MP Sopuck Speech in the House of Commons on Bill C-246 (Full Text)

May 9, 2016

House of Commons CrestSpeech on Bill C-246
Second Reading
Robert Sopuck, MP
Dauphin-Swan River-Neepawa
May 9th, 2016

Mr. Speaker, I rise in this House today to speak against Bill C-246, the so called Modernizing Animal Protections Act.

I am very proud to represent the vast rural constituency of Dauphin-Swan River-Neepawa in west central Manitoba. My riding is primarily agricultural and, in addition to producing grains and oilseeds, the land supports thriving cattle and hog industries.

My constituency is also blessed with vast tracts of natural habitats and numerous lakes that support hunting, angling and trapping; activities that are critical to our way of life and our thriving tourism industry. The wise use of our fish and wildlife resources and the efficient, humane, and environmentally sound raising of livestock are critical to maintaining the economy and way of life in my riding.

It is my duty as MP to vigorously defend our way of life against the ill-conceived Bill C-246.

Let me be very clear, Mr. Speaker. We all support animal welfare but animal welfare is a far cry from “animal rights.” Canada has good animal welfare legislation at both the federal and provincial levels.

However, Bill C-246 is a Trojan horse that would advance a pure animal rights agenda. And, Mr. Speaker; the animal rights movement is very clear that their primary goal is the elimination of all animal use.

Animal Justice Canada supports C-246 and they are “working to enshrine meaningful animal rights in Canadian law, including the right of animals to have their interests represented in court, and the guarantee of rights and freedoms that make life worth living.”

The group PETA on the masthead of their website proudly state that “animals are not ours to kill, eat, wear, experiment upon or exploit for entertainment.”

And then there is PETA’s famous line: “When it comes to pain, love, joy, loneliness, a rat is a pig is a dog is a boy.”

There are many other animal rights groups who are advancing the same agenda AND supporting Bill C-246.

The Criminal Code of Canada and all Provinces have comprehensive provisions that criminalize various kinds of animal cruelty and neglect.

The Courts have for decades consistently interpreted these provisions as not intending to forbid conduct that is socially acceptable or otherwise authorized by law such as hunting, fishing, medical research and slaughter for food.

What does the Bill C-246 Change?

These are just some of the most serious problems with this Bill:

1) Offences against Animals would no longer be offences against “Certain Property”:
This significant change takes animal cruelty offences out of the section dealing with offences against “Certain Property” and moves to the section of the Criminal Code dealing with offences against persons, giving rise to the suggestion that animals are no longer a special type of “property” but are beings potentially entitled to rights similar to persons.

2) Inclusion of new “Recklessly” test:
The new section 182.1 includes the test of “recklessly” to the existing “wilfully” test for causing unnecessary pain, suffering or injury to an animal. This expands the kind of conduct that could be criminalized.

3) New “kills an animal” offences:
The Bill adds two new offences that are not currently in the Criminal Code:
182.2(1) Everyone commits an offence who, wilfully or recklessly:…
(b) kills an animal or, being the owner, permits an animal to be killed, brutally or viciously, regardless of whether the animal dies immediately;
(c) kills an animal without lawful excuse;

This “brutally or viciously” test is completely novel, and does not appear to have previously been used in any Canadian statute, or interpreted in any Canadian Court. And this provision does not appear to exist in any legislation in the United Kingdom, Australia, or the United States. It creates a new and very broad offence. For example, would the current method of cooking lobster by placing them alive in a pot of boiling water be criminalized?

Currently, “killing an animal” is not the focus of the Criminal Code. Cruelty, not killing, was the focus of the offences. This new test forces the Court to evaluate the method of killing chosen, and if it falls within the test, or there is no “lawful excuse”, criminalizes the behavior. “Lawful excuse” is not defined in C-246.
These two sections, depending on how they would be interpreted by the courts, could have the effect of criminalizing many recreational, agricultural, commercial, scientific (medical research), and religious (Kosher or Halal butchering) animal uses.

4) Addition of “negligence” standard
This widening of the test for criminalizing from “wilfully” under the current section to the much lower “negligently” test in the new Bill can have the potential of criminalizing far more types of behaviour.

