Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the minister for answering some of those questions, and my colleagues who asked them. It feels like legitimate, real debate has broken out in this place this morning. It is a rare day. It is wonderful.
Before I start speaking in favour of Bill C-84, there are some people I would to thank. These people have worked very hard on this bill, which, to me, is the minimum this place could do in terms of updating Canada's very outdated and archaic animal cruelty laws. First is Pierre Sadik, Canadian Federation of Humane Societies; Camille Labchuk, Animal Justice; the member for Beaches—East York, who tabled a private member's bill earlier in this Parliament; and my legislative manager, Bari Miller.
These people have all helped me over the last year and a half in putting together a non-partisan consensus that we need to see some advancement in terms of the legal framework that Canada uses to protect the rights of hunters, anglers and farmers but also to acknowledge that animal cruelty has indicators and broader societal implications than on just animal welfare itself.
Today, we are speaking specifically to the provisions in Bill C-84. It has been nearly a year since I tabled Bill C-388, my private member's bill, which does include provisions that are in this bill, which responds to the 2016 Supreme Court decision, R. v. D.L.W., which the minister spoke to at length this morning.
For those who are listening this morning, who might not be familiar with the content of that particular decision, the Supreme Court of Canada upheld an acquittal of a British Columbia man who was charged with bestiality after compelling their family dog to sexually abuse their 16-year-old stepdaughter. In the decision, the Supreme Court found that existing provisions around bestiality do not adequately define what sexual acts with animals are prohibited under Canadian law.
The Supreme Court applied a very narrow understanding of sexual abuse that requires a penetrative act. This narrow definition created a loophole that allowed sexual abusers to avoid conviction and highlights how the definition of bestiality in the Criminal Code is severely outdated. The bill before us today responds to this situation by tightening up that definition of bestiality to prohibit sexual abuse of animals, including that beyond a non-penetrative act.
I have been disheartened, because there have been some discussions, both within the Canadian media and people abroad, saying that this is not a problem, it is a manufactured problem, and asking why we are even talking about this. First of all, I would argue that the definition needs to be tightened up, including taking into consideration some of the questions that my colleagues have asked about ensuring that animal husbandry activities are allowed.
This is important because, first of all, in the situation of the Supreme Court ruling, we have a 16-year-old woman, a girl who did not have justice dealt to her because the Supreme Court charged us as legislators with ensuring that this definition was closed. It has been over two years since this happened.
To me, this is justice in one case, and that is enough. However, broader than that, we also have to understand that since the Supreme Court ruling, there have been other cases that have had a similar lens applied to them and then had unfortunate consequences.
I will read from a story in the Winnipeg Free Press, published in April 2017. The title of the article is “Child-porn collector pursued 'dark fantasies', court told”. This man, Andrew Harrison pleaded guilty last week and was given a one-year jail sentence and three years of supervised probation as part of a joint recommendation from the Crown and defence lawyers. Investigators eventually tracked the IP address. He was convicted of child pornography, I believe.
However, the interesting part that is relevant to the bill is the following. Members of the Internet child exploitation unit also charged Harrison with bestiality after finding two videos of him involved in a sexual act with his dog, the court was told. However, that charge was stayed last week because it did not meet the new definition of bestiality, requiring penetration, as set out by a recent Supreme Court decision, according to the Crown.
This is one other case, but I do know anecdotally, from talking to stakeholders in the animal welfare community as well as others across the country, that there has been speculation that law enforcement officials have not been laying or attempting to lay charges related to bestiality that do not involve penetrative acts since the Supreme Court ruling, because they knew these charges would not pass the test set by the Supreme Court. This is why it is so important for us to pass this legislation. I frankly wish it had been done sooner, or in the context of some of the government's other justice legislation, but here we are today.
The other thing I want to lay out here is that the government had the opportunity to put this legislation in its previous bill and, therefore, to also study the terms laid out in this bill. What I do not want to see happen is the government not responding to legitimate questions from colleagues in this place around the definition and how it might apply to activities like animal husbandry or whatnot, because it failed to put this legislation forward earlier in this Parliament.
