Alistair Speaks on Lackluster Animal Cruelty Proposal


Alistair MacGregor (Cowichan—Malahat—Langford):

Mr. Speaker, I am happy to be partaking in today's debate on Bill C-84. It touches some subject matter which is difficult to talk about, but that is often the case with the Criminal Code. The Criminal Code is a gigantic statute that has to cover everything that could possibly go wrong in society and figure out how we amend and correct that behaviour, but also how we dole out punishment.

Bill C-84 is specifically aimed at addressing gaps in the Criminal Code that exist with respect to animal bestiality and animal fighting. Supreme Court decision R. v. D.L.W., from 2016, was referenced by both the Minister of Justice and the hon. member for Calgary Nose Hill.

Specifically, Bill C-84 would update section 160 of the Criminal Code to include a broader and more comprehensive definition of “bestiality” and would amend paragraph 445.(1)(b) and subsection 447(1) to address animal fighting, specifically building facilities to harbour animal fighting and also promoting or making money from the event.

Canada's animal welfare laws have not been substantively changed since the 1890s, which has to say something to anyone listening to this debate.

I want to acknowledge the member for Calgary Nose Hill, who brought forward a private member's bill on this issue, Bill C-388. In her drafting of Bill C-84, the Minister of Justice lifted Bill C-388 and included it. Therefore, that is an acknowledgement of the work the member for Calgary Nose Hill has done.

I know the member for Calgary Nose Hill was recently in a bit of a tussle with an iPolitics columnist on an article he recently wrote. He was looking at some of the statistics that existed with this crime. There is the Supreme Court of Canada case I mentioned and there has been one case in federal court. Even in the province of Alberta, which is home to 4.3 million people, six people were charged with that offence between 2013 and 2017. Therefore, it is not a very wide ranging crime. It is certainly an abhorrent one and one we should we should rightfully close in the Criminal Code.

What I am concerned about is not really what is in Bill C-84, which I hope will receive unanimous consent in the House to have it sent to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. I am mostly concerned about what is not in it. I also agree with the member for Calgary Nose Hill's assessment of the glacial pace of justice reform by the Liberal government.

The minister came to power with a mandate letter from the Prime Minister, signalling bold criminal justice reform. We had a series of four government bills, which I will not number. Every time a new justice bill was added, like an amoeba, it would swallow the components of the first one and progressively get bigger and bigger. However, they were all languishing at first reading. Finally, we arrived at Bill C-75 and there was action on that bill, which I believe is currently at the justice committee. However, it has been a pretty glacial pace.

I like and respect the Minister of Justice. I was our party's justice critic for the entire 2017 year. It is a complex subject matter and requires a lot of responsibility and maturity to approach it. However, I have to judge the minister on her performance and I would not really give her a passing mark on the legislative front with respect to the promises made within her mandate letter.

I want to now move to a story from my riding, a story of Teddy the dog. This really goes to the heart of what is not included in Bill C-84. I will give my support to the bill, but I know constituents in my riding will be sorely disappointed. Teddy the dog was one of the most brutal cases of animal abuse the BC SPCA has ever witnessed.

In February of this year, officers came onto a property and found an adult dog tethered by a few inches. It was standing out in the wet and the cold in a pile of its own feces. The officers found a collar imbedded in that dog's neck that had caused the dog's head to swell to three times its original size, because it had been left on the dog from the time it was a puppy. The collar had never been loosened. When the officers removed the poor animal named Teddy and brought it to the veterinarian, the vet had to surgically remove that collar, which exposed the dog's trachea and a mound of infected flesh. Unfortunately, that dog passed away from its injuries.

It is far too often in this country that we hear of cases like that. Changing our laws would not be the magic bullet to solve this problem, but it would be one key, critical component, especially when we have such obvious gaps in our system.

There was a rally in my riding in March, where, as I said earlier, we had people from across the political spectrum. We had supporters of the Conservative Party, the Liberal Party, my party and the Green Party. They were all united, because they cared about animal welfare, and they cared that the state of our animal cruelty laws is not up to what it should be right now.

During that rally, I made a commitment that despite the defeat of Bill C-246, put forward by the member for Beaches—East York, I would continue pressuring the Minister of Justice to close these gaps and address the shortcomings of our current criminal law.