And it must be noted, that anyone convicted under the expanded provisions will now have a criminal record that will follow them for the rest of their lives, affecting international travel and employment prospects

A person will no longer have to be wilfully cruel to be criminalized, just clumsy, incompetent or unlucky. For example, this section could create consequences for accidently striking an animal with a vehicle.

This is a vast expansion of criminal liability to areas of activity that should not be affected by the Criminal law, or are already regulated under other existing Federal and Provincial legislation.

5) No specific exceptions for legal conduct to offences listed:
The Bill provides in 182.5 that common law defences in sections 8(3) and 429(2) of the Criminal Code are not affected. But these are defences to the commission of the offence, not the exclusion of otherwise legal activities from being criminalized under the Criminal Code.

These specific legal activities (e.g. ranching, hunting, fishing, trapping, medical research etc.) should be clearly listed in the Bill, so that otherwise legal activities should be taken out of the Criminal Code completely and not criminalized.

6) Possible Constitutional issues:
All Provinces have animal cruelty laws. Where a Federal bill criminalizes activity that is deemed lawful and regulated under Provincial law, constitutional issues relating to the validity of the statutes arise. This is another reason to clearly and specifically spell out which otherwise lawful activities are not being criminalized.

Mr. Speaker, the Criminal Code is meant to contain laws that criminalize certain actions or behaviours. It is meant to be broad enough to allow enforcement, but specific enough to target particular actions. The problem with this legislation is that it is not targeting specific actions. We don’t actually know what action may be considered criminal with this vague language. It doesn’t even provide a list of activities which are permitted.

In terms of C-246, many people mistakenly think that this is a “rural vs urban” issue or that it is all about hunting, angling, trapping, and ranching. If enacted C-246 would affect ALL Canadians.

Let’s look at medical research.

Most if not all animal rights groups oppose animal-based medical research. Canadians must realize that most significant medical breakthroughs result from animal-based medical research. Approximately 60% of all cardio-vascular research is conducted on animals.

The Heart and Stroke Foundation notes:
“Remarkable progress has been made tackling cardiovascular disease in Canada over the past 60 years with death rates declining by more than 75 per cent. This has largely been due to research advances in surgical procedures, drug therapies and prevention effortsi.”

It must be noted, Mr. Speaker, that ALL surgical techniques are developed and tested on animals before they are applied to humans. Humanity owes a great deal of gratitude to those animals that were sacrificed so that we might live.

I and hundreds of thousands of Canadians are alive today because of cardiovascular advancements such as stents, implantation of animal valves in human hearts, and new drug therapies. All of which were developed using animal experimentation. To say we should stop performing medical research on animals is to say let’s stop making life-saving medical breakthroughs. That is not acceptable to me, or most Canadians.

Some of these groups want to stop using animals, while others would prefer to push even further and use vexatious litigation to punish those who use animals in any manner. Animal rights activists have been at the forefront to eliminate animal use. And the effect of their campaigns have been devastating for remote, rural communities, such as those represented by the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, that depend on sealing and trapping; communities represented by MPs from all parties in this House. And it is not inconceivable that pet ownership could be severely curtailed under C-246.

Mr. Speaker, I do not approve of wilful cruelty to animals, however, words are very important, and I fear the language in C-246 will not in fact crack down on those who wilfully harm animals, but will instead put legitimate and necessary animal use practices in legal jeopardy.

All it takes is one court case to cast a chill over continued animal use in an industry or region. And indeed the opponents of animal use will use this avenue if available. Bill C-246 provides that avenue.

Once a judge sets a precedent, others will follow suit, which is exactly what groups like Animal Justice Canada are hoping for.

I could not in good conscience vote for legislation that could potentially cast a chill over medical research on animals, potentially criminalize ranchers, trappers and jeopardize traditional outdoor activities such as hunting and angling, along with the many other legitimate animal use practices that are vital for our health, economy, and well-being.

I would ask my colleagues to consider these serious concerns, and vote against Bill C-246.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.