Thursday, August 31, 2006

Canadian Government Decides Against Introducing a Bill from Last Parliament That Would Have Modernized 19th Century Definitions of Animal Cruelty

Wow, to not even go ahead with a common sense bill against cruelty makes you wonder why. Do they actually like cruelty?


Animal cruelty bill lacks teeth, say rights groups

Joel Kom
CanWest News Service; Ottawa Citizen

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

OTTAWA - The Conservative government has decided against re-introducing a Liberal bill from the last Parliament that would have modernized 19th century definitions of animal cruelty a decision that has angered animal-rights groups who lobbied to pass the bill for the past seven years.

The government will instead support a Liberal senator's bill, known as S-213, that focuses mostly on increasing fines and jail terms for animal cruelty offences, a spokesman for Justice Minister Vic Toews said Tuesday.

The Conservatives won't re-introduce the last Parliament's legislation, which itself was the fourth version of an animal-cruelty bill dating back to 1999, because it wasn't part of the party's platform, Mike Storeshaw said.

''S-213 is an approach we'd support,'' he said. ''We think the (penalties) that exist are too low and S-213 is a good way of handling it.''

The Senate bill, introduced in April by Liberal Senator John Bryden, would raise the maximum jail term to five years for indictable offences, higher than the current two-year maximum. The bill would also raise the maximum fine from the current $2,000 to $10,000 and allow judges to impose a lifetime ban on animal ownership for anyone convicted of animal cruelty.

Those penalties were all included in the last Parliament's legislation, which died last year after the election was called.

But the big difference, animal-rights groups said, was the parliamentary bill modernized definitions of animal cruelty that hadn't been updated since the first such law was passed in 1892. While some minor changes were made in the 1950s, they said, the Senate bill lets most of the 19th-century rules live on. For example, crimes against animals are considered property offences.

''The most unfortunate development around the whole debate ... is the introduction of Senator Bryden's bill,'' said Shelagh MacDonald, program director for the Ottawa-based Canadian Federation of Humane Societies, adding she was "enormously disappointed" with the Conservative plan.

MacDonald said the Senate bill fails to lower the high threshold that demands prosecutors prove someone intended to neglect animals, something the parliamentary bill would have done. The threshold came into play, MacDonald said, when a judge acquitted a Saskatchewan farmer charged with starving more than 30 sheep to death because the judge didn't feel the farmer intended to starve the animals.

The Senate bill would also not extend the law's protection to wild or unowned animals.

''If you can't convict to begin with, what difference does it make if the penalties are larger or smaller?'' said Cele Partap, a spokeswoman for the Toronto-based World Society for the Protection of Animals Canada.

Some had criticized the last parliamentary legislation for its potential to spark lawsuits from overzealous animal-rights groups who, they said, would go as far as making hunting and fishing illegal. Partap called that a ''radical statement,'' saying anything already lawfully regulated such as hunting and fishing would have been unaffected by the parliamentary bill.

That bill had, in various incarnations, been kicking around Parliament since 1999, yet it was never passed either because of an election call or because the parliamentary session ended. Storeshaw said he couldn't comment on animal-rights groups' specific concerns, only to say the government supported the Senate bill.

Brian Murphy, the Liberals' associate justice critic, said he was ''relatively receptive'' to the Conservatives' plans to back the Senate bill despite his preference to re-introduce the old legislation. But, he added, MPs would have the chance to make amendments to the Senate bill before it would become law, something his party would ''absolutely'' look at.

Ottawa Citizen

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