The unfortunate fallout from the case of Teddy the dog was that some people in the community felt that they could take the law into their own hands. A great deal of racism came out of it, because it involved a property on a first nation reserve. Therefore, I want to take this opportunity to remind constituents in my riding that racism and vigilantism have no place in our community. While we must always stand on guard for animal welfare, and certainly prosecute to the fullest extent of the law those who are found guilty, we have to let the law do its job. We have to believe in the rule of law. We cannot support or condone in any way people taking up a case for themselves. I want to make that very clear.

As I mentioned in my question to the Minister of Justice, not only this Parliament but previous Parliaments have wrestled with the idea of the inadequacy of the Criminal Code provisions with respect to animal cruelty. There have been a number of Liberal bills and New Democrat bills over previous Parliaments that have dealt with this issue.

I will get to the bill put forward by the member for Beaches—East York, but first I want to mention the bill put forward in a previous Parliament by the great Irwin Cotler, probably one of the most revered Liberals ever and a former minister of justice himself. He introduced Bill C-610. It only made it to first reading, but that particular bill tried to make some important updates, specifically with respect to failing to provide adequate care. Bill C-610 was introduced on June 6, 2014. I want to read into the record the speech Mr. Cotler gave at that time:

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise and introduce this legislation, which amends the Criminal Code's provisions on animal cruelty. In particular, it creates a new offence of inadequate and negligent care of animals. The bill establishes an offence for anyone who negligently causes unnecessary pain, suffering or injury to an animal or a bird, or, being the owner, wilfully or recklessly abandons it or fails to provide suitable and adequate food, water, air, shelter and care for it. It also punishes those who negligently injure an animal or bird while it is being conveyed.

He went on to say that “Canada's animal cruelty laws are woefully out of date.” He left it at that.

The former member for Parkdale—High Park, Peggy Nash, introduced Bill C-232 in the last Parliament. The hon. member for Vancouver Centre, in the previous Parliament, introduced Bill C-277. There has been multi-party support for these initiatives, but every time, they seem to have run into roadblocks.

Coming up to the most recent attempt in this Parliament, Bill C-246, which was introduced by the member for Beaches—East York, unfortunately I was not present for that second reading vote. I was travelling with the Special Committee on Electoral Reform at that time. I was substituting on it. We were hearing from the great people of Atlantic Canada about how great it would be to have some electoral reform. Unfortunately, the Liberals did not see it the same way. We will see how that conversation goes on in the future.

In any case, I think the member for Beaches—East York acknowledged that his particular private member's bill probably bit off more than it could chew, as it was trying to cover so many different angles. The more a private member's bill covers, the more areas people can find problems with and reasons to shut the whole thing down. I know that there were concerns raised by my Conservative colleagues, especially with respect to legal activities such as ranching, hunting, fishing, trapping, medical research and so on. I think there are ways to proceed with legislation that would address those concerns.

My wife and I have a small farming property. I come from a rural area of Vancouver Island. My constituents like to hunt and fish, and many of them are farmers. I would not support a piece of legislation unless there were specific provisions to protect those activities. I have some of the best salmon fishing in the world right off the west coast of Vancouver Island, which I enjoy. That is something that is a part of our heritage.

I raise animals. Most farmers will say that looking after the welfare of their animals is good for business. We do not want to have animals that are sickly or in poor health. I can attest to that. I have chickens, turkeys and lambs. When they are happy and well looked after, they do very well. It is in my interest not only from a moral point of view but from a commercial standpoint. There are always going to be those few bad apples who give everyone a bad name. However, that is specifically what this law has to be designed for, to weed out the bad apples and go after those who are the poor farmers who give everyone a bad name, and so on.

In 2016, when the member for Victoria, who was our party's justice critic and is now back to being the justice critic, rose to give our party's response to Bill C-246, he addressed those concerns. He said that we can insert clauses into the Criminal Code that start off with the phrase “For greater certainty” to make the necessary changes.

I heard concerns during that debate from Conservatives who wondered about jurisdictional and constitutional issues, because we know that the provinces have their own animal cruelty laws, as does the federal government. However, the supremacy of the criminal law power could easily override provincial legislation to ensure that we were not ending up with a patchwork quilt and that the law applied equally in each province, no matter where one lived. The Supreme Court of Canada has held that valid criminal law requires a prohibition, a penalty and a criminal law purpose, such as peace, order, security, morality and health. A change with respect to animal cruelty could easily satisfy all of those.

