The House resumed from June 3 consideration of the motion that Bill C-35, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (law enforcement animals, military animals and service animals), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. David Wilks (Kootenay—Columbia, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to speak to Bill C-35, known as Quanto's law.
I realize that the primary focus of the bill is on law enforcement animals and this is entirely appropriate, given the heightened risk that these animals face in the course of assisting the police and other law enforcement officers in dealing with the criminal element. Certainly, they deserve our respect and the greatest protection that the legislation promises.
It is important that we not overlook the fact that the legislation would also provide a greater measure of protection to service animals. Service animals are animals that have been trained for tasks that assist people with disabilities. Service animals are not considered pets. Most service animals are dogs, and most of us are familiar with the role that guide dogs play in helping men and women who are blind, have low vision or who want greater mobility to achieve independence and freedom.
Socialization and training of service dogs starts at a very young age. Foster parents teach the puppies basic obedience, house manners and socialization to different environments. This helps the puppies become well-adjusted with different situations, experiences and people. These are skills that the dogs would benefit from when they are later assigned to provide future assistance to their owner with a disability.
Although assistance dogs have traditionally helped people with disabilities, such as blindness or, more recently, deafness or mobility disabilities, there is a wide range of other disabilities that an assistance dog may help with, as well, including psychiatric disabilities. A psychiatric service dog is a specific type of service dog trained to assist its handler with psychiatric disabilities, such as post-traumatic stress disorder and schizophrenia.
Like all assistance dogs, a psychiatric service dog is individually trained to do work or perform tasks that mitigate the handler's disability. Training to mitigate a psychiatric disability may include: providing environmental assessments, in cases such as paranoia and hallucinations; signalling behaviours, such as interrupting repetitive or injurious behaviours; reminding the handler to take medication; retrieving objects; guiding the handler from stressful situations; or acting as a brace if the handler becomes dizzy.
I note that the bill's proposed definition of service animal requires the animal be certified, in writing, as having been trained by a professional service animal institution to assist a person with a disability. In this respect, the bill is consistent with Part VII of the Canadian air transportation regulations.
Responding to concerns about how to make air travel as accessible as possible for passengers with disabilities, while at the same time respecting necessary measures to protect the collective safety of all passengers and crews, Part VII of the Canadian air transportation regulations requires airlines engaging in domestic airline operations, using an airplane with 30 or more passenger seats, to permit service animals used by individuals with a disability to accompany the person on a flight. The animal must be properly harnessed in accordance with standards established by a professional service animal institution.
However, the air transportation regulations require that the service animal be certified, in writing, by a professional service animal institution as having been trained to assist a person.
The bill has taken a similar approach in requiring the certification of the service animal. For example, the Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind issues an identification card, certifying that both the dog and the passenger, with the disability, have each completed the training provided by the organization.
Most service animal institutions provide an ID card, but some may provide a certificate, a licence, or identification papers, confirming that the service animal has completed the required training.
Air Canada allows certified, professionally trained service animals that are assisting customers with disabilities to be carried free of charge in the passenger cabin, at the customer's feet. The animal must be harnessed, and certified as having been trained to assist a person with a disability by a professional service animal institution.
Air Transat's policy is similar. When accompanied by certification and documentation and travelling with a person with a disability, certified service dogs are welcome in the passenger cabin of its aircraft.
This requirement for certification is entirely appropriate.
Certification entails training at an approved training facility in accordance with set standards. For example, in British Columbia, to receive a guide animal certificate, dogs are the only type of animal that can be certified. The guide/service dog must be trained by a training facility that has been approved by the B.C. minister of justice. This includes all dogs accredited by Assistance Dogs International or the International Guide Dog Federation. The B.C. minister of justice has also approved a number of other schools that train to the same standard. Upon successful completion of the program, the training facility provides a graduation certificate.
Once a dog is certified, a disabled person who is accompanied by a certified guide or service dog has the same rights, privileges, and obligations as a person who is not accompanied by a dog. Specifically, they may enter and use any accommodation, public transportation, eating place, lodging place, or any other place to which the public is invited.
Bill C-35 would require that the special role played by law enforcement animals, military animals, and service animals is specifically recognized by criminal law.
I want to carry on with something that is a little more familiar to me, and that is the service dogs that we saw in this place yesterday, the service dogs that are utilized by the RCMP, the OPP, and the Ottawa Police Service. These are the service dogs we are most accustomed to when we hear about these types of things. I want to zero in on the RCMP service dogs specifically, which I am more familiar with.
RCMP service dogs were established in 1935 by then commissioner MacBrien. He recognized that the dogs that had been utilized since 1908 in a volunteer capacity had such an immense opportunity to be utilized by police that he enacted, in 1937, an RCMP training school for police handling dogs. In 1940, the RCMP won its first case in Canada involving a dog search.
Within a very short period of time, service dogs were created with the RCMP in mind, and other police forces across Canada. They became invaluable.
In 1965, the RCMP dog services moved from Calgary to Innisfail, Alberta, where they are today. Every RCMP dog in Canada is trained at Innisfail. It is commanded by one officer in charge, ten non-commissioned officers, and six public staff members.
Police service dogs, as we saw here in this place yesterday, can be utilized for a lot of other opportunities, such as missing persons, tracking persons, finding narcotics, finding explosives, and crime scene evidence. They can track evidence that has been dumped by a person whom the police believe has done a crime. They are used for VIP protection. We will see police dogs on the Hill when an important person is visiting the Prime Minister. They are used for crowd control and in hostage situations. Most important, as I mentioned, they were utilized a lot yesterday. We may not have seen them, but they were here. These dogs are why Bill C-35 must pass through the House quickly.
I want to remind the House of a few incidents in Canada's history with regard to police service dogs. I will go back in time a bit so members can understand where we are today.
On May 25, 1965, the first police service dog was killed. PSD Cindy was stationed in Crescent Valley, British Columbia. She was dispatched with her handler to a situation with a barricaded person. The dog attempted an apprehension but was stabbed to death. However, as a result of the dog making the initial attack on that person, it saved two lives. It saved the handler's life and that of another investigator.
Then, on December 18, 1967, Vancouver Police Department's service dog Valiant was murdered. He was attempting to apprehend an escaped convict who was serving time for murder. He was sent into the location, located the suspect under a bed, and was shot. The dog continued to guard the suspect until the suspect was taken into custody.
One must remember when it comes to Bill C-35 and what we are trying to introduce with respect to police service dogs being harmed in action, that these dogs are unrelenting in their job. They will protect their handler at all costs. They will protect any person they are charged to protect, at all costs.
The next police service dog that was killed in action was on August 31, 1975. He was an Ontario Provincial Police dog, PSD Cloud II. Again, the dog was searching for a murder suspect. He tracked and apprehended the suspect, but the suspect had a gun and shot the police service dog.
Coming back to Bill C-35, here is what is important. In this specific case, there were no charges laid for killing the dog. There were no charges whatsoever. The importance of Bill C-35 is in recognizing that these dogs are not normal dogs that people have in their homes. These dogs have a role to play in society. They are here to protect us. They understand that their job is to do what we may not be able to do sometimes. We have a very difficult time in tracking, and doing a lot of things that dogs are more than capable of doing.
On May 11, 1976, Vancouver police dog, PSD Justin, was shot at. The dog had apprehended a suspect but was subsequently stabbed several times. The dog was able to continue holding the suspect until his handler and other investigators were able to apprehend. The dog passed away several minutes later.
