The House resumed from March 18 consideration of the motion that Bill , be read the third time and passed.
Mr. Speaker, given the debate we just had on time allocation, I want to assure the House that I am very pleased to get up today to speak to Bill . However, I am disappointed not to be speaking to a broader bill that could have simply been called “an act to amend the Criminal Code, animal cruelty”, because what we really needed was a broad review of the animal cruelty legislation and not a bill just narrowly focused on bestiality and animal fighting. Instead of that broader review, the government introduced a narrow and weak bill, which, fortunately, the justice committee strengthened with amendments. I will return to those in a moment.
Even though the Liberal government has missed the larger opportunity to modify animal cruelty provisions in the Criminal Code as a whole, some legislation on animal cruelty is long overdue. By my count, since 1999, there have been 14 failed attempts to amend Canada's animal cruelty laws. Some would argue that we have seen no significant changes in animal cruelty laws since the 1950s. I have to say that I am not sure that we would have seen the government introduce any legislation on animal cruelty at all if it had not been for the Supreme Court decision in R. v. D.L.W., in 2016, which pointed out the problems with the narrow definition of bestiality in the existing Criminal Code provisions.
My skepticism of the will of the Liberals to act was fuelled when the Liberals used their majority to defeat their own backbencher's private member's bill, Bill , from the member for , entitled the modernizing animal protections act. That was the kind of broad look at the changes we needed and that this government bill should have brought forward. Bill would have provided for much more comprehensive reform than we have in the bill before us today, and New Democrats supported that bill when it came before the House, in contrast to the Liberals.
Bill would have increased sentences for repeat animal abusers, including creating the ability to have a lifetime ban, after a second conviction, on any ownership of animals. However, that is not in the bill we are dealing with today, and I am disappointed that it is not there.
As well, Bill proposed to deal with a wide range of acts beyond the Criminal Code that actually deal with the way we treat animals, including the Fisheries Act, the Textile Labelling Act, the Wild Animal and Plant Protection and Regulation of International and Interprovincial Trade Act—
Mr. Speaker, let me just pick up again on Bill , the Liberal backbench bill that the government defeated. It would have also dealt with the things that are in this government bill. We could have done what is in this bill before us, and more, by passing that private member's bill.
Perhaps most importantly, Bill would have moved offences against animals out of the property section of the Criminal Code and into a new section dedicated to offences against animals. This would not only have been an important legal reform; I think it would also be a very important symbol of our need as humans to rethink our place in the natural universe and to see ourselves as part of the web of nature on which we depend for our very survival, rather than seeing the Earth and all of its beings as simply property for us to use and discard when we are done.
I have spent a lot of time on this private member's bill because it puts the much narrower government bill in front of us into a proper context. The fact that the government used its majority to defeat a more comprehensive reform of animal cruelty legislation tempers the credit the government should get for bringing forward this bill today.
At this point, I also want to give credit to the Conservative member for , who pushed the government to act on the very narrow definition that the Supreme Court found by introducing her own private member's bill, Bill , in order to make sure that the government was forced to bring forward its own bill instead of having to deal with hers.
The member for did acknowledge some concerns in her caucus that attempting to modernize and strengthen animal cruelty provisions might affect farmers and hunters. I also want to acknowledge concerns in indigenous communities that reforms of animal cruelty legislation should not infringe on aboriginal rights and traditional hunting practices.
However, like the member for , I believe we can update animal cruelty legislation and at the same time avoid unintended impacts on farmers and hunters and unintended consequences with regard to aboriginal rights.
Perhaps I should mention that I am not a hunter, nor have I eaten meat for more than 35 years. I am a proud dog owner, although I resisted the temptation today to wear a t-shirt with a picture of my poodle on it under my jacket. I should also say that my support for this bill will keep peace at home, as my partner is a very passionate advocate for animal rights.
In fact, New Democrats in this House have consistently advocated reform of animal cruelty laws. The member for has proposed his private member's bill, Bill , which would have banned the importation of shark fins. He has been working very hard on the Senate bill, Bill , which is a parallel bill, to make sure that we pass that bill before the House rises to help end the cruel practice of shark finning.
