“I do not know of any families that do not love their pets.”
~ Blaine Calkins, Member of Parliament for Red Deer—Lacombe speaking in opposition to Bill C-246, which would update Canada’s animal protection legislation
On September 28, 2016, Members of Parliament are expected to vote on whether to advance Bill C-246, the “Modernizing Animal Protections Act,” to the next stage of the parliamentary process. If MPs vote in favour of the bill, it will be forwarded to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights for review and any required amendments. Bill C-246 will not become law unless and until it passes through several additional steps beyond the second-reading vote next week. The bill was introduced in the House of Commons by MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith and was debated during second reading on May 9, 2016. During the debate there were plenty of comments made by Members of Parliament that had me shaking my head in disbelief about their apparent lack of knowledge of animal cruelty and why passing Bill C-246 is imperative. The statements of MP Blaine Calkins, however, astounded me.
Before the second half of the debate and voting takes place, I feel compelled to rebut Mr. Calkins’ comments. They reveal that some MPs need to better inform themselves about the violent crime of animal cruelty which Bill C-246 seeks to address. Members of Parliament are empowered and entrusted by their constituents to vote on whether Bill C-246 should be forwarded to the Committee, which they should support if they agree with the objects of the bill. Therefore, if MPs plan to vote conscientiously on Bill C-246, they must thoroughly understand its contents and implications.
The comments made by Mr. Calkins to which I refer began with his statement that “the bill also goes on to talk about dogs and cats.” He then suggested, dismissively, that this is a “heartstrings amendment.” Mr. Calkins proceeded to say that he is in control of whether his dog ends up “in some other type of situation” because “I have that ability and responsibility, and I take care of my family dog. I do not know of any families that do not love their pets. My dog is part of the family.” What Mr. Calkins insinuated is that Bill C-246 is not necessary because all families love their pets and everyone who owns a pet is in control of what happens to that pet. Unfortunately, there are numerous animal cruelty cases demonstrating this is not the reality.
In several instances, family pets have been tortured and even killed by animal abusers after the pets escaped from a yard or were lost or stolen. The case of the dog Ryder in British Columbia is one such example. Ryder accidentally escaped his family’s yard and was allegedly tortured by a woman who stuffed several objects down his throat and a metal ring into his eye. According to court records, that woman intends to plead guilty to animal cruelty in the near future. Zachary McKinnon and Wendell Mack Mah of Alberta were convicted of stealing a friend’s cat, Pudge, torturing Pudge with scissors, killing him, and cooking him. Joshua Conrad, also of Alberta, lured and then beat and drowned Shasta, a dog who belonged to the family of Conrad’s friend. There are plenty of other similar stories of animal abuse which have taken place in Canada. Although Ryder, Pudge, and Shasta were loved by their families, they inadvertently found their way into the hands of people who horrifically abused them. It is thus naïve to believe that everyone has complete control over their pets and, therefore, the ability to keep them safe from abuse.
Mr. Calkins’ most glaring comment was that “I do not know of any families that do not love their pets. My dog is part of the family.” Mr. Calkins may not know of any families that do not love their pets, but there are many. The case of Kayla Bourque is one well-known example of a family in which at least one member of the family does not love the family pet. Bourque videotaped herself disembowelling and dismembering the family cat, and eviscerating and hanging the family dog. She was subsequently reported to police for expressing a desire to kill a human being. Bourque has been described by the courts as an “affectionless psychopath” and a “sexual sadist.” Hers may be an extreme example, but there are other animal cruelty cases that demonstrate that not all families love their family pets, apart from the myriad neglect cases seen on a daily basis:
Steven Helfer, who beat the family dog, Breezy, with a rake and shovel to get back at his mother for not letting him into the house;
Brian Whitlock, who beat his dog, Captain, with a baseball bat, also harassed and threatened his ex-partner and her mother;
Frederick Drynock, who strangled his spouse’s cat in a domestic dispute, in a case in which the prosecutor stated that “harm to the cat was used to control and express violence toward his partner”;
Christopher Mathes, a father who pleaded guilty to beating the family dog, Jersey, to death with a fence post after a Thanksgiving family dinner;
Joseph White, who beat the family dog, Bryn, with a baseball bat;
Daniel Phillips, who on two occasions abused his then-girlfriend’s dog to the point where one of the dog’s legs subsequently required amputation, and;
Robert Habermehl, who injured his partner’s cat so badly the cat had to be euthanized.