Again, it shows the importance of Bill C-35 in recognizing that these dogs are invaluable. They were brought forth about 80 years ago by the RCMP, and many years before that by other police forces. We recognize the important and valuable contribution that they give to not only police officers but to other Canadians across this land in other types of scenarios.
The next dog to be killed was in Chilliwack, on September 13, 1996. It was again with respect to a person search. The person ran into the bush, after what I will call a gas and dash and failing to stop for the police. The dog picked up the scent of the suspect and went into the bush. He was able to apprehend the suspect, but unfortunately was stabbed several times.
As I have mentioned many times, the dog is the lead in these types of investigations. The handlers have the utmost trust in their dogs, and the dogs have the utmost trust in their handlers. Bill C-35 recognizes this importance.
The next police service dog to be killed in action was PSD Caesar, of the Edmonton City police force, on June 23, 1998. There was an armed standoff and the dog was utilized to attack the assailant. The dog was shot point-blank and died almost immediately. However, that gave the police enough time to apprehend the suspect, and no other officers were injured.
The next police service dog was PSD Bandit, on June 25, 2000, in Nova Scotia. The police service dog was tracking a suspect who had been involved in a domestic dispute. He was able to track and find the suspect. Unfortunately, the suspect had a knife and stabbed the dog several times. The dog passed away, but the handler and other investigators were able to apprehend the suspect without further incident.
On May 20, 2001, RCMP PSD Cyr, in Saskatoon, was sent in to apprehend an armed suspect and was shot three times.
Members can see where I am going with this. The dogs are vitally important to the police from coast to coast to coast, with respect to tracking, finding, and apprehending suspects. However, from time to time they unfortunately pay the ultimate price, a price which tends to be forgotten when it is a police service animal.
There are several other incidents of police service dogs dying, but the last one I will talk about is the one mentioned in this specific bill, Bill C-35. Quanto was a police service dog for the Edmonton Police Service. He was attempting to apprehend a person who had stolen a car. The police located the suspect, but Quanto was stabbed several times and succumbed to his injuries. However, the police were able to apprehend the suspect.
In every one of these instances, the police service dogs instinctively protected their handlers and put their lives in front of their human counterparts'. Police service dogs are the epitome of man's best friend. Under command, or sometimes instinctively, they will protect their handler at all costs. As I have illustrated many times, they will fight and sacrifice themselves before they allow their handler to be put into harm's way. Bill C-35 pays tribute to these animals. It recognizes that if a person does harm to an animal there will be consequences, as there should be.
Mr. Glenn Thibeault (Sudbury, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise in the House today to speak to the bill. I should inform you and this House that I will be splitting my time with the fantastic member for Churchill.
Before I begin, it is incumbent upon all of us to start off by thanking the men and women in uniform who were so valiant yesterday. The terms “duty” and “valour” together were resonant for us, especially where we and many MPs were situated. To see one security guard in our caucus room standing between us and the horror that was outside is an image that is burned in my mind. I know I can speak for all MPs, but specifically for those of us who were in that room at that time, in saying that we will be forever grateful to that security guard. With that, I pay my respects and offer him a huge thanks from all of us on this side.
In many of the scenes in news clippings and news footage from yesterday's horrific incident, we saw police dogs, service dogs. It is fitting today that we are able to talk about Bill C-35, an act to amend the Criminal Code (law enforcement animals, military animals and service animals). It is a fitting opportunity for us to think about the officers who work with these fine animals.
We heard a great speech from my hon. colleague from Kootenay—Columbia. I think it is important for us to talk about this today.
When I talked about the title of the bill, I mentioned that it is also called “Quanto's law”, in memory of an Edmonton police service dog that was stabbed to death trying to stop a suspect who was fleeing. It was last year at about this time. The perpetrator pleaded guilty to animal cruelty and other offences, including evading the police, and he was sentenced to 26 months in prison and banned from owning a pet for 25 years.
It is incumbent upon us to ensure that we find ways to protect these service animals. It is important for us to support the bill and get it to committee. Part of the bill talks about mandatory minimum sentences and minimum sentences in general. It is incumbent upon us as parliamentarians to ensure that every bill we look at has the opportunity to go to committee and that we bring forward stakeholders and experts to talk about the importance of making sure that the laws being presented by the government are meeting societal values and are protecting animals and people.
When we talk about animal cruelty, especially when we think about what happened to Quanto in Edmonton, it brings together the picture of protecting all animals. I can think of an incident in Sudbury when the community rallied around a dog we called Buddy when he was shot in the face by his owner and left to die on the side of the road. He was found by some great people and taken to a vet's emergency clinic, where he had surgery. The community rallied around Buddy the dog and raised enough money to pay the vet bills, but unfortunately, Buddy died a couple of days later.
While we are here talking about service dogs, we also need to consider the importance of animal cruelty. The things that happened to Buddy the dog should not go unpunished.
In looking at some of the other police service dogs over the last little bit, I talked about Quanto. The RCMP unveiled a monument to Quanto, which is something that I think is quite important. Recently, in the Northwest Territories, we have seen a dog help RCMP officers when they responded to an armed and barricaded adult male in a house. The individual was arrested five hours later without incident. The RCMP used its emergency response team, crisis negotiation team and a police dog in the arrest. Again, a police dog is playing an important role in the police force.
However, we also have to talk about service dogs in general, because the bill includes them. In my previous employment before being elected here, I had the opportunity of doing a couple of jobs in which I was able to work with animals. In the first job, I was a supervisor for residential homes for individuals with developmental handicaps, and there were many dogs being utilized by these individuals to help them with their day-to-day lives.
I would like to focus specifically on the service dogs that are now being trained to work with individuals with autism.
We have been seeing the prevalence of autism increase across the country. There are more individuals living their day-to-day lives with autism. However, there is now evidence showing that these service dogs for individuals with autism are helping, children specifically, with social interaction, relationships and the expansion of verbal and non-verbal communication skills. They are teaching them life skills, increasing their interest in activities and decreasing their stress.
If any of us in this House have ever worked with an individual with autism, know or have someone in their family with autism, they would know that many of the skills I mentioned previously come difficult for some. To ensure they can live active participatory lives within the community, it is fantastic to hear that we can provide them with a service dog so that they can become more independent, which is something that I think we all want in this House.
From coast to coast to coast across our great land, from British Columbia to St. John's, Newfoundland, we would like to make sure that these animals are protected, because they are aiding some of our most vulnerable citizens, taking them out of the category of being vulnerable and making them more independent.
I was also the executive director of the United Way right before I was elected. I was able to work closely with the CNIB, who obviously have service dogs for individuals who are visually impaired. The St. John Ambulance program in Sudbury has service animals who are certified therapy dogs, and we are talking about certified animals being protected in this bill. These dogs provide therapy to seniors and individuals going through difficult times, such as post-traumatic stress disorder.
I am very happy to stand today to speak to the bill and talk about the importance of it. I am glad I have been able to speak about sending the bill to committee where we can really look at some of the provisions that the government has put in and make sure that it is the right thing to do, and that, I think, is important.
Ms. Niki Ashton (Churchill, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to follow my esteemed colleague from Sudbury. In his speech, he relayed our party's position on Bill C-35, which, as we know, is an act to amend the Criminal Code referring to law enforcement animals, military animals and service animals.
