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

Honourable senators, I rise today to add to the comments of Senator McIntyre at third reading stage of Bill C-35, the Justice for Animals in Service Bill. Let’s be clear, I support this bill. As you may recall from the debate at second reading earlier this week, the main feature of this legislation is the introduction of a six-month mandatory minimum sentence for killing an on-duty law enforcement animal.

Yesterday in the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee, we gained better insight into the scope of this bill. Mr. Stephen Kaye, President of the Canadian Police Canine Association, responded to a question from the Honourable Senator Joyal that roughly 500 police dogs are in service with police forces across the country. As I noted during my speech at second reading, only 10 police dogs, in addition to Quanto, have been killed in the line of duty over the past 50 years. These two figures capture the narrow focus of this bill, which would otherwise lead us to believe that violence toward law enforcement animals is much more common.

Bill C-35 also includes provisions for consecutive sentencing. I’m concerned about the government’s increasing use of these two mechanisms in its crime legislation. The problem, honourable senators, is that they can result in punishments that in their totality might be unduly harsh. As we know, similar provisions for other offences have been struck down by the Supreme Court of Canada for contravening section 12 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which protects Canadians from cruel and unusual punishments.

Having said that, honourable senators may be surprised that my foremost concern with this bill is actually its lack of proper penalties. The person who killed Quanto, in addition to a 26-month prison sentence, of which 18 months were specifically for killing Quanto, was banned from pet ownership for 25 years.

To me this was an important part of the sentence, but the provision that allowed the judge to impose this punishment, subsection 447.1 of the Criminal Code, is not amended by Bill C-35. Therefore, someone convicted of an offence under this measure would not be subject to such a ban unless they were also convicted of a cruelty to animals offence.

During yesterday’s committee hearings on the bill, Michael Spratt, a criminal defence counsel and member of the Criminal Lawyers’ Association captured the bill’s strengths and its weaknesses perfectly. He said:

Moving on to the bill, we should start by saying the [Criminal Lawyers’ Association] doesn’t oppose the creation of a specific offence as seen here. Indeed, the evidence from criminologists has suggested that creating an offence actually does deter crime and does help keep communities safe. The part we disagree with won’t come as a surprise — it is the mandatory minimum sentence in the bill. The evidence on that specifically is quite different.

Personally, after spending the day with the deaf-blind associations from across the country, having that recognition in June, and seeing the beautiful guide and service dogs yesterday, I feel that anybody who willfully tries to maim or kill an animal should be banned for life from owning an animal.

I remain concerned that these amendments to the Criminal Code will not actually prevent harm to service animals. But to conclude, honourable senators, we have before us an imperfect but well-intentioned bill. If this were not the end of the session — and I know that Senator White believes this — I would propose an amendment to allow for judges to ban offenders convicted under the act from pet ownership. I feel this would better protect service animals in our country. However, at the end of this day, I believe we should still support Bill C-35 as presented, as it is an important first step and recognizes the value of service animals to Canadians.