Both the member for and the member for have introduced motions to ban the import of products containing dog and cat fur. Former Toronto NDP MP Peggy Nash had a private member's bill, Bill , to strengthen animal cruelty laws, as did former NDP Quebec MP Isabelle Morin, so this is not a new cause for us to take up. This is something we have been fighting for for many years in this House.
At the justice committee, the member for moved an amendment to Bill , which was adopted unanimously and which broadened the government's too-narrow bill, and three very important provisions were added to the bill in committee.
The first of those allows a prohibition order on animal ownership for a certain period, as determined by a judge. The second makes it an offence to violate an order prohibiting animal ownership, meaning that someone could actually be prosecuted for violating that order of prohibition. The third allows restitution orders to compel those convicted to pay for the care of animals injured. Those were quite important aspects from his own private member's bill on which the member got consensus to bring into the bill before us today.
A separate amendment was also adopted to add bestiality to the list of offences covered in the Sex Offender Information Registration Act. As the member for very clearly pointed out, the reason for doing this is that abuse of animals is often an indicator of other forms of abuse, in particular of child abuse. This becomes information that is very useful to the police. I thank him for bringing forward that amendment to this bill.
Those two amendments, one with three provisions and one with one provision, added important aspects to Bill , even though it remains, as I said before, less than the comprehensive reform of animal cruelty legislation that I would like to see before the House.
Still, Bill does redefine bestiality more broadly than the court decision and it does prohibit a broader range of activities associated with animal fighting, so I and my fellow New Democrats are supporting this bill.
I would have to say personally that even if it contained only the provisions banning activities associated with animal fighting, I would support this bill. It is important to ban promoting, arranging and profiting from animal fighting. It is important to ban breeding, training or transporting animals to fight and it is important to ban keeping any arena for the purpose of animal fighting. I think these are very important steps.
I am not going to go on for a long time, despite the accusations of the government that the reason that we wanted to speak was to delay the bill. I am not even going to use all my time today. I want to conclude by saying that the reason I wanted to speak is to bring our attention to the fact that there is still a lot of work to do on animal cruelty after we pass Bill .
We are missing the opportunity for that comprehensive reform that I have been talking about. In particular, I believe this bill should have included basic standards of care and housing for animals. It could also have included restrictions on tethering animals, in particular dogs, a practice that, since it is unregulated, can be a severe threat to the health and safety of dogs. Of course, tethered dogs are much more likely to bite, and specifically to bite children. In fact, according to the Montreal SPCA, tethered dogs are three times more likely to bite and five times more likely to bite children.
Again, after Bill passes, there is much more work to do beyond fixing the additional provisions of the Criminal Code that I mentioned earlier. Most important, of course, is the work that needs to be done on protecting endangered species and the habitat that they depend on. This past week, we saw the release of an alarming report from the United Nations intergovernmental science-policy platform on biodiversity. This report documents the unprecedented and accelerating rates of species' extinction at rates never before seen in human history. The report warns that more than one million animal and plant species are facing extinction within the next few decades as a result of human activity.
What we do need now, and I mean right now, are bold measures to protect and preserve the ecosystems that the endangered plants and animals depend on. Since I arrived in this House eight years ago, I have been an advocate for emergency action to protect the southern resident killer whales, as we are at the brink of losing a species, each of whose name is individually known. Instead of a bold and urgent recovery plan for the orcas that would mobilize large-scale habitat restoration where appropriate and put millions of hatchery chinook in the water, this work is being left to volunteers, and they have undertaken this work without any government support. Instead of support, we have a timid recovery plan that tries to manage declining stocks of chinook by relying on fishing restrictions when everybody knows that what we actually need—not just the whales, but all of us—is more fish in the water.
In conclusion, while passing Bill is an important step forward in animal protection, it is only a first step in a process that will require us to re-examine our place in the natural world.