New Democrats have made it clear that we support the bill at second reading and believe that it should be studied at committee. We want to study the bill more closely in committee so we can hear from experts on two problematic clauses, the introduction of minimum sentences and the introduction of consecutive sentences. We know that, concretely, the bill would amend section 445 of the Criminal Code and create a new offence for killing or injuring a service animal, law enforcement animal or military animal while the animal is on duty. It would also set a minimum sentence of six months if a law enforcement animal is killed while the offence is being perpetrated. Finally, it would provide for the sentences imposed on a person to be served consecutively to any other punishment imposed on the person for an offence arising out of the same event or series of events.
As we have pointed out, there is no disagreement about the need to support the work of our security personnel and to ensure the safety and humane treatment of the dogs that they depend on. In fact, the tragic events of yesterday reminded us how important it is to have every tool at one's disposal to ensure safety. This morning I noticed one of the service dogs with an officer, making sure that we in Parliament are safe.
I, like my colleagues, share the sentiment that we are very appreciative of the brave women and men of the police forces, the Canadian Forces, and the House of Commons security who did everything they could to keep us safe yesterday and are doing so today, and often, as we saw yesterday, at great risk to themselves.
Getting back to the bill, New Democrats are concerned that, once again, the devil is in the details. This is a laudable bill that has been tainted by the introduction of minimum sentencing, which clearly reflects the continued repressive agenda that the government has been bringing forward. The government is also showing its desire to deprive the courts of their discretion in sentencing. We believe that the Conservatives should be more aware of the consequences of minimum and consecutive sentencing for the criminal justice system and that it is important the bill go to committee because we need to hear from experts about the consequences of minimum and consecutive sentencing.
We know that Bill C-35, also referred to as Quanto's law, is in memory of an Edmonton police service dog that was stabbed to death trying to stop a fleeing suspect in October 2013. While we believe it is important that penalties exist for those who attack law enforcement animals, we are concerned that this is a back door attempt by the government to once again bring in minimum sentencing, which we have seen over and over again in various pieces of legislation.
Sadly, we see today in this bill and have seen in other bills, such as the Internet privacy bill, which hinge on a particular traumatic event, whether it is the suicide of young women who were bullied or in this case an enforcement animal that was killed on the job, that it is a way to get to that issue, but to do so in the most regressive way by emphasizing the importance of mandatory minimum sentencing and once again depriving the courts of their ability to apply discretion.
I am particularly concerned that with such traumatic events, the government tries to portray that it is the only one that cares about it and anyone who expresses concern, has questions or critiques the bill is automatically on the wrong side of the debate. I share that concern when it comes to the way we are going to deal with yesterday's tragedy.
I am very proud that today in the House we all rose to show solidarity with each other and with Canadians, but I am concerned about the potential for division based on legitimate disagreements around principles—legitimate disagreements that are integral to our democracy—and the possible vilification of those who do not agree with the government's agenda.
In this case I, along with my colleagues, firmly believe it is important to bring Bill C-35 to committee to have a vibrant debate on it, to hear from experts, and to look at how we can eliminate the most regressive elements of this bill, elements that have little to do with preventing the senseless deaths of law enforcement animals and more to do with padding the Conservative crime and punishment agenda.
I would be remiss if I did not express an additional concern.
There is much interest in seeing this bill go forward, and we have also indicated our support for it, but it is interesting to me that so many members on the government side are so passionate about this issue. Granted, it is a serious issue, and I hear the references to animal cruelty, a very serious and tragic practice that still exists in our country and something that we must eradicate, but it strikes me that sometimes we do not hear that same kind of gusto or drive from the government side to deal with other aspects of disrespectful and even, I would say, neglectful treatment of humans in our own country.
I am reminded of that this week as the human rights tribunal hears from indigenous community members and indigenous leaders about the cruel conditions in which first nations youth live. These conditions unfortunately point to neglect by the federal government and point to the way in which the federal government has let go of its fiduciary obligation to the well-being, health, education, and overall wellness of first nations youth. Instead it continues with an agenda and rhetoric that amount to status quo. The government says it is doing everything it can, that it has done more than other governments have, but that is not a good enough excuse.
As an MP who represents a part of this country where we have high rates of poverty, particularly child poverty and poverty among first nations youth, I am used to visiting communities where I see kids who are not dressed for cold weather, who go to school hungry, who live in mould-infested homes with 12 or 15 other relatives. I am always struck by the fact that it is unacceptable in Canada, in the year 2014, that children of any background have to live like that. It is not of their own volition or of their own choice that these children live in some cruel conditions, but as a result of a very dark history of systemic policies.
While we sit here and talk about the importance of respect and protection for law enforcement animals, I would also like to see that same kind of commitment and interest, both in messaging and in action, for humans, particularly for children in our society, our most vulnerable citizens.
I believe that is why we are here. We are here to make the right decisions. Whether in terms of our security forces or our communities, Canadians expect that kind of leadership from all of us.
Mr. Craig Scott (Toronto—Danforth, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I would like to start by indicating I will be splitting my time with the member for Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques.
As with all my other colleagues, it is my pleasure to rise today and have the privilege of being able to speak on a day such as this after the tragic events of yesterday. I have had a chance outside of this chamber to express my appreciation to the Security Services of the House of Commons and Constable Samearn Son, who suffered a wound trying to stop the attacker from entering this honourable place, and especially Sergeant-at-Arms Vickers, who ended the threat.
I would also say that on a day like today after a day like yesterday, given the subject of Bill C-35, an act to amend the Criminal Code with regard to law enforcement animals, military animals, and service animals, that my mind is drawn to a monument not far from where Corporal Cirillo was murdered.
Just a little farther down Elgin Street and to the left is Confederation Park, where the Animals in War monument has been in place since 2012. It is a very poignant monument. It shows a German Shepherd dog from World War I with a cape that contains various items that the war dog was assisting a soldier in carrying. There is a picture taken on the day of dedication showing RCMP Corporal Luc Patenaude and his own police dog, Cujo, standing alongside the war dog monument.
I would like to read the Animals in War plaque, which is highly relevant to the whole idea of sacrifice that we were reminded of yesterday—the theme of sacrifice, and ultimately the fundamental humanity of a relationship with animals that the member for Kootenay—Columbia so eloquently spoke of.
The plaque says the following:
|| For centuries animals have demonstrated an enduring partnership with humans during times of war. They have served as means of transportation, beasts of burden, messengers, protectors and mascots. Still today, dogs use their unique, sharply tuned instincts to detect mine clusters, and conduct search and rescue operations. We remember the contribution and sacrifice of all animals.
It is a marvellously done monument and it helps remind us of this connection between animals and ourselves. The way we treat animals in our society is also a measure of our own humanity. Sadly, I believe our criminal laws, not to mention provincial laws across this country, are sadly lagging behind other jurisdictions.
I am proud and happy to say that I count an animal literally as a member of my family. That is the way I think of it with respect to my mini-schnauzer. I personally believe that animals' presence in our lives humanizes our existence. We can think of some of the examples from my colleague from Sudbury and the detailed stories from the member for Kootenay—Columbia about the particular importance of animals in the police services, but we can also think of animal therapy in seniors homes, hospitals, and so on, which increasingly is being recognized as part of advanced cutting-edge therapy going back to basics being part of the future.
I was touched by how the member for Kootenay—Columbia spoke. He used the word “murder”. He emphasized that a couple of times in his speech and then in his answers to questions. He wants us to not think of this as just the killing of an animal or the death of an animal, but its murder. We do not use that language unless we are talking about a profound relationship in which partnership, friendship, and even a familial bond is part of how we think about the loss of that animal.
From my perspective, I think the member hit the nail exactly on the head. This is exactly how we should be thinking of animals in the professions he listed: enforcement animals, military animals, and service animals.
We also have to remember that, in certain contexts—war dogs being one example, but police dogs in particular—it is not just that they are partners. If we were honest with ourselves, we would say the form of service they represent is sacrificial. They are deployed in circumstances that can lead to their being more likely to suffer harm, if not be killed, than their partner or handler. Therefore, the idea of something extra being owed to these animals is something I have absolutely no problem with.
However, the understanding behind this bill cannot stop at the gates of these particular animals. If we push further on exactly what is motivating the extra protection for these animals in the circumstances in which they can be hurt or killed, we would find ourselves thinking about animal rights in a very different way, across the board. We would be thinking about cruelty to animals in Canada in a broader frame.
I would remind you, Mr. Speaker, as Deputy Speaker, that you introduced a private member's bill, Bill C-414, which has now been taken up by the member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine. You tabled that bill on the very day that I was sworn into this House, and it was my distinct pleasure to second that bill.
For the benefit of everyone in the House, I would like to quote the words you said when introducing it. You stated:
|| The bill would do two basic things. It first recognizes that animals are sentient beings as opposed to a piece of wood or a piece of furniture, which is the way the Criminal Code currently treats them. The other thing that it would do has a very clear consequence. The number of convictions for animal cruelty would increase dramatically under the Criminal Code. We have estimates that only one in a thousand cases of animal cruelty can result in convictions under the Criminal Code, and this would address that issue.
The bill I referred to, which is now being taken up by what is currently Bill C-592, is part of an NDP commitment as a strong advocate for ending all levels of cruelty to animals, including such things as forced breeding. This can only be accomplished by repealing old sections of the Criminal Code dealing with animal cruelty and proposing newer and tougher laws to protect animals. I believe that it cannot be done only on a piecemeal basis. Rather, it has to be done by government legislation to create a proper overhaul. Although this bill is a government bill, it is in the mode of piecemeal legislation. I would very much urge the government to think about the potential for this bill to be the start of something that is more of an overhaul, that looks at the picture from a more general perspective than simply this deserving case of service, police enforcement, and military animals.
With that, I would like to emphasize that the bill has my full support to go to committee. I believe my colleagues have the same view on that. However, I would urge the movers of the bill, my colleagues from Richmond Hill and Kootenay, who have taken the lead on it, to ask whether or not the elements of mandatory minimums and necessary mandatory consequential sentencing are really needed for what they are trying to do. They have the support of this side of the House. The key is to actually criminalize in a way that cannot be avoided, from a prosecution point of view, and to make sure the ability to prosecute in the right circumstances is there. The idea of taking discretionary judgment away from judges when it comes to sentences seems to me to be an entirely different issue from what ultimately was motivating my colleague across the way in his speech. It is simply not necessary for what he is trying to achieve.
The last thing is that this is a bill that, yet again, because it has mandatory minimums, will raise issues around constitutionality. It once again reminds us that we have bills coming before this House for which we have to rely on the competence and good faith of the Minister of Justice to have vetted the bill to make sure it meets the current constitutional standards for sentencing. I can never be convinced that is the case, because we never see the legal opinions.
Once again, this is the third time in two weeks I have asked the government to consider, at committee, introducing the legal opinion that was given to make sure this particular mandatory minimum would not offend the charter.
Mr. Guy Caron (Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I am very happy to be able to rise in this House. In fact, like a number of my colleagues, this is the first time I have had the opportunity to do so since yesterday's incidents. I would like to take this opportunity to thank Sergeant-at-Arms Vickers, of course, but also the House of Commons security services. They did an outstanding job, just like the police forces who came to the rescue and backed up Parliament's security officers.
I would also like to take this opportunity to thank my staff. We are talking about MPs and parliamentary employees who were directly affected by the incidents, but there are also many offices around Parliament, around Parliament Hill, occupied by those close to us, including our office staff and the people in the clerk's office. Those people were also affected, and I would like to thank them for all their work and congratulate them on their exemplary conduct during that difficult time.
Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to thank the people of my riding of Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques for the support they showed me by sending me messages at my office or on social media. I greatly appreciated it, and I would like to thank them for their prayers and support.
I am pleased to rise in the House to speak to Bill C-35, which amends the Criminal Code with regard to law enforcement animals, military animals and service animals, for example animals for the blind. As many of my colleagues mentioned, we are going to support this bill at second reading because we support the basic principle of the bill. We hope that it will be carefully studied in committee. However, we hope that the committee will pay special attention to one particular aspect of the bill, and that is the mandatory minimum sentencing. This has been been discussed in the House quite often, and it will be the focus of my speech today.
The bill imposes mandatory minimum sentencing. It seeks to amend section 445 of the Criminal Code and impose a minimum sentence of six months if a law enforcement animal is killed when a crime is committed.
The creation of an offence for injuring or killing these animals as they perform their duties is a commendable goal. There are already provisions in the Criminal Code related to cruelty to animals. We also want to strengthen those provisions, but the government is taking advantage of a measure that seems acceptable to most, if not all, members of the House—I believe—to once again impose mandatory minimum sentencing.
That is a serious problem. Since 2008, this government has been imposing minimum sentences. However, minimum sentences do not reduce the likelihood that a crime will be committed. That has been shown time and time again. No credible scientific or sociological studies have proven the contrary. The government does not rely on studies that show the impact of imposing such a measure when passing or proposing potentially acceptable or effective bills. In my opinion, the government imposes these sentences because of its ideology. If these sentences are not based on science or demonstrable facts, I do not believe there is any other explanation for the government's actions, and I find that really unfortunate.
In the question I asked my colleague from Toronto—Danforth, one of the things I mentioned was one of the most recent cases handled by a provincial court. In two cases involving two provisions related to weapon possession, the minimum sentence was overturned by the Ontario Superior Court because it was cruel and unusual punishment and not in line with the offence. That is nothing new. It has been mentioned many, many times by extremely respectable law organizations, including the Canadian Bar Association and the Barreau du Québec. Those are just two of the many associations and organizations that have told us exactly the same thing.
It comes as no surprise that the provincial courts are overturning federal proposals and legislation. In fact, we had already been warned in Parliament, in the House of Commons and during committee work, that this provision on mandatory minimum sentences would have this exact outcome.
The government obviously passed this measure, among others, for weapon possession. Quite recently, the government even capped it all off with the law and order omnibus bill, the bill to amend the Criminal Code, by sprinkling minimum sentences throughout Bill C-10, particularly for offences related to drugs, possession and possession with intent to traffic. No matter what offence the government's legislation targets, the reasoning is the same. The possibility of committing a crime is not reduced because a mandatory minimum sentence exists, because the person who would commit these crimes, for whatever reason, will not consider the provision. That has been demonstrated over and over again.
I would also like to point out that this is not a question of cosmetics or even a question of effectiveness. This is a fundamental question about the functioning of our government. Indeed, the provision on mandatory minimum sentencing changes our accountability system. Why? Because the power to determine a sentence, which should belong to a judge and therefore the judicial branch of government, is completely wiped out. This power is being transferred to one of the three main components of government, which are the executive, legislative and judicial branches. It is being transferred from the legislative arm to the executive arm. Even though we are talking about the provincial executive branch, since prosecution, sentencing and the administration of justice are under provincial jurisdiction, the fact remains that, ultimately, prosecutors have to answer to the various justice ministers, assuming of course they are not federal prosecutors who answer to the federal Minister of Justice. A power that should remain entirely judicial is being transferred to the executive branch.
Why am I saying this? Because the judges who determine sentences cannot do so, and the prosecutors are the ones who can ultimately use this whole range of mandatory minimum sentences during the review prior to the charge to determine the sentence themselves. Now, because of mandatory minimum sentences, prosecutors have more latitude to decide what sentence should be imposed than the judge who hears the evidence and arguments from the Crown and the defence.
I think it is just common sense to allow a judge, who has all the necessary tools, to determine the sentence and not leave that to one of the parties, namely the Crown, which does not have the defendant's interests at heart, in which case the process is biased.
When we talk about mandatory minimums, there is a standard of effectiveness that the government is not meeting. This is also a question of governance. Important powers that belong to judges are being transferred to the executive branch of the government. It is appalling that despite all the warnings that were given, the government is stubbornly going ahead with this anyway.
I think that all of the members of the official opposition, and I assume the members of the other parties in the House, would have been completely in favour of studying this bill quickly so as to really toughen up the sentences for individuals convicted of cruelty towards military animals, law enforcement animals and service animals. However, the government decided to take a more difficult route and, once again, raised the question of mandatory minimum sentences. That is the question that we will be bringing up in committee. We hope that the government will listen closely.
Ms. Hélène LeBlanc (LaSalle—Émard, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I must say that I am very proud to rise in the House today and resume my work as an MP and as a representative of my constituents from LaSalle—Émard. I am very pleased that we have the opportunity today to debate Bill C-35, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (law enforcement animals, military animals and service animals).
I would also like to say that I am very pleased to share my time with the hon. member for Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine.
I would be remiss if I did not say a few words about yesterday's events. I must say that I felt safe at all times. From the very start, we were assisted by a security guard who entered the room where we were gathered. He really took charge of our group and ensured that we were safe and protected. I join all the members who spoke before me in thanking all the Parliamentary staff, including the security staff, and the police officers and the members of the RCMP who joined them to ensure that we could be in the House today to debate a bill and continue our work.
I would also like to thank my team and all the Parliamentary staff who experienced these disturbing events with us and who also did an incredible job. I commend my team in the House and also my constituency team with whom I was able to communicate, and who in turn informed the community about what was happening and reassured people that we were in good hands with the security team.
The bill before us today talks about the special relationship between people and animals, not just service animals, but also those in our lives. I am an agronomist by training and as such, and as an interpretive guide at an agricultural museum, I had the opportunity to learn more about farm animals, which are also service animals. I know that Canada's farmers and agricultural producers take special care of these animals and one of my concerns is to make sure that we continue to always have very high standards when it comes to livestock. The same goes for transporting animals and for slaughter facilities. All this must be handled properly. I believe that Canada must continue to have very high standards, whether we are talking about raising, transporting, or slaughtering farm animals.
I am raising this point because we do not talk about it very often. We are becoming more and more removed from our primary agriculture. Although we are still close, because we eat every day, we must also think about the farmers and the animals that serving us in a completely different way. Farm animals, just as much as the other service animals, deserve proper treatment, and even more than that.
Usually, service animals are dogs. As the saying goes, a dog is a man's best friend. Over the years, we have found many ways for dogs to help humans because of certain traits.
I for one am generally apprehensive of dogs. When I go door to door, I admit that I have had experiences with canines that were sometimes positive, sometimes not. I think all politicians, like most letter carriers, have mixed feelings when it comes to dogs, because these encounters are not always pleasant.
However, when I go door to door, I have the opportunity to meet many seniors who live alone and have pets, often dogs. For people living alone, these animals are valuable companions in their lives. That is why I must acknowledge the work, service and assistance that these animals provide to people in my community of LaSalle—Émard.
My colleague from Sudbury also talked about the importance of the assistance provided by service dogs and animals for persons with disabilities. Everyone knows about Mira dogs, which accompany the blind. There are also service dogs for persons with disabilities or, as my colleague mentioned, people with autism. These animals act not only as companions and assistants, but also as intermediaries when it comes to interacting with other people.
Furthermore, I want to pay tribute to the K-9 squad, which helped secure the perimeter yesterday. These dogs provided a very valuable service.
Now, I would like to talk about Bill C-35, which we are supporting at second reading. Our only concerns are very important, and we have expressed them on a number of occasions. This is nothing new; we have extensively debated our concerns in the House, and we have brought them to the attention of the government. Our concerns are about mandatory minimums.
We support the services provided by the K-9 squad and assistance animals, but we do not understand why this bill needs to implement mandatory minimums, since they undermine the discretionary powers of judges. I will give an example.
I will admit that I have a general fear of dogs. I have no intentions of committing an offence, of course, but I do not know how I would react if I were to be attacked by a dog. At such a time, you essentially react by defending yourself. That is why I would like to give the judge, and not the legislative authority, the discretion to impose a minimum sentence.
Judges, defence lawyers and crown prosecutors are in the best position to decide on a fair and appropriate sentence in each case.
We all applaud the work of service animals, especially in light of yesterday's events, when we were all able to see first-hand what they do. However, I must express my opposition to the institution of mandatory minimums, which undermine the discretionary powers of judges.
Mr. Philip Toone (Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleagues, and especially the member for LaSalle—Émard for sharing her time with me. I also want to congratulate her for her comments earlier today on the state of security on Parliament Hill. She gave a beautiful tribute to our security guards.
I find it quite fitting that today we are debating Bill C-35. As the title clearly says, this is an act to amend the Criminal Code with respect to law enforcement animals, military animals and service animals. We recently witnessed some rather extreme violence on Parliament Hill. We must pay tribute to those who are there every day to protect us and protect the institution of Parliament and the parliamentarians, elected members, senators, workers and assistants who work on Parliament Hill. We owe a lot to the security guards who were there to protect us yesterday.
The fact that we are debating Bill C-35 today highlights the fact that officers are not the only ones who are there. There are also service dogs. We saw this yesterday, and we see them all the time. These animals are prepared to risk their lives, consciously or not, to protect our society. We owe them a lot. That is why the bill before us today is laudable. It is a good bill, which has been called Quanto's law.
Quanto's Law is in memory of an Edmonton police service dog that was stabbed to death trying to stop a fleeing suspect in October 2013. A certain suspect pleaded guilty to animal cruelty and other offences, including evading police. He was sentenced to 26 months in prison and banned from owning a pet for 25 years.
It is particularly interesting that the current law as it stands, article 445 of the Criminal Code, already establishes penalties for committing an offence, whether it be killing an animal, maiming an animal, wounding, poisoning, et cetera.
Certainly, when it comes to police dogs, it would certainly be incorporated into this law, but we already have a law. The law right now proposes that a person who commits an offence, if it is an indictable offence, is liable to a maximum of five years imprisonment. If the person is found guilty of an offence on summary conviction, the person is liable to one or both of a maximum of $10,000 in fines and/or imprisonment up to 18 months. This law would change that.
This is subtle, but I will try to explain. The bill would amend section 445 such that anyone found guilty of attacking an animal could be sentenced to up to five years in prison, and the minimum punishment is six months in prison.
Once again, the government is imposing a minimum sentence—and I will come back to that shortly—in cases where a law enforcement animal is killed while aiding a law enforcement officer in enforcing the law, where the offence is prosecuted by indictment. If a law enforcement animal is injured or killed in the line of duty, the punishment for the offence would be served consecutively to any other punishment imposed on the person.
Currently, when judges sentence offenders, the sentences can be served at the same time or consecutively. When they are consecutive, that means the time adds up and the sentence is cumulative. In this situation, someone who kills a animal on duty that is actively trying to prevent the commission of a crime will receive a consecutive sentence. It will not be consecutive if the animal in question is helping a police officer who is trying to prevent a crime. The nuance is subtle, but it is there.
Nevertheless, this bill is flawed. It includes minimum sentences, thereby removing the judge's discretion in some situations. The trial judge knows the facts and is perfectly capable of deciding what sentence should be imposed.
When judges are forced to hand down a particular sentence, they are very reluctant to do so. Some judges have even refused to impose minimum sentences. Cases go to the appeal court or even the Supreme Court, which decides whether the sentence is constitutional.
Why would the government seek to implement a measure that could be deemed unconstitutional when it could have immediately moved forward with a bill that was worthwhile in itself? The mandatory minimum sentence makes it very hard to support this bill. Members, at least those in the opposition, should support this bill at second reading. That way, we could examine it in committee and have a more extensive debate. We could invite experts to appear who will explain the consequences of this measure.
I believe that there will be a consensus. The bill is worthwhile and the amendment to section 445 of the Criminal Code is a good idea, except for the fact that the government is going to impose a minimum sentence.
If the government were prepared to remove this aspect of the bill, I believe we would be more likely to reach a consensus among ourselves and with the witnesses who would appear before the committee to participate in a debate on the bill. In my opinion, many experts would not agree with the bill because of the minimum sentences. Regardless, I would like to hear from these experts, listen to their opinions and better understand whether they consider that the bill is constitutional and has merit and whether it should move forward.
We have time to send this bill to committee. I hope that we will have a very interesting and thorough debate. Unfortunately, the Conservatives have once again made a rather fundamental error in the wording of the bill. That is something that the Conservative government seems to be intent on doing. It has no qualms about constantly adding minimum sentences to bills.
I would like the government to look at what is happening in other jurisdictions. Quebec has determined that cruelty toward animals must be redefined. Harsher sentences are needed. This issue really needs to be examined, and more appropriate sentences are required. In Quebec, this debate will certainly take place, regardless of what happens with the bill before us.
With this bill, particularly given the mandatory minimum, the province in question will end up with people who have been found guilty in its provincial prisons. The province will have to foot the bill. Once again, the federal government is going to download costs to the provinces without providing any assistance.
Minimum sentences do not work for several reasons. One of the main reasons is that the province will once again be left with the costs imposed by the federal government, without any assistance from the feds. I would remind the House that section 718 of the Criminal Code sets out certain principles on which sentences are supposed to be based. I have to wonder whether mandatory minimums reflect the principles of section 718.
Yes, the Supreme Court has ruled on this issue in the past, and it is important that we also examine it in the House and in committee.
I support this bill at second reading, but I hope the experts will explain the consequences to us in full.
Ms. Libby Davies (Vancouver East, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, first, I am very happy to rise in the House today to speak to Bill C-35. It is ironic and timely that we are dealing with a bill that deals with law enforcement animals, military animals, and service animals.
I want to reflect for a very short moment on what took place in the House yesterday. Members have stood today to offer their personal reflections. It was really wonderful to hear the speeches this morning from the leaders of the various political parties, from the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, and to hear the statements in the House. I think it was one of those days that one does not forget.
I have been here 17 years, and I never believed that I would experience a day like we experienced yesterday. Yes, there was a sense of great anxiety and stress about what was taking place, because of course, we did not know what was going on around us, but I think what I am going to remember is the sense of camaraderie and professionalism and people staying calm and staying together. We all have our own personal experience of where we were, who we were with, and what we heard, but listening to pages, to staff, to the security personnel, and our own staff today, in the lobby, and hearing the perspectives of where people are has been really quite remarkable. I have come away with a feeling that, collectively, everyone kept their cool.
It does not sink in until later how really close we came to a terrible disaster, much worse than what happened, and we are grateful for that.
There are things to remember, but we are back at work. Certainly, that is the hallmark of this institution. It is the people's business. We come back, we get on with our work, and we get on to debating bills, because that is what we are elected to do. We do not do that with a sense of hardship; we do it with a sense of mission and a sense of sincerity about who we are and what we need to do. I am very glad to be back in the House today and to see my colleagues in the House from all sides, and in particular, to be debating the bill.
I heard the debate earlier in the day. I will be making some of the points some of my colleagues have made. I think cruelty to animals, intentional cruelty, is something that just about everybody cannot stomach. It is something that hits us all, and it is something we feel compelled to do something about. Of course, we have the law. We have our criminal justice system to provide protections not just to persons and property but also for animal welfare. That is very important, and I think Canadians support that very strongly.
As we heard in the debate today, the bill comes from a particular incident in 2013, when a police service dog was stabbed to death in the line of duty.
I think that as legislators, it is very important that we examine the bill very carefully, because on its surface, one could say that this is a bill that deserves support. It would specifically introduce a new amendment or create a new offence that would specifically prohibit anyone from killing, wounding, poisoning, or injuring trained animals who work for the police, for persons with disabilities, or for the Canadian Armed Forces.
The principle of the bill is something that is very supportable, and of course, that is what we are debating here today: the bill in principle, at second reading. We, in the NDP, will be supporting the bill to go forward to committee.
Having said that, as the official opposition, our job is to look at the details, go through legislation, get underneath the top layer, and figure out what the bill would really do and maybe, importantly, what the consequences of the bill would be. As we have come to know in the House, and with the current government, it is important to look at the details. How many omnibus bills have we gone through and found terrible surprises in? There have been really awful pieces of legislation that have chucked out other pieces of legislation. The details in a bill become very important.
That is no different for the bill we are debating here today. I would say it is concerning, looking at this bill, because while we have a bill that has good intention, when we look at the details, we can see that it would introduce minimum sentencing and that it does reflect a pattern we have seen from the government over and over again. It is very disturbing.
I have said in the House quite a few times that we should be keeping a list of how the Criminal Code has changed so significantly. We have had all of these bills come through. Some of them have been government bills. Many of them have been private members' bills. They are kind of like these little boutique bills, which one by one pick off this section or that section of the Criminal Code. I guess somebody keeps track of it.
I do recall that one of the terrible things that happened in the House through legislation was that the Law Reform Commission was abolished. I am sure the Speaker will recall this, because he would have debated it in the House when it came forward. It was the Law Reform Commission of Canada's job to go through legislation, evaluate it at a long distance, and give us an overview to give us an oversight. It was abolished.
There is a big question here over who keeps track of what all these changes mean cumulatively and what the consequences are. We certainly try to do that as the opposition. We try to keep track of all of these bills, look at all the little holes and changes they create in the Criminal Code, and see what the total effect is. That is a lot of work.
Here is another example of a bill that, on the surface, may look fairly innocent but, in the detail, does actually have consequences. It is a bill that would bring forward minimum sentencing and provisions around serving consecutively.
Some people may ask what the big deal is about that or whether there is any problem with that. The problem is that our judicial system is based on a history and tradition of prosecution, defence, and the role of the judge in terms of being able to use discretion. The judge is able to look at individual cases as being unique. When we create laws that become, in effect, a one-size-fits-all and that are so hyper-prescriptive, we create problems. This is because when we do it to an extreme, the law does not necessarily fit and cannot meet the circumstances of what a particular case might be about. That is why we have judges who can look at the law, apply provisions, and use this word “discretion”. I sometimes worry that discretion has become a dirty word in this place, yet it is a hallmark of our judicial system.
I am talking about creeping mandatory minimum sentences. I do not know how many bills we have now had in the House that have had those provisions now put in them. It is not just the current government, by the way. There were mandatory minimums with the previous government as well, and there always was the existence of some mandatory minimums. It is not as if there is never a situation where they should not apply, but now they have become so pervasive in the system that they have almost become the lowest common denominator—slap in a mandatory minimum.
I have this little picture in my head of a group of interns or staffers somewhere, who are combing through the Criminal Code section by section and saying, “Hah, mandatory minimum. We could put one there. We could put one here”.
I may be exaggerating a bit, but I sometimes feel that is what is going on, that there is this pattern of seeking out instances where mandatory minimums can be applied, and it is fundamentally changing our judicial system. It is certainly a problem with the bill before us, and I think it is very important that we examine the bill in great detail in committee.
I hope very much that when the bill goes to the justice committee, I presume, government members will not use their majority to then slap on time limits. We are facing that in the public safety committee right now on a bill that has to do with an issue very important to me, which is safe injection sites in this country. It is a complex and important bill, and I find it incredible that at committee there are two meetings for witnesses and that is the end of it—just two meetings. When we get to amendments, I think the motion says that there will be no more than five minutes or something like that. The censorship and limitation that are now placed on the debate and examination of bills is quite ferocious and, in and of itself, very harmful.
We are not here to hold stuff up. I mean, occasionally that does happen. We might have a bill that we just dig in and say that we will hold it up as long as we can, but by and large we are not here to hold things up. We are here to give proper consideration both in the House at second reading and in committee with amendments and then when it comes back to the House for report stage and third reading.
Therefore, when the bill goes to committee, I hope the committee will be fair and consider that there should not be limits placed on it in terms of the timeline for its consideration, so that the committee can look at some of the questions that I and others have identified today in debate.
I am not on the justice committee, but I am sure others will raise this. It is to look at Department of Justice reports that actually tell us that mandatory minimum sentences have not had a demonstrable deterrent effect. This is something to consider. We go to these extraordinary lengths to change legislation and have it go through the House, the Senate, and the whole process, yet there is really no evidence to show us whether or not it is a deterrent. In fact, the opposite may be true in that the misuse of mandatory minimum sentences, as my colleague said earlier, leads to a downloading to provinces, overcrowding, and skyrocketing costs. These are very real consequences. Provincial budgets are tight. Again, the question is who is tracking that.
I have seen some information come out on the impact of mandatory minimum sentences. I think the Canadian Bar Association has been doing some work on tracking what the impact is, and there has been some work done on a bill that dealt with mandatory minimums for drug crimes. In fact, there was a court case in British Columbia in which a judge refused to go along with the mandatory minimum aspect, and that is now under review.
There are some very serious questions that need to be considered in the bill. This needs to be done in the context of a larger impact in terms of the Criminal Code and our justice system. I think it is very important and incumbent upon us not to ignore that fact. If we just look at these as one-offs, we will never understand the full picture.
What bothers me the most is the strong sense I have that the way the government operates is that for every problem the Conservatives identify, they see the solution as a new law that is harsher.
Some of these questions are complex social questions, and there is no evidence to suggest that a tougher law, a law-and-order approach, is going to actually solve anything. In fact, it might very likely make the situation worse. These things really bother me, and I have certainly seen these changes taking place over a number of years.
However, to come back to the bill itself, we think there are some good aspects in it that should warrant our support. I know that my colleague from Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine and my colleague from Parkdale—High Park have put forward initiatives that deal with animal cruelty. I myself have a bill that also deals with this issue. I have presented thousands of petitions in the House about cruelty to cats and dogs in terms of the use of their fur from overseas, and how it should be banned as it has been banned in other countries.
There are numerous initiatives that we have within the NDP to protect against animal cruelty, and certainly we have a huge appreciation for the role that law-enforcement animals, military animals, and service animals play in our society. Again, I come back to yesterday when it was very visible. These are highly trained animals. They are well cared for. They are intelligent. We do not want to see them come into harm's way. We do not want to see vicious attacks on these animals, just as we do not want to see attacks on people. It is not as if we do not care; in fact, we care very much, and the bills we have put forward ourselves in private members' business are evidence of that.
Still, we have to worry about this bill. I have a concern that it is just going to flow right through and we will not have that examination, but we should and we want to ensure that the provisions in Bill C-35 are no different from the penalties and fines already set out in section 445 of the Criminal Code for all animals other than cattle. There is a lot to examine here.
I appreciate the fact that my colleagues have spoken today. We do want to say this for the government. Why is it so important that the government wants to take away sentencing discretion from the courts? Are the Conservatives aware of their own justice department's work about mandatory minimums and whether or not they are a deterrent? Are they aware of how mandatory minimums are undermining the entire legal process? I do not know if there is that knowledge on the government side, whether or not the Conservatives are curious to know the answers to those questions. I can only say that we are, and we think it should be followed up.
In closing, I would like to add my voice along with my colleagues in saying that we certainly support this bill going to committee. It does require further examination. It does need to be looked at in the context of other legislation where mandatory minimums have been brought in. We need to look at the impacts on the provincial system, we need to look at the costs, and we need to ask some tough questions. We need to be intelligent and rational about how we proceed on these kinds of measures. We need to look at evidence, not political doctrine. At the end of the day, that is what is most important. We are here to uphold the public interest. We are here to uphold the notion of merit, evidence, and analysis. Let us remember that when we consider this bill further, and let us hope we can make some sensible decisions.
Mr. Tyrone Benskin (Jeanne-Le Ber, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, after yesterday's events, I would first like to say how proud I am to be able to rise in the House and speak freely in this Parliament and in this democracy. I would like to thank all of the security teams that watched over us and protected us.
There are no words that can truly express the gratitude that I think everyone in the House has for the gentlemen who work to protect the House and all Canadians who come to visit it each day. To stand in the House on this day to speak to this bill is of particular pride.
Bill C-35 is a bill that, in its essence, I am very proud to support. I come from a riding that has a large number of animal lovers. I am a cat person. I recently lost my companion animal. When I open my iPad, it is her little face that I see each time. The desire to protect our animal companions and partners is something of import.
Before I forget, Mr. Speaker, I will let you know that I will be splitting my time with the member for Ottawa Centre.
We are only beginning to make the connection between the four-legged companions by our sides in the domestic and leisure sense. We spend a lot of time, energy and money on the care of these companions. Animals and handlers have that very unique relationship where they are working partners, where these animals willingly put their lives on the line to protect their human handlers. Without question, they put themselves between their partners and bullets or knives. It is only right that we pay them the respect they are due for their unwavering sacrifice and dedication. This is where we come together on Bill C-35.
To be able to say that to harm this animal is to harm myself is extremely important. Unfortunately, where we begin to diverge is in how this is going to be expressed. How are we going to quantify the lives of these animals? Unfortunately, this very noble bill is tainted somewhat by the efforts to yet again introduce mandatory minimum sentences. As I understand our government, we are divided into three spheres: the executive, the legislative, and the judiciary. There are codes in place that create checks and balances so that no one of these sectors, so to speak, can overpower the other.
With the introduction of minimum mandatory sentences, we run into a situation where we invade the jurisdiction of the judiciary. We take away the ability for our judges, who we entrust with their wisdom and knowledge of law, and the intricacies of human nature and human actions, to justly administer the law.
We call it the justice system for a reason. It is not the vengeance system. It is not the vindictive system. It is the justice system. To mete out justice, one must have the ability to take all things into consideration. Justice may be blind, but it is not deaf and dumb. The ability for a judge to take all the evidence into consideration is something that we protect. It is our job to ensure it is done in a way that speaks to our society.