Again, I point to my Liberal colleague, the member for Beaches—East York. It is a rare day I can be found complimenting a Liberal in this place, but my colleague had a large piece of comprehensive legislation on a bunch of different animal welfare issues. He reduced that bill significantly through amendments to a few very tight issues. One of them is the bestiality provision, which we have in my private member's bill. Now the government, late in this Parliament, is trying to rush this through. It is therefore incumbent upon the government and the minister to answer these questions to ensure that the intent of the legislation, as she has described it is, is applied in fact.
Going back to why this is important and not an issue that should be ignored, there is a strong connection between abuse of animals and abuse of people. A provincial government of Australia website says:
Research has established a strong connection between abuse towards animals, and abuse towards people. When a person abuses an animal there is a risk that they may also be abusive towards other people in their lives. Children who experience abuse towards animals, or abuse within the home, are also more likely to abuse animals or perform acts of violence towards people later in life. They repeat lessons learnt in the home: to react to anger with violence, and to perform this violence on more vulnerable individuals. Animal abuse can take the form of physical violence, torment, neglect, or threats to safety – be it to household pets, wildlife, or farm animals. It is often used by the abuser to demonstrate power over other family members, and promote an environment of fear, vulnerability, and isolation. It commonly occurs alongside other types of abuse within the home.
There are other bodies of research that clearly show the link between the abuse of animals and abuse of people. Through the debate here today, in both aspects of the bill, the bestiality change, as well as the change to animal fighting, which I fully support, we have to acknowledge that we cannot turn a blind eye to the severity of this problem, because it escalates.
I personally think we have a responsibility to ensure that the rights and welfare of animals are protected, but we also have to understand that case law shows that it is a problem, despite the fact I have seen some articles recently saying that it is not. Moreover, research shows that by we in Parliament, by not taking action on this, might precipitate broader abuses leaning toward violence against people in our country, which is why it should not have taken two years for us to get to this point. However, here we are.
I want to thank people in the stakeholder community for their efforts on this because that community has been asking for this change for a long time. I also want to thank the over 8,000 Canadians who signed the petition seeking legislative change in this regard. There has been considerable pressure on the government from a variety of organizations across the stakeholder gamut. The Canadian Federation for Agriculture has spoken in favour of the bestiality change. The Canadian Federation of Humane Societies, the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association and the Canadian Cattlemen's Association also issued a letter to the Minister of Justice to implore her to remedy this legislative gap.
To my colleagues who have raised concern about the animal husbandry component, I have been assured by officials as well as members of these communities that they do not see any potential implications given the definition in case law. However, to the stakeholders who have written in support of it, we need to be very clear about the intent of this debate to say that this legislation was not put forward, and certainly not in my private member's bill, to prevent legitimate animal husbandry activities. Instead, it is designed to prevent the abuse of animals by humans undertaking sexual acts for their gratification by abusing animals.
As the Supreme Court case of R. v. D.L.W. demonstrated, violence against animals and violence against people are not distinct and separate problems. Violence against animals can be a strong predicator of violence against humans and the relationship between these acts of violence is known as the violence link. Very simply put, if a person wants to hurt animals, they are also more likely to hurt another person as well. I have gone into that in some detail today. I just want to reiterate this.
While the bill addresses the definition of bestiality, I have concerns that there are elements missing in Bill C-84, as it does not currently give judges the ability to ban bestiality offenders from owning animals in the future, something that is a standard for other animal cruelty offences under the Criminal Code. That means that someone who is convicted of committing a bestiality offence is legally allowed to own animals. However, someone who is convicted of animal cruelty is not allowed to own animals. A reasonable person can see why this is a problem endangering animals as well as humans, and I would like to see an amendment to the bill, possibly at third reading that could make this small change.
I also want to address critics of the bill who view it as a slippery slope. Again, some of my colleagues have raised the issue of animal husbandry. The concern is that perhaps farmers and other husbandry workers could somehow be criminally implicated by this small change in law. This law as well as my private member's bill ensures that contact with animals for sexual purposes is prohibited, and the key word here is “sexual”. Sexual offences appear in the Criminal Code in a number of different places, including the context of sexual interference, section 151; invitation to sexual touching, section 152; sexual exploitation, section 153; and most importantly, the section 271 offence of sexual assault.
