Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Chair, I'm very pleased to be here today, appearing for the first time as the Minister of Justice, to discuss Bill .
The amendments in the bill reflect our government's ongoing commitment to examine our criminal justice system to ensure the laws protect our most vulnerable and reflect our shared values.
This in-depth review of our criminal justice system has resulted in vital bills studied and thoughtfully amended by the committee. I want to thank you for the important work you do and the work you will be doing on Bill .
This bill before is a result of significant consultation and collaboration with key stakeholders. We have received broad support on these amendments from child protection groups and organizations like the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies, the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association, and the Canadian Federation of Agriculture.
I would like to thank them for their advocacy and support in this endeavour, which truly reflects a common-ground approach to addressing a critical gap in the Criminal Code's bestiality offences. I would also like to recognize the advocacy of many of our colleagues, including, in particular, Mr. Erskine-Smith.
Bill is a direct response to the Supreme Court of Canada's decision in the R. v. D.L.W., where the court found that in the absence of a statutory definition in the Criminal Code, the common law meaning of bestiality is limited only to penetrative sexual acts.
That is why Bill seeks to add a definition of the term “bestiality” to section 160 of the Criminal Code, in order to make clear Parliament's intent of ensuring that bestiality offences apply to all acts, for a sexual purpose, with an animal.
As a side note, I would add that the expression “for a sexual purpose”, which appears in a number of other Criminal Code provisions—namely, in reference to child pornography in section 163.1, luring a child in section 172.1 and making sexually explicit material available to a child in section 171.1—is well understood by the courts and does not apply to legitimate animal breeding practices such as artificial insemination or veterinary practices.
In its 2001 decision in R. v. Sharpe, the Supreme Court of Canada interpreted the expression in the context of child pornography to mean an act that, viewed objectively, was committed for the sexual gratification of the accused. The expression is therefore used in Bill to interpret the offence of bestiality.
This is a crucial amendment to ensure the protection of children from sexual abuse, an objective that has always been a priority for our government and indeed all parliamentarians.
Thanks to the important work by the Canadian Violence Link Coalition, including the Canadian Centre for Child Protection, we know more about the link between animal sexual abuse and the sexual abuse of children, as well as other forms of violence. Research shows that bestiality offences are not isolated events, but rather are usually part of a pattern of vicious treatment of both children and animals. Bill , therefore, sends a strong message that bestiality is one of the most severe and violent acts against children, vulnerable persons, as well as animals and that it has no place in Canadian society.
In addition to closing that gap in the Criminal Code, the bill seeks to strengthen animal protection measures by broadening the scope of legislative provisions that prohibit animal fighting.
Currently, paragraph 445.1(1)(b) of the Criminal Code makes it an offence for anyone to encourage, aid or assist the fighting or baiting of animals. Furthermore, under section 447 of the Criminal Code, it is an offence for someone to build, make, maintain or keep a cockpit on premises that they own or occupy, or to allow a cockpit to be built, made, maintained or kept on such premises.
An individual who commits any of these offences is liable, on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term of up to five years or, on summary conviction, to a fine of up to $10,000 or to imprisonment for a term of up to 18 months or both.
For many Canadians, animals are a meaningful extension of the family, and we have an obligation to protect them. Bill proposes two important amendments to strengthen the criminal sanctions against animal fighting in the Criminal Code.
First, it amends the animal fighting offence in paragraph 445.1(1)(b) in order to address a gap. Currently, the offence prohibits anyone from encouraging, aiding or assisting the fighting or baiting of animals, but the bill seeks to broaden the offence to specifically prohibit profiting from animal fighting and training, transporting or breeding animals for the purposes of baiting or fighting.
By clearly outlining the prohibited offences proposed, the bill will make it easier for law enforcement to lay charges and for the Crown to prosecute those offences.
Second, the bill amends section 447 to expand the offence related to the keeping of a cockpit to include any arena for animal fighting. Currently, under the Criminal Code, the offence applies only to a cockpit, excluding arenas for the purpose of dogfighting and other types of animal fighting.
These are important changes because they clearly prohibit a wider range of activities often associated with this terrible crime.
Due to its underground nature, it is not known how often animal fighting, especially dogfighting, takes place in Canada. However, we do know that it is a significant problem linked to organized crime, including illegal gambling and the illicit trafficking of drugs and weapons. Moreover, the dogs that are used in fights are often seriously wounded or killed. The proposed reforms would make clear that animal fighting is a cruel and abhorrent activity that simply has no place in Canadian society.
1 would also like to take this opportunity to clarify that these reforms to the animal fighting provisions do not apply to any legitimate activities, such as hunting, training, or using a dog for protection. This is important and I know that many Canadians will wish to be assured of this fact.
Before concluding, I'd like to acknowledge that some stakeholders and parliamentarians feel that Bill does not go far enough to strengthen animal protection measures.
Bill is a targeted response, based on extensive consultation, in order to protect the most vulnerable members of society through a common approach. The bill addresses two specific issues with widespread support from the public, the provinces and territories, child protection stakeholders, as well as animal welfare advocates and members of sectors that make use of animals. The Canadian Federation of Humane Societies, the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association and 10 agricultural stakeholder groups have all called for amended animal fighting and bestiality provisions.
In closing, I'd like to remind the committee that the impact of these reforms will be to provide significantly greater protection for children and vulnerable persons, as well as for animals. While the proposed reforms in this bill are targeted at two of the most serious issues, our government is committed to ensuring that all appropriate protections are extended to the most vulnerable and accordingly will continue our comprehensive review of the criminal justice system for further amendments.
I'm looking forward to hearing from Canadians on this, and I'm sure I will hear from the committee on this.
Thank you for your time today. I'd be happy to take any questions you may have.