I'll cut right to the chase: Canada is failing its animals, and it is time for change. Given the chance to modernize the out-dated and woefully inadequate animal cruelty provisions in the Criminal Code of Canada 13 times over the past 16 years, our lawmakers have consistently declined to protect animals.
Yesterday during the first hour of debate for Bill C-246 in the House of Commons, Bill Blair, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice, said without a hint of irony that the Government of Canada would like to kill Bill C-246 in favour of studying animal cruelty amendments as part of a larger review of the whole Criminal Code. (Read the debate here: http://www.parl.gc.ca/Parliamentarians/en/PublicationSearch?PubType=37)
He said this as if these amendments were not introduced originally as part of the last "effort" to "modernize' the Criminal Code starting in 1999.
Mr. Blair said it needed broad public consultation, as if Bill C-246 did not have the sad distinction of being the most widely and publicly debated set of amendments possibly in the history of the Canada. These amendments have already passed through the House of Commons 3 times and made it to third reading in the Senate of Canada. Not once was it killed by Parliament but rather succumbed to delay tactics and prorogation each time.
But our government indicated yesterday it wants to kill Bill C-246 in order to have MORE public consultation.
Frankly, there is a disconnect between what Canadians want and what we're getting from our elected representatives. According to a 2015 Environics poll, 92 per cent of Canadians believe that we need better laws to protect Canada's animals.
This is just the most recent poll in a long line of polls, petitions, statements, post cards and letters that say exactly the same thing. A large majority of Canadians have remained faithful in their call for the modernization of our animal cruelty laws for decades. So why haven't we gotten there?
Because, each time a new version of the Bill is introduced, animal-use industries start a well-funded targeted campaign of fearmongering and misinformation to stall, or better yet, derail the process.
Over the last few months, we've heard uninformed guesswork and groundless "what ifs" about the potential powers of Bill C-246. The detractors have tried to plant the seeds of doubt about its supposed dangers, hidden agendas and unintended consequences through rumours and sometimes down right intentional falsehoods.
But before we address the fearmongering, let's talk about its intended consequences.
Bill C-246 has an important role to play in moving forward animal protection in Canada. It will neither stop nor change farming, fishing, hunting or research. These activities are protected under Canadian law as well as by social convention.
Let's not fall into the trap of responding to these inflammatory guesses about what might happen under Bill C-246 if lawyers forgot how to practice law and judges forgot how to interpret it. The longer we entertain these naïve notions, the longer opponents to animal protection can avoid talking about the harsh realities that animals face in Canada, which is why we need this legal reform so desperately.
Realities such as:
• Prosecutors often avoid laying criminal charges against animal abusers because the loopholes in the current laws make convictions so unlikely.
• Under our current laws, even if someone starves an animal to death slowly over the period of several months, prosecutors need to prove an intent to harm the animal in order to get a conviction on charges of neglect.
• It may not be an offence to beat an animal to death for absolutely no reason -- so long as the animal dies right away.
• Currently animal sexual abuse may not be prosecutable. A recent BC Court of Appeal decision established that, under the law, penetration is the only thing that should be considered an act of bestiality; therefore all other forms of sexual interference may be legal. The court asked Parliament to fix this.
• Canada's current animal cruelty provisions exist under the Property Offences section of the Criminal Code. This indicates that animals are only worth protecting if they are someone's property.
Bill C-246 will:
• Close legal loopholes related animal fighting, bestiality, animal neglect and animal cruelty, making it easier to charge and convict puppy mill operators, animal fighting rings, sex offenders who engage in bestiality and animal abusers who beat, neglect or kill their animals.
• Increase sentences for repeat animal abusers and create a mandatory lifetime ban on owning animals after the second conviction.
• Move offences against animals out of the property section and into a new dedicated section called "Offences against animals".
• Ban the import of shark fins, cat and dog fur into Canada.
• Create a new offence to address the brutal or vicious killing of animals.
Now let's address the myths and rumours that are being spread.
Myth: Our current animal cruelty laws are adequate.
Fact: Humane societies and SPCAs across Canada investigate more than 45,000 cruelty complaints each year, but only a small percentage are successfully prosecuted. This is because our animal cruelty laws are among the weakest in the world.
Myth: This is a thinly-veiled attempt to give animals human rights.
Fact: There is no hidden agenda - Bill C-246 does not confer any rights to animals. Canadians disagree with the abuse and exploitation of animals and are tired of the everyday physical and sexual abuse of animals that - more often than not - doesn't even lead to charges, much less convictions.
Myth: This is just an attempt to eliminate all animal use. The right to hunt, fish and farm is under attack!
Fact: The backlash against this Bill has been focused on fear mongering about what Canadians might lose in order to gain much-needed protections for animals. But what's at risk isn't hunting, fishing or farming. As I mentioned, these activities are protected under Canadian law as well as by social convention. What's truly at risk is our humanity. We need to step up and do the right thing for Canada's animals: pass Bill C-246, The Modernizing Animal Protections Act.
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