To my colleague who was asking questions of the minister, this is my analysis. The word “sexual” has been clearly defined in case law. The leading Supreme Court case is R. v. Chase, 1987, 2 S.C.R. 293. Chase it makes it clear that contact will only be sexual in nature if it is objectively clear to a reasonable observer that there is a carnal or sexual context to it. To my colleague who raised this question earlier and asked the minister for evidence from case law, I would direct him to this case. The person's motive is also relevant and if they are motivated by sexual gratification, that would be considered in determining whether or not the contact is sexual. In other words, the key question that would be grappled with is whether or not the sexual nature of the activity were apparent to a reasonable observer.
To apply this to the issue at hand, it is abundantly clear that artificial insemination of cows or other animals in farming or science would in no universe be interpreted by the courts to be done for sexual reasons, one would assume anyway. Rather it is done for animal husbandry reasons or scientific reasons. There is no element of sexual gratification in either situation. Artificial insemination of animals is an accepted activity that occurs across a variety of sectors, and no reasonable person would view it as anything other than economically or scientifically motivated. I would also point out that the current law that requires penetration would apply to practices like artificial insemination already if we are interpreting it without the case law looking at intent.
Again, to my colleague's question of the justice minister, she could have expanded on that. I would expect her, if she is going to appear at our committee, to look at that particular definition and perhaps get more information to colleagues who might have concerns about that. In fact, there has never been a case that has used the existing law in this matter, using the current bestiality provisions to prosecute a farmer for the artificial insemination of an animal, given that the current definition deals with penetration.
It might also be helpful to make an analogy to the care given by a doctor or even a veterinarian. Doctors frequently have contact with a patient's sexual organs, and touching is not done for sexual purposes but for medicinal purposes. Similarly, a veterinarian who examines an animal's sexual organs would never be deemed to be engaged in sexual contact with the animal but contact for the purpose of veterinary medicine.
This is a very uncomfortable discussion to have, but sometimes hard discussions are needed, and we cannot shy away from having them. However, I am glad to see the bill finally in front of Parliament so that we can give police more tools to deal with dangerous sexual criminals.
The other component of the bill that I support is the ban on animal fighting. Some of my colleagues have had questions about the definition of animal fighting and the situations it would pertain to. At first glance, the proposed legislation is pretty clear in its intent to prevent animal fighting in a very specific context, and not with a broader set of non-specific definitions.
The reason this is also important to my NDP colleague's comment of a bare minimum in updating animal cruelty and animal welfare legislation in Canada is that this is another instance where animal abuse or cruelty can have broader societal implications for humans. For example, we know that dog fighting, in fact, most animal fighting, has been linked to gang activity or organized crime and illegal gambling. Therefore, if somebody does not want to look at the animal cruelty components of the proposed legislation, they should at least, at a bare minimum, look at the fact that this particular activity is known to have broader implications for crime in Canadian society. It is one of these rare situations where we have consensus among a broad variety of stakeholders that this is something Parliament should be passing and undertaking.
Some colleagues raised concerns with me that it might affect rodeos in Canada. I do not take it to read that way, but perhaps the Minister of Justice, the parliamentary secretary or officials could speak to the intent of it as well, which might get rid of some of the concerns that my colleagues have in that regard. As a member of Parliament from Calgary, I do not see rodeos as places where animals are fighting each other, or fighting to the death. That is not the case, and so I would not see that as the intent of this proposed legislation. However, perhaps the minister could clarify that to ensure that there are no unintended consequences from the bill.
Also, because I believe this may have come up, perhaps my colleague from Beaches—East York might want to speak to the fact that some of those concerns were raised during the committee study of his bill. Even though his bill was defeated in this place, the intent of that proposed legislation was to be specific and to deal with a specific problem. However, one of the approaches my colleague from Beaches—East York took in that somewhat frustrating journey with his private member's bill was, to my understanding, to try to update the animal welfare legislation by drilling down towards specific problems and then come up with specific legislation so there would be no broader impact on Canadian agriculture.
The feedback I often get from colleagues or stakeholder communities is whether this would affect medical research or someone's ability to run a ranch. I certainly do not think that is the case.