Second Reading of Bill C-35, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (law enforcement animals, military animals and service animals)

Honourable senators, I, too, rise to participate in this debate on Bill C-35, better protection for police and military animals and for animals trained to assist people with disabilities. This is the purpose of Bill C-35, the justice for service animals act, Quanto’s law, and I agree with it, but there are some reservations.

Service animals provide essential support to members of organizations such as the RCMP, Canada Border Services Agency and the Correctional Service. If they are killed while carrying out these services, they are dying in the line of duty. To put it in perspective, though, over the past 50 years, 11 service dogs have been killed. There are currently 310 service dogs within the three organizations I just mentioned. Clearly the problem Bill C-35 is meant to address is more significant in principle than in experience.

This bill has gained much prominence in Parliament. As the honourable Senator McIntyre mentioned, the story of the Edmonton police dog Quanto, who was stabbed to death by a suspect he was chasing, does have poignancy. Human beings should not injure or kill animals. That is heartbreaking. However, to highlight the need for a legislative response to this and a handful of comparable incidents within the last Speech from the Throne is excessive. For us to be engaged in the government’s urgent push for this bill to be considered and passed promptly — and this is promptly, as this will be two days and that’s it — to say this is excessive is an understatement.

It seems there is such an urgency to this bill in comparison to issues like child poverty, the environment and injustices incurred by our Aboriginal population. That is what is really heartbreaking. The government doesn’t have the heart or good judgment to initiate an inquiry, for that matter, into murdered and missing Aboriginal women, but this is urgent. That doesn’t seem to have any urgency. I just don’t get that.

But back to the bill, of course animals should be protected and anyone who harms them should be held accountable for their crime. This principle is valid. Unfortunately, it is the only valid element of Bill C-35 that I can see at this juncture. This bill has flaws and it’s our duty to address them both in committee and within this chamber. Among those flaws is a fundamental disconnect between proposed amendments to the Criminal Code and the bill’s potential to actually accomplish what it has been created to do — that is, prevent harm to service animals.

The amendments criminalize injuring and killing service animals. They also create, and here we go again, a mandatory minimum sentence for the crime to be served on top of other sentences the offenders must serve. The sentence for killing or injuring animals assisting law enforcement officers is a minimum of six months up to a maximum of five years in prison. This bill is an example of the government’s tough-on-crime ideology, but I am sure that judges using common sense will continue to make their decisions based on individual cases.

Mandatory criminal sentences are not preventative. They will have no impact on risks to the safety of service animals or to the financial investments that go into training them. This bill illustrates all too well how real-life situations, with all their unpredictability and complexity, have to be the “touch point” for the laws we create and amend.

There is an unappealing familiarity to Bill C-35’s proposed Criminal Code amendments requiring mandatory sentences. These amendments are part of a larger agenda, that being the government’s ongoing disdain for the distinct powers and influence of judges. I am talking specifically about a judge’s duty to apply wisdom and discretion to the circumstances of the cases they hear.

For every crime there are different variables and intentions. Disabling our mechanisms for listening and being receptive to an accused’s story holds human rights implications that affect us all. I chose today to make the point that we lack enough experience with the crime in question — again, 11 killings in the past 50 years — to exclude consideration of human and social factors related to each case.

My concerns lead me to think that the government is too focused on altering the Criminal Code and other tools of law. It would be, in my opinion, useful to turn our attention away from legal mechanisms and learn about the policies and practices of the federal organizations using service animals. Are there parameters around the types of situations where service dogs are brought in? Are there measures to guide them in reducing risks to the animals? Information such as this would contribute positively to the considerations at committee that all of us will have to make this week. By considering alternatives to what is laid out for us in Bill C-35, we will be asserting our ability and living up to our duty to think independently of what we are being urged to think.

The best thing about this bill is its purpose, as narrow as it might be. If it’s going to be improved, it will have to include provisions crafted to support this purpose and, as I mentioned, the committee and this chamber is where those improvements can be made.

I have received a number of letters from folks across the country and, as I said at the beginning of my speech, I agree in essence with this bill but there are so many other important things that we’re not going to see in this particular Parliament.

I will put on the record a letter from Mr. Roger William Andrews from Fraser Heights, Surrey, British Columbia:

Dear Senator Munson,

I have been watching the progress of Bill C-35 Justice for Animals in Service Act (Quanto’s Law) since its introduction. This law is very important to me as I have a service animal for the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder I developed as a paramedic over a decade ago. This Bill has made it through the House with the support of all parties. It is now up to you as a Senator to pass this Bill so that it may receive Royal Assent and become law.

I realize that we are quickly approaching the end of this 41st Parliament and if this Bill does not pass quickly through the Senate, I fear it will die on the floor and not be reintroduced for some time. . . .

Bill C-35 means a great to those of us with service animals for disability as well as for police and military animals. . . .

He signs off “sincerely.”

The reason why I brought this letter to our attention is that I would also like to bring this letter and thousands of other letters to the attention of Tom Mulcair and other people like him who say we don’t have very much to do here in terms of reviewing and taking a look at bills and that Canadians really don’t care what we do here.

Well, with this bill and Bill C-51, and you name the bills; the reform bill, Michael Chong’s bill, and other bills we’re dealing with; Bill C-377, we all know it here, as senators, that we are receiving thousands of emails and letters from across the country. Canadians who I would like to think are the silent majority — and not the columnists who are the loud minority — are paying attention to the work that we do as senators. This is a good bill, and I want the Senate to know I support it.