Animal use industries want Bill C-246 dead. But can we save it from ourselves?
It is not often that the systemic violence done to animals by our society is brought up for discussion in the House of Commons. If a bill is born that looks to protect animals from harm or asserts that our perception of animals in society has risen above the compartmentalization of them as property, it often fails to capture the imagination of our politicians and dies with disinterest. Bill C-246, the Modernizing Animal Protections Act, is currently heading down this same trajectory, but the reasons are less obvious and seldom made public. So, as bringing awareness to animal suffering is a duty of the animal advocate, let me tell you about how the government is ensuring this suffering continues and what is being done to hold them accountable.
Nathaniel Erskine-Smith is the Liberal MP who brought Bill C-246 forward to the House of Commons. What it asks for is not entirely new, but it has been the culmination of nearly 20 years of efforts to update federal animal cruelty laws of Canada to reflect the status of animals as deserving better recognition and protection. To be clear, these changes are not going to liberate animals from the horrors of the industries that continue to kill, brutalize, and exploit animals by the 100’s of millions. These are incremental changes that would make some small improvements that would still bring more justice to the most vulnerable in our society, that is currently withheld by indifferent and powerful lobby groups. Let’s break down what the bill, in its most recent iteration, is factually asking for:
– Bill C-246 closes loopholes related to animal fighting, making it illegal to profit from animal fighting, and to train, breed, and transport animals for the purpose of fighting. Animal fighting rings are underground and secretive, making them notoriously difficult to detect and prosecute. Outlining behaviours associated with animal fighting will make it easier for law enforcement to bring animal fighters to justice.
– Currently, unowned animals like wildlife and stray pets receive fewer protections from cruelty and killing: it is not a criminal offence to kill a stray or wild animal for no reason. It is also not a criminal offence to brutally beat an animal to death for no reason so long as the animal dies right away. Bill C-246 closes these loopholes.
– Bill C-246 strengthens sentences for repeat animal abusers, with a mandatory lifetime ban on animal ownership for any person convicted of animal cruelty for a second time.
– Animal cruelty offences are currently located in the property offences section of the Criminal Code. This may have been appropriate in the 1800s when one of the main goals of the laws was to protect peoples’ property rights in economically valuable livestock. But now, Canadians believe harming animals is wrong principally because of the effect on the animals, and only secondarily for other reasons. Bill C-246 moves animal cruelty crimes to a new section of the Code called “Offences against animals”. This does not change animals’ legal status as property, but rather is a recognition of the widespread view that animals deserve protections regardless of whose property they happen to be.
– Bill C-246 will not affect animal agriculture, animal research, or hunting and fishing, as critics have falsely misrepresented. The changes proposed by Bill C-246 target cases of blatant animal abuse and neglect.
– Bill C-246 reiterates the protections for existing aboriginal and treaty rights. These rights are also protected by the constitution.
– Bill C-246 ensures all forms of sexual abuse of animals remains illegal, closing a dangerous
possible loophole that could allow some cases of bestiality to go unprosecuted.
– Bill C-246 prohibits the practice of shark finning in Canadian waters and bans the import of shark fins not attached to the carcass.
– Bill C-246 bans the import and sale of cat and dog fur in Canada and requires that fur be labeled with the animal species.
There is one important piece of Bill C-246 that I have left out and that is because it is the most significant part that the animal use lobby groups: anglers, hunters, farming, trappers, etc. take issue with. Currently, prosecutors must prove “willful neglect” when seeking a conviction for unlawful abuse or the killing of animals. This places an undue burden on prosecutors to prove a very ambiguous and unwieldy psychological state directing the actions of the accused. It would be replaced by new wording “brutally or viciously” which would greatly empower prosecutors in bringing to trial the most abject cruelty and killing of animals in our society.
Now, I don’t want to belabour this point too much; however, it is people who make their livings killing animals that are the ones pressuring the government to oppose Bill C-246, based primarily on the above section. They are threatened by the idea that more successful criminal charges laid upon those who are cruel to animals, will shine more light on the inhumane and cruel industries they are a part of. It is seldom that the law precedes public perception on an issue of justice. Once society has adopted an attitude, in this case that animals are deserving of at least marginally better moral consideration than they are currently given, MP’s craft bills to reflect their constituencies interests and they are tested in Parliament to become law. Yes, bills can start in the Senate, but the shift in societal values must happen first in most cases.
When first brought forward the bill actually appeared to have decent support, but then Bill Blair, Parliamentary Assistant to the Liberal Justice Minister, Jody Wilson-Raybould, made it clear during second debate that the Cabinet would not be supporting C-246. She confirmed “no support” for the bill citing impacts on animal husbandry hunting and fishing. Reasoning for this is as vague as “willful neglect.” This bills wording was actually framed on previous Liberal justice’s recommendations, so this makes no sense. There has also been ample discussion in the House regarding that this bill that this will not affect standard animal use industries or infringe on aboriginal people’s treaty rights. This bill is being killed because of a concern for giving an inch to the ideal of animal rights. These people don’t care about the animals interests, they care about continuing to use animals as they see fit.
At this point, Justin Trudeau’s cabinet has been instructed to vote against the bill, despite it being a private member’s bill which are usually free votes. All indications are that the Conservatives will vote against the bill. Meanwhile, the NDP have come out in strong support of the bill thanks to the efforts of Victoria NDP MP, Murray Rankin, but this still leaves us up in the air with how the remaining Liberals will vote. Based on reports from within the House of Commons, it is likely enough will vote against the bill to kill it. Still, hope is not lost.
Animal Alliance has been running television ads to raise awareness of the truth and politics behind what is driving the demise of this bill. They are the only organization at this point to go after the government’s relationship with the animal use industries as a point of contention and condemning this politically self-interested directive to withhold what are essentially marginal improvements for the worst abused animals. These ads have been effective. They have caused some members of the animal use industries to try and stem the bad public relations they are getting from their fear-mongering and offer a compromise. They want the bill diluted, it stripped of its already well worn teeth from years of compromising with these very industries in previous iterations. If this bill dies in its second reading, it will not be because our perception of animals has changed to be deserving of greater compassion, it will be because lesser institutions founded on violence fears extending greater compassion will come at the cost of its unobstructed use of animals as commodities.
This is an ideological battle, and sadly one that few are willing to go the distance with, but we must because if we do not, then we have not served the animals any better than those who would use them as mere pawns for prestige and funding. We must have resolve when defeat seems imminent. If the animal use industries are willing to compromise it is only because we caught them on poor footing. They may have the economic advantage, but they are also their own worst enemy. We must not allow the bill to be diluted. Animals have so little to themselves, not even their own bodies. Are those who abuse them so weak that it would yolk the remainder of their strength to extend a paltry generosity to them?
Animal Alliance Environment Voters believes in maintaining the integrity of Bill C-246 in its original form and having it brought to committee for further consideration. It is an injustice that animals have no true representation in parliament, but we do have the capacity to be more than charities on their behalf. While compromising may bring the sweet nothings of a small success, it secures the defeat of the principle, which in my mind is unconscionable. We must expose the political ties to animal industries that desire only to keep animals oppressed and their resistance to any success to uplift their status in society as a threat to their profits and depraved pleasure.
Animal Alliance Environment Voters Party of Canada