Written by: Heather Clemenceau
Since 1999, the Liberals have made numerous attempts to pass a much-needed update to the antiquated and inadequate animal cruelty provisions in the Criminal Code of Canada. There was Bill C-17, resurrected as Bill C-15 and then re-introduced as Bill C-15B, followed by Bill C-10, Bill C-10B, Bill C-22, Bill C-50, Bill C-274, Bill C-277 and, finally, Bill C-610. While the House of Commons has passed new animal cruelty legislation three times, those Bills were either prorogued by the government or blocked by the Senate before they made it past the finish line. The Canadian Federation of Humane Societies provides an excellent overview of the Bills here.
Toronto-area Liberal MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith, recently introduced a Private Members Bill (C-246) – the Modernizing Animal Protections Act, to reinforce Canada’s public policy and legislative commitments to animal welfare (World Animal Protection ranks Canada’s animal welfare laws a “D” on a scale of A-G). Only the United Kingdom, Austria, Switzerland, and New Zealand scored “A” grades on the index. The Bill will be debated in the House of Commons on May 9th.
Despite rampant paranoia, the law is focused on eliminating the loopholes that allow chronic hoarders, repeat abusers, puppy mill operators and dog fighting perpetrators to get off with a slap on the wrist. It would create a new offence for individuals who cause unnecessary pain, suffering, or injury to an animal through gross negligence of the animal’s welfare. The Bill also sets out to achieve several key measures that are entirely reasonable and should win broad support:
- Prohibition of dog and cat fur importation
- Banning of shark-finning
- Prohibitition the use of live animals in target shooting
- Establishment of penalties for the killing and injuring a police dog
- Prohibition of the training or breeding of animals for the purpose of fighting, as well as making it illegal to profit from dog fighting.
Enter Robert Sopuck, the Conservative MP for Dauphin-Swan River-Neepaw. Sopuck and his cabal of trigger-happy, pre-Darwinian animal killers are so paranoid that hunting and fishing activities will result in cruelty charges, (I wish!) they have created numerous websites and Facebook pages to spread false information and extol the mythical virtues of hunting while proclaiming their services as absolutely necessary for controlling wildlife populations and preserving the environment. These pages feature Sopuck and others dressed up in a variety of machismo fashions, exhibiting unusual levels of arousal while carrying an arsenal of weaponry as they blast into the forests and streams to conduct their primitive rituals.
Sopuck himself proceeded to write a preposterous Toronto Sun article claiming that Erskine-Smith’s Bill will give animals human rights. Clearly channelling former Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz, he writes that “Canada already has adequate measures to protect animals and prevent cruelty. Furthermore, all animal uses are covered by veterinary-approved Codes of Practise that guide what you can do with your animals.” Those “guides” are just that. They are meaningless because they are not laws. And they are not “veterinary approved” either – they are the result of inputs from the agriculture industry. How is it that Sopuck believes we have adequate protections when there are hundreds of entries in the caselaw database of the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies, with many of those not prosecuted successfully. Very few animal cruelty cases are prosecuted each year in comparison to the number of cases that are investigated. It is estimated that less than 10% of cases that warrant prosecution are successfully prosecuted.
Lawyer Peter Sankoff lobs a nuclear strike at Sopuck in this deconstruction of Sopuck’s Toronto Sun article. In the end, Sankoff finds that virtually all of Sopuck’s claims range from the merely overstated to the downright preposterous – finding none of his claims to be accurate:
Despite the hunting propaganda which I have read on the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters website, the reality is that most modern families do not embrace hunting as either a pleasurable pastime or a family adventure. In 2010, almost 3.3 million adult anglers participated in a variety of recreational fishing activities in Canada, the majority of whom fall into the 45-64 year age range (If the downward trend in hunting continues, by the year 2050, hunters will only comprise 1% of the population). Depending on what source you read, about 2-7% of the population are hunters; of course this doesn’t include poachers or treaty hunters who don’t require licenses. In any case both numbers represent a significant minority of Canadians. So you have your acknowledged 2-10% of the population righteously informing everyone else that it is only they who are picking up the tab for wildlife conservation – part time at that.
That dog doesn’t hunt, sorry.
Canadians have been signing animal welfare petitions for decades now, demanding that the values of fairness and justice that we’re known for are applied to the protection of animals and to the punishment of animal abusers. Laws are essential to both codify and enforce positive changes for animals. Why should we be one of the only countries that does not yet prohibit the importation of dog and cat fur, because self-serving groups and a few old conservative politicians, who are clearly a product of Stephen Harper, are arguing against reasonable updates to an ancient law. The fact that Sopuck and the hunting/fishing groups believe that Bill C-246 seeks the “complete elimination of animal use in Canada” indicates that none of them can read. If the Conservatives feel the Bill is “fundamentally flawed,” why don’t they draft their own Bill as they frequently threaten to do? Their objection is based on the desire to kill animals for the sheer delight it brings them – the rest of the world will move on into the next century without them. Compassion for the natural world is the new order.
You can read the details of Nate Erskine-Smith’s Bill below: