the one Bill C-373 proposes strikes a great balance between effectively convicting and punishing those who abuse animals, while protecting those who legally use animals.
During his deputation to your committee, Senator John Bryden acknowledged that his bill dealt only with one part of the problem, but that additional amendments should be made later. The committee is therefore being asked to pass deficient legislation on the grounds that some stakeholders would be uncomfortable with the changes sought by other stakeholders. Should we not be asking instead whether there is any validity to their concerns? If these stakeholders are concerned that the right to use animals is not adequately protected, then the solution, I would think, is not to maintain loopholes in the law, but to clarify the rights of these groups.
WSPA would gladly support this bill if it could be amended to resemble Bill C-373, which is essentially the same bill as the previous bills, , Bill C-15B, , which were twice passed by the House of Commons. Those bills were based on nearly 10 years of consultation, received broad-based support--that's support from all different groups that use animals, including support from all political parties--and also received strong public support.
This bill is clearly flawed if people who starve animals to death, bash stray dogs with bats, and train dogs to fight can slip through the cracks unpunished. This bill does not address the current loopholes, archaic language, and inadequacies in the original legislation. It retains them.
does not deliver what Canadians are demanding from their government. Canadians do not view animals in the same way as people did in the Victorian era. They want modern, effective, and enforceable legislation that protects animals from reckless acts of cruelty. We have waited a long time for strong legislation to protect animals, but I'm afraid the proposal that is before your committee right now is just not worth that wait.
On behalf of WSPA, I'm asking you today to oppose . It's taken more than 100 years to make changes to our animal cruelty law. Let's make sure the new legislation is worth the wait.
What we are doing here is moving the legislation that was passed in 1892--so back in the 19th century--into the 21st century. In that regard it was interesting to hear the Minister of Justice, who was in front of the Senate two weeks ago, making exactly the same argument about the need to update legislation that's over 100 years old. I think the points he made at that time, and it was particularly around the age of consent, were very well taken. That part of the bill was one I strongly supported, and I still do.
By the same argument, that same sentiment applies to Bill S-203, and in particular the amendments I'm proposing here. We're moving away from an attitude we had as a society, and the way we treated animals at that period of time, to the way we want them treated and expect all of our citizens will treat them at this period of time.
Mr. Chair, I'm cognizant of the time. The amendment deals with a definition of moving animal.... The sections right now, 444 up to 447, are a treatment of animals as property. We're in effect reallocating that attitude of them as sentient beings. So the first thing we're doing is to move that “animal” be “a vertebrate, other than a human being”, as the definition for animal. That gets repeated in the balance of the amendments.
Mr. Chair, in that regard we're attempting to move away completely from the concept of animal as property to animal as a sentient being. You heard again today the importance of that type of approach in terms of treating people who obviously have serious psychiatric, emotional, psychological problems, and who show clear signs of violence by mistreating, abusing, or killing animals. By shifting that definition completely away from property to one of sentience, it's part of the way we, as a society and as a legislature, are addressing that issue. I think that part needs to be said, and it needs to be emphasized. So that's proposed section 444.
With respect to proposed section 445, we heard today from WSPA in terms of not being able to charge people for abusing animals on the basis of our inability to show a clear intent--one could say an almost absolute intent. With the concept of mens rea, the concept of intent in our criminal law is very clear. But the way the current sections of the code are written, and more importantly, Mr. Chair, the way they've been interpreted, is that we need to introduce a broader concept. So these offences would be not only wilful ones but also reckless ones.
I think of some of the cases I handled as a defence counsel with respect to animals being allowed to starve and no one being convicted of that, even though it was obvious that the animals were abused by neglect rather than physically abused by using instruments to torture them. In proposed section 445, we're moving away from pure absolute intent to bringing in the concept of recklessness. I want to say to the committee that that concept is not simple negligence; that concept of recklessness is a higher standard, but it is less than the absolute wilfulness that is in the existing one.
Mr. Chair, we go on in that section to deal with a whole bunch of specific types of conduct that would become offences. I'm assuming members have read this. I think the expansion of the poisoning section is important. That's proposed paragraph 445(1)(d). Again, it broadens what is in the existing code.
I think we've all been particularly sensitized to the whole concept of using animals to engage in fighting because of the recent conviction of Mr. Vick in the United States, and 445(1)(e) broadens it to the point of encouraging, promoting, arranging, assisting, and receiving money for the fighting or baiting of animals. It covers, as best we can see, all of the possible conduct that goes on in that activity now and makes it a very clear criminal offence.
The next one, under proposed paragraph (f), is specifically dealing with the issue of the cockpit. We've got a problem in the existing part of the code because there are provisions on cockpit fighting but it's it's very narrow as to what is a cockpit. What we've done here is we've kept “cockpit”, and then we've added “or any other arena” to the wording that's already in the code .
I'm told by a number of the animal welfare groups that one of the common areas where they carry on cock fighting is a temporary site in underground parking garages, and that clearly would not be an offence under the existing sections of the Criminal Code. That allows us to get at that kind of conduct, because right now--at least from what we're hearing from the animal welfare people--it is the most common arena. So it'll now be covered.
The next section's pretty straightforward. It's a continuation to make sure we catch all of those.
Then in subsection 445(2), which is in Bill S-203 now, so it would be replacing that, we just had some discussion on this in response to Mr. Bagnell's question about changing from simply what has traditionally been an offence treated as a summary conviction offence to a hybrid offence that'll either be a summary conviction or indictable, generally speaking, based on the seriousness of the conduct. Also, the indictable offence would be used much more often if there's a repeat offence, but at the prosecutor's discretion.
We are then moving to more of the negligence part of it in proposed section 446, which covers the negligent causing of unnecessary pain. This test is again a somewhat lower standard. It really is addressing this primarily to the owners of animals or those serving as their designate or delegate in terms of controlling an animal. So we're introducing a new test that would incorporate the concept of negligence.
I think the easiest analogy--although I'm somewhat reluctant to use it--is the type of cases that we have currently in our child abuse regime, where you've got assault by the custodial parent or other caregivers and a separate offence for neglect, and that concept has now been incorporated into 446.
In subsection 446(2), we're in effect defining “negligently”. This is of concern because of the farmers, the trappers, the fishers, and the hunters. “Negligently” is being categorized, I think, quite clearly. If you go back to the negotiations we had in running up to both Bill C-50 and , which was the precursor of Bill C-50--that was the bill that went to the Senate and was rejected--there were a great deal of negotiations around that standard because it was, I think, a very sincere concern by the groups who raise animals or hunt or fish.
So “negligent” means “departing markedly from the standard of care that a reasonable person would use”.
That's a standard that's well established in each one of those sectors, whether it's farming, fishing, or hunting. If you move markedly from that standard, you are eligible to be convicted for negligently causing harm to, or the death of, an animal.
Part of the scaremongering that has gone on in regard to this legislation has turned on the prospect of the stereotypical animal rights person using this proposed section 446 to bring private prosecutions against farmers, fishers, hunters, and people who do research with animals. But each one of those sectors of the economy have long-established standards. So all that has to be done is to establish that they have met that standard.
It's important to realize that this is not going to produce a tidal wave of charges. I don't want to give the fearmongers any openings on this point. Right across the country, because of amendments to the Criminal Code, private prosecution is extremely limited. It has to be approved by the local prosecutor, in the form of the Attorney General. So there are strict limitations and controls. If a private prosecution is attempted, the prosecutor will allow it only if the conduct in question falls below the established standard. If it does not, the attempt will be disallowed.
So I think we have a very tight mechanism within our criminal justice system—in the definition, the standards that have been set in the various sectors, and in the ability of our prosecutors, in the form of the Attorney General, to prevent malicious or frivolous private prosecutions from getting into the courtroom.
It's a valid concern. Over the years, I have had any number of clients who had to defend themselves from government action that had no reasonable chance of prosecution. Quite frankly, the risk of this is greater from our government agencies than from private prosecutors. But in any event, I think we've shut that door as tight as possible, and I don't think we're going to see any tidal wave of prosecutions.
In proposed subsection 446(3) it's the same thing. These offences would be treated as either summary or indictable offences, with the prosecutor deciding which one.
In proposed section 447, we're expanding the authority to impose penalties in addition to incarceration or fines. These are incorporated in part in the existing Bill S-203, but there are some additional ones here. In effect, they're giving the prosecutor, and of course the court, the authority to order that a convicted person can no longer have animals under his control. There can be an order made, which is already in existing Bill S-203, to order the convicted perpetrator to compensate the agency that took care of the animals. I think those are the two points.
In proposed section 447.1, there are defences. These are common law defences and they are not being affected at all. They would still be allowed.
In my criminal law course during my first year of law school, I remember being given an example of somebody being charged with shooting a deer out of season. But it turned out, when it came before the court, that the deer was actually attacking the man who shot it. The defence raised was a common law defence--it wasn't in the statute, this was a provincial statute--of self-defence, in effect. The person, of course, was acquitted. It's those kinds of defences that are in subsection 429(2). Those defences continue to be in existence. They will not be impacted by either the recklessness clauses or the negligence clauses. Those defences will still exist.
This was one of the feints we got from the Senate sending back, because we didn't put the non-derogation clause in.
It was interesting at that time, Mr. Chairman...and I feel like an historian telling these stories. But the reality was that we were just beginning to consistently put the non-derogation clause into legislation. There was all sorts of environmental legislation going through at that time, and I can recall that we began putting it in at that period of time, but we had not done it in because when it went through the House of Commons, we had not started putting it into the legislation.
Anyway, that was one of the excuses the Senate had for sending it back. It wasn't their real opposition to the legislation. But that is now incorporated. It was in and is now in this amendment as well.
In proposed section 447.3, we're simply being clear that we also want special provisions. Mr. Chair, this came from our police forces across the country, where animals were being targeted. These are animals police officers use--horses and dogs--and they were being specifically targeted. For instance, we had drug houses that were booby trapped specifically to get dogs, including poisoning, but also booby trapped generally with other types of obstructions that would kill an animal--a dog--rather than a human being. So we heard that. We heard that in a number of demonstrations where horses were being used by police officers, the horse was being targeted by demonstrators trying to get at police officers.
So we have built in specific provisions for that. We heard from a number of police forces across the country in that regard.
The final proposed subsection 447.3(4) does, as is the case in the other sections, make specific provisions that provide for the cost of treating the animal to be taken over by the perpetrator of the conduct, who has now been convicted.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I'm just speaking once today, because I didn't want to say the same thing before every amendment.
It's not really true what Mr. Comartin says about other members here, because he can't say what other members are supporting. We're not even debating that particular bill.
I'll tell you the reasons I'm not voting for any of the amendments today. There are some very good amendments, and I support them actually, in theory, in a perfect world. I mean, the things about cock fighting and dog fighting are ridiculous. With today's legislation, there are people getting off who shouldn't. There are a lot of really good amendments from previous bills that should be in. The reality of the situation is that tens of thousands of Canadians have been asking for stronger penalties and for something to happen.
In the political situation we're in, we're very close to a potential election. This bill obviously doesn't do all those things I'd like and that many members of the committee from all sides have said they would like. If this were a different time, you'd certainly have a totally different result in these debates.
This bill does do some things, and I think the Department of Justice member, one of our witnesses, outlined that there have been hundreds of convictions in Canada, but with those convictions, the options for penalties have been very small.
When the previous bills, like Bill C-50 or its precursors, were presented by Justice, they said that one of the major objectives was to increase penalties. This particular bill increases penalties tenfold in some cases. One of the witnesses provided charts showing where we stand in the world. We'd go from being one of the worst countries in the world to being one of the best in that regard.
The second benefit increase was to add hybrid offences, hybrid summary offences. The person from Justice, the expert, said that this was a major change.
Third, it has something that I've always wanted in whatever bill we had, which is restitution. Humane Societies don't have a lot of money. They have to care for these animals during this time. Whoever does this has the possibility of being paid for this by the offender.
Obviously it doesn't do a lot of the things we want it to do, but we're in a political situation in which the government is bringing forward all sorts of reasons for confidence motions that would cause an election. We will have a budget within, I think, four working days, which the NDP has already said they're voting against. There's a good possibility that we may be in an election. And as everyone knows, during an election everything dies. If we amend this bill and make some of these good amendments, then it goes back to a process in the Senate, which certainly wouldn't be done in four days. I don't know what their processes are.
For all those tens of thousands of people who want increased penalties, I couldn't possibly have a bill before me.... As I've always said to people over the years we've been debating this, anything that will reduce animal cruelty, I'll vote for. There are more things that have to be done, but I couldn't possibly vote against part of the pie when we have that possibility.
In the political scenario we're actually in, in real time, it's questionable whether we'll even get this through. If we make amendments, it'll slow it down and make it far less likely that we'll get anything done, and we'll be in the same situation as we've been in since the 1800s.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.