Here we are three years into the government's mandate, which I alluded to in my opening remarks. With respect to Bill C-84, there is so much more that could have been included in this bill. I said to the Minister of Justice during questions and comments that, with respect, the provisions in Bill C-84, which is not a very big bill, are very much the low-hanging fruit. I do not see how anyone in this place could raise any legitimate concerns about the bill, except for tinkering around the edges, such as whether some words could be modified. The general purpose of the bill is to broaden the definition of “bestiality” and to make sure that we have an all-encompassing law that goes against animal fighting. We are not going to find any significant objection to that.

However, the minister saying, after the defeat of Bill C-246, that the conversation would continue, that the Department of Justice would be having ongoing consultations with stakeholders, I think led many Canadians to believe that reform was actually coming. Therefore, when I announced to my constituents that we had Bill C-84 and what was missing, I had to convey a sense of disappointment.

Honestly, I think I and many constituents and many Canadians across this country were expecting a lot more, not only because it is three years into the government's mandate but because it is also two years after the defeat of Bill C-246. I know that the member for Beaches—East York has conveyed publicly that Bill C-84 is an obvious choice and is the low-hanging fruit. However, there is a sense of wondering what else is coming.

The Liberals are masters of the long promise. They say that they are continuing to engage with people, but I would not be surprised if we have to wait until the 43rd Parliament before we get some action. Who knows who will be in power at that point to deliver it?

My party has long supported animal cruelty measures. I have mentioned all the private members' bills. We could have included in this legislation, and I hope this is something the committee on justice and human rights will look at, some provisions for basic standards of care.

If I look at the case of Teddy the dog, in my riding, he was tethered with a chain just a few inches long and was having to stand in his own pile of feces. The B.C. SPCA has some specific recommendations the government could take note of. Basically, they want to see, for any dogs or animals that are tethered, five freedoms respected: freedom from hunger and thirst; freedom from pain, injury and disease; freedom from distress; freedom from discomfort and freedom to express behaviours that promote well-being. That is a starting point. There are lots of suggestions out there. There are many different stakeholders involved in this issue, and this is something the government could have taken note of.

As I referenced in my earlier questions and comments, I have written to the minister on this issue on behalf of constituents. Prior to Bill C-84 being introduced, I conveyed in my correspondence to the justice minister the concerns of my community about how many cases of animal cruelty exist across this country and that this particular case acted as a catalyst. People are demanding more action.

The minister did respond in June of this year. Again, it was not really anything concrete. She assured me that the government was intending to review all the options to improve any gaps in protection resulting from the existing Criminal Code provision, which is something that has not been done yet. The minister agreed publicly that animal cruelty is a significant social issue that needs to be addressed, and so on. There are many public comments that come from the government that signal an intent to do something, but when we actually get something concrete, like Bill C-84, we see that it has not amounted to much.

Just to highlight how important this particular issue is and why these gaps are so important, I want to speak about some of the statistics. It was reported, I think a couple of years ago, that there are approximately 45,000 animal cruelty complaints in Canada every year, but only one in 1,000 result in charges and far fewer in convictions. That is a significant difference between complaints and actual action in the court system. It says to me that there is definitely a need for this legislation.

I will conclude by saying that we support these gaps being addressed in the Criminal Code. Bill C-84 is an important first step. The Minister of Justice can be assured that we, as a caucus, will be supporting this bill going forward to committee, but we will remind Canadians that there was so much more that could have been done. It is a sad day that, after three years, we are still going to have to wait for those meaningful parts to be addressed.

Ken McDonald (Avalon):

Mr. Speaker, I would just mention that as a former municipal leader, we ran into trouble with animal cruelty, especially toward dogs in our community. Trying to solve that issue was paramount. One concern was finding out that under law, a dog was considered property and not anything other than that. To try to tell someone that he or she could not do this to a piece of property they owned was difficult.

Would the member comment on this? In getting this done and getting it done right, we need all three levels of government: municipal, provincial and federal. All of them have a role to play when it comes to dogs in the community. It is usually a municipal responsibility first, and then one must go to the province to get some authority to do something.

Would the member not agree that we have to get all the levels of government at the table and get this done right, because it is time to have it done? We have to respect animals, and we have to make sure that people are treating them with proper care and concern.

Alistair MacGregor (Cowichan—Malahat—Langford):

Mr. Speaker, I very much agree with my colleague. I said in my speech that amending the Criminal Code with respect to animal cruelty is but one tool in the tool box. By itself, it is not going to solve this problem.

