Nowhere is the sheer uselessness of the current Canadian Parliament more evident than in its handling of animal cruelty legislation.
An animal cruelty bill headed for final reading in the House of Commons on Friday has been condemned by opponents as “19th-century legislation adjusted for inflation.”
Bill S-203 is a sham
If Bill S-203 is passed in April or May, when it comes to a third and final reading in the House of Commons, our animal friends will suffer. The bill, which purports to update Canada’s Animal Cruelty Act, is a sham. Some of its critics say that its only function is to earn brownie points for politicians.
The bill’s critics include practically every animal protection group in Canada, from the SPCAs and humane societies to the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association and grassroots organizations.
The Canadian public wants better. Just read the letters to the editor every time humane society inspectors break up another miserable puppy mill hell. People will tolerate all kinds of objectionable behaviour towards humans. But when a yobbo drags his dog behind an SUV, the overwhelming public sentiment is to string him up.
And yet after more than eight years of trying, Canada’s elected Members of Parliament can’t pass a decent animal cruelty bill into law.
The current legislation, dating from 1892, is ineffective in both scope and penalty. Efforts to update it began in 1999 but quickly ran into a buzz saw of opposition from farmers and hunters.
Eventually a watered-down version passed the Commons and went to the Senate – only to be bogged down again. Animal researchers wanted to be exempted as did alligator wrestlers. Aboriginal groups worried that a ban on brutal treatment might impinge on their traditions. Jewish and Muslim groups fretted that tougher laws might affect ritual slaughter practices.
At that point, Liberal Senator John Bryden came up with the worst of all possible worlds – a new bill that would keep the loophole-ridden 1892 law as is but make the penalties (which in practice are rarely applied) harsher.
“(Prior attempts) died primarily because the bills tried to do too much,” Mr. Bryden said. “I put a bill in that didn’t change the law, it addressed the penalties.”
Harper’s Conservatives enthusiastically embraced his private member’s bill. The New Democrats and Bloc Québécois did not. Predictably, the Liberals were split.
Ajax-Pickering MP Mark Holland tried to introduce a much stronger Bill C-373. But rural Liberals tended to support Bryden’s do-little Senate version. In February, his Bill S-203 sailed through the Commons justice committee with Liberal support. Some said they didn’t much like S-203 but would pass it anyway and then fix it another year. The Canadian Federation of Humane Societies says that there’s faint hope of that happening.
“We all look forward to the day when our laws concerning the abuse of animals are brought into line with acceptable sentences. However, it is never wise to be too hasty in changing the Criminal Code, given the far-reaching and sometimes unexpected consequences that can flow from our decisions.” ~~ Senator Donald Oliver, Nova Scotia
Under S-203, there would be no legal definition of what an animal is, and animal neglect would have to be proven to be predetermined or willful in order to be prosecuted.
MPs planning to vote in favour of S-203 say that, granted, it’s not a great improvement over the old laws, but it is “a step in the right direction” that’s “better than nothing.” That is pure bull. S-203 is a useless and vacuous piece of legislation, a blocking tactic that will stall forward movement and do nothing to help animals.
Intent to harm must still be shown, and this makes it nearly impossible to get convictions, especially in cases of negligence. Fewer than 1 per cent of animal abuse complaints are successfully prosecuted, and S-203 will do nothing to change that. What good are stronger penalties when we can’t get convictions? And only animals that are somebody’s “property” are “protected” – not stray or wild animals.
A recent report by IFAW shows Canada has the worst animal cruelty laws among the 14 countries surveyed, including the Ukraine and the Philippines.
Compared with other developed countries, Canada’s Third World mentality on animal cruelty issues is beyond shameful.
A better solution: Bill C-373
The member’s bill that would actually do something to help animals is Holland’s Bill C-373.
Holland’s bill introduces the term “negligent” and defines it as “departing markedly from the standard of care that a reasonable person would use.” It prohibits the killing of any animal (owned or unowned) without a lawful excuse. (Lawful excuses include hunting, fishing, farming, euthanasia and self-protection.)
It outlaws killing an animal brutally or viciously, whether or not the animal dies immediately — which means that the boys in Edmonton who tied a dog to a tree and beat it to death would not get off on the basis that it died on the first blow (according to the examining vet) and therefore didn’t suffer. Other provisions deal with aspects such as fighting and baiting. Perhaps best of all, C-373 moves these laws out of the property chapter of the Criminal Code, reflecting the contemporary view of animals as sentient beings, rather than possessions.
MPs know that most Canadians support progressive animal abuse legislation. Those who disapprove of cruelty to animals may be interested in discovering how their MPs voted.
Excerpted from Thomas Walkom (Toronto Star, April 2), Matthew Jay (Ottawa Citizen, April 2), and A.S.A. Harrison (Globe and Mail, March 25)
Update on April 10
By a vote of 189-71, Bill S-203 passed final vote in the House of Commons on April 9th. It will become law once it receives Royal Assent and Proclamation.
More than 130,000 Canadians signed petitions specifically opposing Bill S-203. A 2006 poll found 85% of Canadians want modern and effective legislation that makes it easier for law enforcement agencies to prosecute those who commit criminal acts of animal cruelty.
Stated Pat Tohill, WSPA Programs Manager: “During the debate, many MPs argued that S-203 was only a first step. Many said they would support MP Mark Holland’s Bill C-373. Most said they would support further amendments to Canada’s animal cruelty laws. We will be holding MPs to their commitment to support further amendments to Canada’s cruelty laws. Canadians will not wait another century before animals are protected from heinous acts of cruelty in Canada.”
A more comprehensive animal cruelty bill has been passed by Canada’s House of Commons twice in the past ten years, receiving the support of all political parties only to die in the Senate.
The opposing votes were from NDP and some Liberal members and one Bloc MP. Conservatives stood steadfastly in support of this shameful bill that retains the archaic and problematic offences enacted in 1892.
To those MPs who supported Bill S-203, you can tick that off your list for another hundred years. Shame on you.