POSTSCRIPT: On September 14, 2016, one of my colleagues spoke with the assistant to a Member of Parliament about Bill C-246. She was told that their office received more correspondence on Bill C-246 than on ANY other issue, to the tune of approximately 160 contacts. Clearly Canadians are passionate about seeing our government improve animal protection legislation. MPs must recognize this fact, respect the wishes of Canadians, and vote in favour of Bill C-246 at second reading on September 28.
Bill C-246, a private member’s bill known as the “Modernizing Animal Protections Act,” is the latest in a long line of attempts to improve Canada’s animal protection legislation.* Other than to increase penalties, the legislation hasn’t been updated since it was first created in 1892. The current legislation still refers to cock-fighting, which hasn’t been a substantial animal welfare problem in Canada for decades. The law does not, however, address matters like puppy mills or dog-fighting, which are legitimate animal welfare issues.
* See specifically pages 4-7, "Literature on the Attempted Amendments to the Federal Anti-Cruelty Provisions".
Months ago when Bill C-246 was first announced, Animal Cruelty Legislation Advocates Canada and Ruby’s Legacy: STOP PUPPY MILLS IN CANADA! encouraged our members to contact their Members of Parliament to ask them to vote for Bill C-246. We also asked that anyone receiving a response from their MP let us know how their MP responded. Some MPs didn’t bother to respond even after several attempts, which is disconcerting in itself. Of the MPs who did respond, we compiled information about how they have said they plan to vote on Bill C-246 on September 28. We released that information the other day. Please check the list to see how MPs have said they plan to vote on Bill C-246. If your MP hasn’t responded yet, please phone them NOW to ask how they plan to vote and let us know if you get a response.
Despite the fact an overhaul of the legislation is sorely needed (125 years is too long!), according to the information we have collected, many Members of Parliament still do not support Bill C-246, including the Minister of Justice and cabinet. Several of those MPs say that they and their constituents fear the bill will make hunting, farming, fishing, and/or medical research illegal. As MP Erskine-Smith (the proponent of Bill C-246) has repeatedly stated, the bill would do no such thing. Further, MPs may be foisting their own inaccurate understanding of the bill and personal points of view onto the backs of their constituents. Are the majority of Canadians actually opposed to the passage of Bill C-246? The numbers would suggest they are not. 92% of Canadians surveyed said they want improved legislation that will make it easier to convict animal abusers. So why are the government and MPs still opposing such legislation? Are they not elected to represent the wishes of their constituents?
Rather than as a result of concerns expressed by their constituents, pressure from powerful lobby groups and industry may be the reason some MPs are opposing the bill. One of the first articles I saw online after Bill C-246 was announced was on a website called “Keep Canada Fishing.” The title of the article was “Go Fishing, Go To Jail – There’s something’s [sic] fishy about Bill C-246.” The by-line to the article reads “Canadian families who fish together will do time together if Bill C-246 becomes law.” However, it is clearly stated in Bill C-246 that acts involving animals are only criminal if they are done “without lawful excuse.” LEGAL ANIMAL USE ACTIVITIES SUCH AS FISHING, HUNTING, FARMING, AND MEDICAL RESEARCH ARE THEREFORE NOT AFFECTED BY BILL C-246.
The Canadian Sportfishing Industry Association’s claims about how Bill C-246 would impact fishing are ludicrous. They state that "Even the act of baiting a hook with a worm would be considered an act of cruelty according to the Bill." MP Erskine-Smith and law professor Peter Sankoff contend that such claims about the effects Bill C-246 would have are preposterous. Can anyone imagine Canada's criminal justice system wasting time and resources to attempt to prosecute someone over such a ridiculous allegation? Still, some Members of Parliament parrot opinions like this and attribute such beliefs to their constituents. These same MPs have not divulged, however, the number of constituents that have contacted them about Bill C-246 and whether those constituents support or oppose the bill.
There is clear evidence to suggest that some MPs may be placing far more weight on the opinions of industry leaders, lobby groups, and constituents who are opposed to the bill than they are with their constituents who support the bill. For example, Member of Parliament Robert Sopuck, one of the most vocal opponents of Bill C-246, sponsored a petition (e-266, Cruelty to animals) on the House of Commons' online electronic petition ("e-petition") site. The petition asked that Bill C-246 be amended to “include the following: add an exclusion to the fisheries portions of the act to exclude legal activities from being criminalized under the Criminal Code.” MP Sopuck's petition garnered a mere 237 signatures during the 120 days it was open and thus did not reach the threshold of signatures required (500) to be “certified” (eligible to be presented in the House of Commons). On the other hand, two online petitions asking Members of Parliament and the Minister of Justice to support Bill C-246 have garnered 47,371 and 102,414 signatures respectively. An e-petition (e-509, Cruelty to animals) was also launched in late August asking that the government pass Bill C-246. That petition is open for signature until December 21, 2016 and, so far, has been signed by 4,507 Canadians, far surpassing the number who signed MP Sopuck's petition.
Why are so many MPs still refusing to protect animals by opposing Bill C-246? These survey and petition numbers reveal that the vast majority of Canadians want improved animal protection legislation that will make it easier to prosecute egregious acts of animal cruelty. Therefore, the government and other Members of Parliament opposed to Bill C-246 may not be adequately representing the wishes of their constituents. These MPs should reconsider their stance and side with Canadians who support the passage of Bill C-246 rather than lobby groups and the vocal minority who want to keep Canada's animal protection legislation firmly entrenched in the 19th century.
To help get Bill C-246 passed, please sign the petitions and check out the additional resources listed below. Go to CallYourMP.ca for further information.