When I had that community meeting in my riding, following the case of Teddy the dog, we had representatives there from the local first nations, from municipal government, a provincial MLA and myself as the federal MP. We all committed to doing what we could in our individual jurisdictions. There was that real willingness to come together to do what each of us could in our respective jurisdictions. My job as the federal member of Parliament was to take the case to this place, to our House of Commons, and to argue for the changes to the Criminal Code. I was really heartened to see the willingness of all my counterparts, not only in local organizations but in local government, to come together to address this issue.

One of the big things is education. The fact of the matter is in a lot of cases of animal cruelty, we are dealing with people who simply do not know how to properly look after an animal. Addressing that, first and foremost, could solve a lot of these cases.

As in everything, it is not a black-and-white issue. It requires a lot of moving parts. I firmly believe that updating the Criminal Code provisions, which have been languishing in some cases since the 1890s, is going to be one of those key components. I certainly hope we see some action from that member's government, if not in the short term, at least as a promise for the 2019 election.

Jenny Kwan (Vancouver East):

Mr. Speaker, if we look on Google, all too often we will find horrible stories of animal cruelty, such as the story the member just shared with us about Teddy the dog in his community.

There has to be more that we can do. When we think about pets, when we think about animals, they are more than property. For a lot of folks, certainly in my own family and others, when there is a pet in the house, the animal is considered part of the family.

There need to be laws to ensure the proper treatment of animals, the care that people need to give to them, but there is the enforcement side of it as well. Perhaps the member could speak about associations and organizations, such as the SPCA, and what kind of support they could receive from all levels of government so that together we could work on this larger project to support and protect animals which cannot speak for themselves and to ensure they get the care they require.

Alistair MacGregor (Cowichan—Malahat—Langford):

Mr. Speaker, in the earlier part of her comments my colleague was making the juxtaposition between statistics and those individual cases which really act as a catalyst.

We can see the same in the whole affair with Saudi Arabia. The war in Yemen is causing millions of people to starve, and it is an absolutely horrendous war that the Saudi government is intimately involved in. In that case, it took one journalist to really focus the world's attention on the atrocities of that regime.

It is the same with animal cruelty. I read out statistics. Statistics by themselves do not galvanize people. It is an unfortunate fact that animal cruelty happens far too often. Sometimes there is that one case, like Teddy the dog, which is so horrific it just flips a switch and suddenly everyone across the political spectrum is talking about it and they want to see action. I very much agree.

With respect to the local organizations I have to commend the officers of the B.C. SPCA who not only had to go on the property to rescue that poor animal, but who also do that kind of work every day on our behalf. Absolutely, they need support. They need to have an adequate funding model. They also need to have the tools necessary, such as provisions in the Criminal Code, so that they can bring about charges that are necessary, so that people who are engaged in these despicable acts have the full force of the law come down on them. People who are guilty of these acts need to be held accountable in an appropriate way.

As I said earlier, this is one important piece of the puzzle, one tool that we could give organizations, like the SPCA, so that they can do that important work on behalf of our communities every single day.

Kevin Lamoureux (Winnipeg North):

Mr. Speaker, I very much appreciate the many comments regarding the issue of animal cruelty. We know that Canadians love their pets: their dogs, cats, birds, and many different types of pets. The overriding concern is that the national government, municipal governments in particular, and provincial governments understand that there is a role in terms of protecting animals.

My colleague made reference to this whole patchwork idea. Yes, Ottawa does play the national leadership role. We have before us legislation that would move the ball forward, and maybe not as far forward as some members would like to see it, but we are moving in the right direction. Could the member emphasize the importance of the different stakeholders working together in order to advance this very important issue?

Alistair MacGregor (Cowichan—Malahat—Langford):

Mr. Speaker, I agree. This problem is a complex one. Many cases are very different from each other both in the crime that was perpetrated and also in the background of the people and animal involved. It always will require people working together at various levels. That being said, there are significant gaps that exist in the criminal law. I believe that in order for us to be effective, those are one of the key spokes in the wheel of this issue that we need to absolutely fix.

I welcome Bill C-84. As the member said, it is moving the ball forward. However, I will not withhold my criticism for his government and say that it has been moving at a pretty glacial pace on judicial reform both in appointing judges and in amending the Criminal Code, especially for a government that came to power with such bold promises of action.

Bill C-84 is welcomed, but I look at it as yet another missed opportunity where the justice minister, who is supposedly committed to this issue and has even made many statements in the media committing to it, lost the opportunity to put in provisions that not only New Democrats support but many Liberal members, including former justice minister Irwin Cotler have supported in the past.