Unfortunately, yet again, the government introduces minimum mandatory sentences, basically using a sledgehammer to kill a gnat. The importance of being able to create a full picture of what a person has done, what crime a person has committed, is the hallmark of our justice system. The sledgehammer analogy that I used is referring to the fact that for some reason the government seems to shy away from the details, the minutia, of the creation of legislation. They say, “Let us put a bill together. Let us make it wrong to do this thing and let us throw them in prison forever”.
That is not our job. Our job as legislators, and the reason we have debates, is to take a concept, an idea, a bill and go through that bill with a fine tooth comb to ensure that when we come to conclusion, each and every detail results in a bill that serves the people of Canada; that it protects the interests of those we are trying to protect and the rights of those who might be falsely accused; and allows for the judgment, from our judges, to take extenuating circumstances, to take all the information that is presented to them, into consideration in handing out a just sentence. The details of Bill C-35 are virtually absent.
We definitely empathize with the origin of the bill. It is nicknamed Quanto's Law. We understand where it comes from and we agree wholeheartedly that our companion animals, those who serve the people who protect us, help find contraband materials at our borders, help find mines in war zones, and help find lost souls in avalanches, should be protected. However, are they really going to be protected with mandatory minimum sentences?
My colleague spoke to the effect of mandatory minimum sentences. She mentioned that we have no real proof that mandatory minimum sentences work.
In this spirit of camaraderie that was expressed today, I hope we can take this noble bill to committee, to look at how we can give judges the latitude to impose the proper punishments on individuals who harm our friends without making it something which is basically killing a gnat with a sledgehammer.
Mr. Paul Dewar (Ottawa Centre, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I too wish to speak in support of Bill C-35, which we are debating today.
I want to express my gratitude to the guards, the first responders, who basically saved our lives yesterday. They went through a lot yesterday and we cannot thank them enough. Let me be frank. On a daily basis in this place and in this precinct, we take them for granted. Our hearts are with them not only because of what they did for us yesterday but for what they do for us on a daily basis.
I would also like to express my gratitude to the RCMP and to the Ottawa police force. What happened yesterday is fresh in our memory. As this is my first opportunity to rise in the House since the horrific events of yesterday, I want to take this opportunity to thank them. I am grateful for their help. They did their job. If they had not done their job, we might not be in this place today. We should never take that for granted.
I want to thank all of them for not only what they have done for us in the past but particularly for what they did yesterday and will continue to do in the future.
We understand the context of Bill C-35. This legislation is in memory of an Edmonton police service dog named Quanto. I recall many times in this place bills that have been attributed to events or to individuals, but this legislation is quite unique. People who are not aware of the context of this legislation would not really appreciate the fact that we are talking about protecting animals and the importance of what they do.
Some people may be scratching their heads because we are having a debate about dogs in the Parliament of Canada. It would appear to be strange.
However, the context of this legislation is important because of the horrific violence that took place involving this police service dog. It ups our game in looking at protecting those who serve and those who are first responders. That is a good thing and something we should celebrate. Again, I think of the events of yesterday. Now more than ever we can appreciate every device used to protect people.
This legislation is inspired by the case of the Edmonton police service dog named Quanto. It was a horrific event. The dog was stabbed to death during its pursuit of a fleeing suspect. The case really grabbed people's attention in October 2013 and pushed people to act. The Deputy Speaker and one of my colleagues had a private member's bill on this same issue.
We must look at the whole context of first responders. We must look not only at service dogs and what they do in the case of police services but also rescue dogs and what they do to help people who are stranded. Many of my colleagues have given us their stories. This past Fall there were a couple of stories involving kids who had walked away from their homes. Rescue dogs found those kids and they were returned to their homes safely. I was inspired by those stories.
It is important that we look at the whole issue of first responders and that is what this legislation does. Obviously, first responders are supported by technology, but they are also supported with backup, like logistics and communications. We saw that yesterday.
However, to have dogs that are highly trained and supportive gives first responders confidence that they will be supported.
If people do not understand the kind of work our police services and our military do, they might not appreciate the importance of service animals. Service animals have a very long tradition, a history that is not particularly new. What is new is that we are recognizing that their importance merits putting amendments into the Criminal Code to make sure it is recognized.
To branch out a bit beyond police service dogs, having travelled a bit in my capacity as foreign affairs spokesperson, I know that overseas our military uses service dogs to accompany soldiers. Dogs were trained in Afghanistan to help in terms of IEDs, explosives, and munitions. Through their work they provide safety for our military abroad and for civilians who might be affected by conflict. These dogs are there to sniff out explosives so that the explosives can be deactivated and will not be used to kill people. These dogs provide an extraordinarily important service.
We have to understand rescue animals in that context. Particularly with dogs, which I know best, this approach is important.
We also have to understand the importance of these animals in terms of what they are able to provide. It is not just that they are trained to aid and abet the work of first responders, police, military, et cetera; they also provide important support for those people, who are working in highly stressful situations.
We have come to learn a lot about the importance of animals in the field of mental health and the effect dogs can have. I think of what is happening with veterans, for instance. A lot of work being done with veterans uses animals, particularly dogs, to help them. I have seen it with seniors as well. I have seen it with kids with autism, et cetera. It is important to understand this capability, and it is really smart to provide this service to people, because it works.
We have a dog in our home, Wesley. He was a rescue dog from Iqaluit in Nunavut. He is a little West Highland Terrier and a mix of some other breeds—a Heinz 57, if you will, and I know the kind of support he provides our family. My two teenage boys might not be able to talk to me about everything, but certainly they can confide in Wesley. We know that really does help.
We see this as an important good, both for first responders in making sure people are safe as well as in providing that personal support, but there are times when the dogs are put in harm's way or in perilous situations, such as in the example from last October, so it makes sense to put this reform into the Criminal Code. We acknowledge the government's promises in the Speech from the Throne and we look for its commitments on some of the other issues we noted in the Speech from the Throne coming forward as well in regulation legislation.
It is important to note what my colleagues have noted when we are talking about Criminal Code changes. When I was first elected, I recall my colleague from Windsor, the Deputy Speaker, noting the government's agenda on justice matters and saying that it would be really smart to have an overview of the Criminal Code. However, one of the things we should stay away from is putting mandatory minimums on all legislation, which seems to be a dominant response of the Conservative government. The Criminal Code was passed by Parliament and it is important that we get it right, but as my colleague from Montreal stated, the judiciary must have some leeway—some—to interpret and to sentence appropriately after having had a full hearing of evidence provided on a case.
That point is very important when it comes to this piece of legislation and others, simply because when a mandatory minimum law was put in place in the past, judges felt it restricted their ability to sentence in a sensible way. This meant that as a result of the mandatory minimum declaration, justice sometimes could not be done.
That is why, on this side, we believe that a mandatory minimum approach should be restricted to very few cases. Our colleague from Windsor has taught law and understands these issues. I think that the one case for which we have evidence that it might work was in the case of drunk driving, but other than that, we have not seen evidence that it works.
We believe that this is a good initiative. We think that we should go forward, take it to committee, and improve it. We should make sure that the government understands that, as with other justice issues and bills, it should resist the temptation to have mandatory minimums.
On this day, let me say that there is a lot of agreement on the issue. There is a lot of support, and the importance of the issue is recognized. That is a good thing. Let us work together to improve the bill and make sure it is the best bill that we can provide.