Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Animal Cruelty

The Galloping Beaver and Creekside discuss Stephen Harper's high profile campaign for pet adoption. You can't really argue with the cause, although there is clearly a political angle at play, as it relates to gentle Stephen. That aside, a net positive no matter how you slice it. Stephen Harper cares about animals, that is the message conveyed on the government site.

However, there is something missing and the silence is deafening. Presently, there are two different bills before Parliament which, to differing degrees, tackle the issue of animal cruelty. Senator John Bryden's bill S-213, which brings stiffer penalties for traditional animal abuse, has already gone through the Senate and has passed 2nd reading in Parliament. A far more ambition bill, MP Mark Holland's C-373, introduced last October, has gone nowhere, collecting dust. Both are private member bills, neither initiated by the Conservatives, which could die if the government terminates this Parliament.

It's fine to pose with kitty, and even better to push adoption, but it seems logical that we should see some legislation, given the apparent high-profile. If Harper finds it necessary to put adoption on the frontpage, why haven't we seen any government initiated measure to tackle clearly outdated laws, that treat animals with little dignity? Will the government re-introduce the above private member bills, or are they crafting their own bill? Why are Liberal officials the only ones to raise the issue? Just asking.


Mark Dowling said...

This happened under a Liberal government and a "Liberal" Senate

Parliament has been considering this issue since the Liberal government introduced a bill in 1999. Repeatedly, the bill and its subsequent incarnations have died on the order paper. Again, its days are numbered.

The bill is stalled in the Senate after passing the House of Commons in March. Senators sent the bill to their legal affairs committee last month for study. But the committee didn't even bother to put the bill on the agenda for its final meeting last Wednesday, effectively dooming it because once an election is called, all unpassed legislation dies.

Senators are scheduled to resume sitting next Tuesday after the long weekend. That likely won't happen because Prime Minister Paul Martin is expected to call an election before then, which will dissolve Parliament.

Unless Martin delays an election, cracks the whip and tells the 66 Liberals in the 105-seat chamber to ram the legislation through next week, Canadians must wait even longer for tougher animal-welfare laws.

And wait they have. Good for Bryden and Holland but Liberals should be ashamed that more wasn't done when they had every opportunity. That fiasco was just another reason we need a proper, Parliament Act-type structure to ensure the supremacy of the Commons.

Steve V said...


Fair point, but that doesn't excuse the NOW, particularly when you are trying to create the impression that you are genuinely concerned about animals.

Steve V said...

This sums up the Conservative position on C-50, which is the same as Holland's new bill:

Vic Toews "Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to address Bill C-50, an act to amend the Criminal Code in respect of cruelty to animals.

It has been a great source of frustration for many Canadians that the government has been attempting to legislate changes to animal cruelty offences since 1999 without success. Several versions of this bill have wound their way through the House and Senate only to die on the order paper. The parliamentary secretary did go through those previous versions. There were concerns that the proposed amendments could have criminalized some common and lawful activities such as catch and release fishing, trapping, hunting, and even some farming practices.

We are not just talking about our friends the animals, which is how urban people might view animals, and we have lots of animal friends. I have a dog who is a friend. Animals are also used in the context of agriculture, and those animals are not necessarily our friends. We have to recognize that animals play a dual role in our society. I recall the 2% strychnine solution being argued here regarding our friends the gophers. Gophers destroy thousands of acres of land every year and kill or hurt other animals that fall into gopher holes. We have to remember that all animals are not our friends.

Throughout the debates on these bills, Conservative MPs and senators strongly expressed their desire to prevent abuse of animals, but sought legal protection for those who use animals for legitimate, lawful and justified practices. The Senate was ultimately successful in amending Bill C-10B to narrow the definition of animal and to ensure that current legal defences for legitimate practices would be maintained.

Bill C-10B was reprinted in the House of Commons as Bill C-22, and was supported by the Conservative Party in light of the Senate amendments. However, the bill died at committee in the Senate in May 2004 before the last general election.

As the parliamentary secretary has explained, this enactment would amend the Criminal Code by consolidating animal cruelty offences and increasing the maximum penalties.

One of the things we have to realize is that these changes to the Criminal Code will not make it easier to prosecute animal offences. It is very difficult to prosecute animal offences. We hear about all kinds of horrendous examples such as skinning a cat, or putting cats into microwaves, those kinds of things. The point is that these changes will not make it any easier to prosecute those types of offences. The injustice that is often done is a result of inadequate evidence to prosecute the offence.

I am not necessarily opposing these amendments. We have voted on them many times already. I am suggesting that when there is a conviction, meaningful sentences should be put in place. There have been philosophical debates about whether an animal is property or whether it is not quite a human being, as some animal rights activists would have us believe, but the point is that appropriate penalties need to be in place so that when these difficult cases are successfully prosecuted, meaningful sentences are imposed.

One of the concerns that many animal groups involved in agriculture, fishing and hunting have mentioned to me about the current bill is that it would make it illegal to brutally and viciously kill an animal regardless of whether or not the animal dies immediately. I have a lot of concerns about that particular provision because it really takes an urban person's point of view about the killing of an animal. Many urban people look at the practice of killing a particular animal as being brutal and vicious and therefore that practice should be stopped. The real point we need to consider is not simply whether it looks brutal or vicious, but whether the animal in fact dies immediately. We want to minimize the animal's pain. I think all of us are agreed on that.


I am concerned that what we are doing here is taking a key relevant factor in determining whether or not something is brutal or vicious and making it irrelevant. We need to take a look at that particular issue. That more than any other issue has raised concerns for the groups who depend on animals for their livelihood.

I have no concern about raising the penalties. If there is genuine cruelty to animals and a prosecution is successful, we need to prosecute those cases vigorously and impose appropriate penalties.

There is one thing I find remarkable about Liberals. I wish Liberals would speak as passionately about human victims as they sometimes do about animal victims. I am very concerned about human victims. This is perhaps an appropriate segue into that entire issue.

I raised in question period the issue that under Bill C-70 a judge will be able to impose house arrest on someone who rapes a woman. The minister said that there would be exceptional circumstances where that would happen. I asked him in question period today under what exceptional circumstances should people who rape women serve their time at home. I am concerned about that kind of thing.

I am concerned about brutality toward animals, but I am also very concerned about the brutality that we demonstrate to other human beings. When we catch those animals who commit crimes against their fellow human beings, we say we should leave the door open for exceptional circumstances so that the poor rapist can serve his time at home. I am concerned about that kind of thing and I dare say most Canadians are.

I am concerned about drug dealers who are peddling poisons that kill our children. I am concerned about that. Yet under the Liberals' Bill C-70, drug dealers who are repeat offenders can get house arrest. I wish Liberals would talk as passionately about keeping those kinds of animals behind bars, those who would do that kind of thing to our children and fellow citizens.

I have pointed out a very practical problem with this bill. I hope the parliamentary secretary looks at that particular issue. At the same time I would encourage the parliamentary secretary to ask the Minister of Justice what he is doing in Bill C-70 to allow vicious, brutal rapists and drug dealers who are destroying our youth and communities to get house arrest in exceptional circumstances. We were assured by past justice ministers, Allan Rock and others, that it would never happen that conditional sentences or house arrest would be used for violent offences.

I want to see some amendments to this bill. I think it is moving in the right direction. We have had this debate over and over. I remind the parliamentary secretary that he should show the same concern for human victims as he does for animal victims."

I really like this frame:

"There is one thing I find remarkable about Liberals. I wish Liberals would speak as passionately about human victims as they sometimes do about animal victims."

This gives a flavor of Conservative position, in the context of Liberal "failure".

northwestern_lad said...

Steve... while I agree that these photo ops with kitties is something that would probably only appeal to 7 year old girls, but to point to the Liberals as the champions on this is a bit much.

Mark quoted the history on this, and the fact remains that the Liberals had 6 years to fix this, and didn't. That doesn't excuse the Conservatives, but this does smell a bit of the pot calling the kettle black.

Steve V said...


I'm not sure how I'm championing the Liberals? It is fair to point out the Liberal record, which I haven't defended, but it is really irrelevant to the present situation. The only reason I bring up the Con quote, is to balance Mark's detour about the past. I AM NOT defending past inaction, I think it's shameful. Having said that, there is an opportunity for captain kitty, if he is really serious, and not just trying to win over soccer mom's.

Anonymous said...

Kind of dumb to say because it wasn't done before it's an excuse for it not to be done now.

Let's get over blaming Liberals for everything (childish and weak) - take some responsibility and get it done.

This whole the Liberals didn't do it or Mulroney didn't do it....blah, blah, blah is tiresome and a waste of time.

Karen said...

"There is one thing I find remarkable about Liberals. I wish Liberals would speak as passionately about human victims as they sometimes do about animal victims."

Rolling my eyes. Yep, good old Toews sums it up. Liberals hate people and only care about animals and the Taliban.

The Liberal record is terrible from what is shown here, but why is that always presented as the excuse for inaction by the Con's, who vowed to do things differently?

It's like saying, "I know you are, but SO am I".

There is no question that this is designed to "appeal" and fair enough, but personally I'd like to see action on this legislation.

Btw, this urban/rural characterisation is wearing a bit thin. There are of course facts to support different views in each area, but that doesn't make one bad and one good. Can't they say anything without being devisive? I thought they wanted "citified" votes, ;).

Eric said...

Why do we need to update animal cruelty laws? I haven't heard of any massive outbreak of cruelty to animals?

Sorry if I sound uncaring, but if I had the choice between our politicians focusing on updating criminal laws for gun violence and updating animal cruelty laws I'd tend to focus on the former.

Not that our politicians seem to care much about anything at all..

Eric said...

Is it really that divisive to point out that urban-type people and rural-type people view issues differently because of their situations?

A rural dweller sees a gun as a tool for shooting varmits, an urban dweller does not because they do not use a gun to shoot varmits. Different background leads to different thinking.

Similarly, previous gun laws ran into trouble because politicians forgot that Olympic athletes need guns to practice. Because none had a background in target shooting they didn't realize how their laws could unintentionally affect others.

Jay said...

I'd like to see all road side zoos and petting farms and such shut down. We've had elephants loose, peacocks, and a kangaroo got killed on the highway just north of Toronto.

Obviously these animals are not properly handled and cared for. I have even seen many animals suffering from mange for crying out loud.

I don't care about who didn't do it. What I want to know is whose got the balls/ovaries to get it done.

Karen said...

souternontarian, it's simplistic and meant to be devisive.

I suspect that there are some in each community who know nothing about the other, but in this country, most of us tend to experience both environments in some capacity. Be it through travel, vacations, simply moving around the country to gain employment, family members living in a different environment, spouses from different areas, literature...there are all means of knowing about "others".

No one is locked into their backgrounds and no one should be reduced to such a narrow definition, imo.

Karen said...

Jay, I'm with you on the zoo's etc. Most are appalling. I'm not even fully supportive of good zoo's, though I understand their educational value.

But then, I don't even think you should be able to "catch and release". They proved that fish feel pain years ago.

I know, I know, I'm radical because I don't want to see anyone or anything experience pain or abuse. To be honest, my real beef is the fact that some think they have the "right" to inflict it.

northwestern_lad said...

Steve... point taken, and I wasn't saying that you were defending the past Liberal inaction. But when those Liberal MP's speak on matters like these, the past Liberal actions and inactions, as are any other parties past actions or inactions, are relevant because it speaks to the sincerity of what they say they would do. It all goes back to walking the walking. It's taking what they are saying with a grain of salt. It doesn't change what the Cons have and haven't done, that I agree with whole-heartedly.

Anonymous said...

Steve V, this is a valuable archive, and I thank you and everyone else who has contributed.

This has been going on since Alan Rock was justice minister. The national SPCAs have done pretzel twists to try to satisfy the lobbyists, and yet nothing ever works. There is something close to evangelical about the opposition, who will not believe that the legislation is not aimed at legitimate hunting, fishing, and farming practices.

It would be most valuable to figure out who the lobbyists are and how they are funded. I just don't know how we do that.

The SPCAs tend to be very measured in their responses because they are, of course, hoping that they can still get some decent legislation through.

But something smells very bad in this story, and it isn't the animals or the SPCAs.

Anonymous said...

Harper should draw a line in the sand and take a libertarian stance on animal cruelty.

This means that the Cons should defy Michael Bryant's ban on pit bulls and have Harper carry one on the campaign trail. He can throw a stuff doll of Stephane Dion and have the pit bull mull it in front of rabid Tory supporters.

In fact, Harper may be prudent enough to attract the rural vote by holding a few pit bull fighting fundraisers.

Steve V said...

"It would be most valuable to figure out who the lobbyists are and how they are funded"

Don't underestimate the role of the pharmaceutials.


"Sorry if I sound uncaring"

You do.


That is a great point. Just to add to knb's comment, certain animals shouldn't be allowed in major zoos. There is an educational benefit, and exhibits are increasingly interactive, but certain animals can't function in that environment. If anyone wants an example, visit a cougar or tiger exhibit, and notice the animal pacing back and forth constantly, with a well worn trail along the fenceline. The cougar at the Toronto zoo has gone, in my opinion, completely mad from captivity. It's pathetic.

Eric said...

Thanks for the insightful response Steve. Perhaps you can explain to me why we should focus on updating the penalties for these laws instead though.

I see no problem with the current penalties for cruelty to animals and no widespread systematic abuse of animals in general. So why change something if there's no problem? If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

knb, although I agree that people should not be locked into one particular mindset, I find it troubling that many people are. More troubling is the willingness for people to stick their noses into others' business when they do not understand the situation as well as locals do. But that is why we elect 308 MPs and not 1 person. Hopefully through diverse representation all views can be heard through rational and fair debate.