Several of the offenders noted above have also breached conditions placed upon them by the courts and may have been convicted of other offences. Animal abusers often appear to have little respect for the law and show no aversion to also threatening or harming humans. Furthermore, the sentences they receive for animal cruelty typically do not reflect the risk they pose to other animals and humans. For example, the charges against Brian Whitlock, who was convicted of animal abuse in the case of Captain (a German Shepherd dog who was found in a locked dumpster in Vancouver on July 18, 2012) were "whittled down" over the course of his court proceedings. First, Crown chose to proceed with the animal cruelty charge as a summary conviction offence rather than an indictable offence, meaning that the maximum of 5 years in jail was diminished to a possible maximum of 18 months in jail. Whitlock faced charges of criminal harassment, failure to comply with conditions of an undertaking, assault (two counts), uttering threats, and obstructing justice. By the time he was sentenced, he was sentenced for the animal cruelty charge, one count of assault and one count of mischief. I don't know for sure what happened with the charges of uttering threats and obstructing justice but it appears that he received a $250 fine and a one-year peace bond. Furthermore, although Crown asked for a 10-year firearms prohibition, what was instituted by the court was only a 5-year ban. Incredibly, despite the warning signs that were clear to animal advocates, Whitlock was deemed by the courts to be a low risk to reoffend. Unfortunately, we were correct in our belief that the psychiatric assessment was inaccurate as Whitlock has subsequently been charged with murdering his mother. In any event, the cases of Brian Whitlock and others demonstrate that, contrary to Mr. Calkins’ experience, there are many families in which at least one family member does not love their family pet(s).
Mr. Calkins’ comment that the amendments posed by Bill C-246 are “heartstring amendments” and his insinuation that the bill is unnecessary belie the significant risks animal abusers pose to our communities. A few years ago our organization began documenting cases in which people are convicted of animal abuse or neglect in Canada. We are especially concerned about situations where people convicted of animal cruelty are also either convicted of other offences or appear to have used animals to coerce, control, or victimize a human. As demonstrated in the cases of Brian Whitlock and the others noted above, family pets are not the sole victims of animal abusers. People who perpetrate animal cruelty may also perpetrate violence on humans within the family or outside of it. During the first hour of debate on Bill C-246, MP Erskine-Smith acknowledged the link between animal cruelty and other forms of violence. The Canadian Centre for Abuse Awareness (CCAA), whose mandate is “to reduce the incidents and impact of child abuse through education and public awareness,” supports Bill C-246. As stated by MP Erskine-Smith, “John Muise, director of public safety at the CCAA, retired veteran police detective, and former board member at the Parole Board of Canada, notes that research confirms the link between abuse of animals and other forms of violence including child abuse.” According to the National Link Coalition “[t]he emotional impact upon impressionable children who witness or perpetrate acts of animal cruelty can be lifelong and devastating.” Animal abuse has long-lasting negative consequences for both animal and human victims, and must therefore be taken seriously. It is important that MPs understand this reality before they vote on Bill C-246.
Bill C-246 is necessary because Canada’s current legislation, which has not been substantively updated since 1892, contains language that makes it difficult to convict people who abuse or neglect animals. Bill C-246 would change that, while maintaining a high legal standard for conviction. Convicting and appropriately sentencing animal abusers would not only deter and denounce the actions of those abusers, but may also decrease the risk of harm to other animals and humans as a result of general deterrence. MPs who choose to vote against Bill C-246 will be refusing to protect vulnerable animals and, potentially, humans. If Mr. Calkins’ dog truly is “part of the family,” then one would think he should wish to properly inform himself about the risks animal abusers pose before he decides which way to vote on Bill C-246. Further, as Mr. Calkins’ misinformed comments may influence other MPs to vote against Bill C-246, he should refrain from commenting about the bill in the House of Commons until he understands all of its implications.
Members of Parliament have an obligation to conduct themselves “in the best interests of the country.” Thus, before voting on Bill C-246 in September, they must properly and fully inform themselves about all aspects of the bill. To do so necessarily includes ensuring they truly understand animal abuse and neglect. Bill C-246 will not give animals legal rights or affect legitimate animal use. What it will do is make it easier to prosecute egregious crimes of animal abuse by bringing Canadian animal protection legislation into the 21st century.
Bill C-246 is the latest in a long line of attempts to ensure that animal-abusing criminals are properly held accountable for their crimes. The majority of Canadians want better animal cruelty legislation and many have been contacting their MPs to tell them so. The assistant to one MP indicated their office has received upward of 160 contacts about this bill, far more than on any other issue. If Parliament defeats Bill C-246 they will confirm that the government of a country which received a “D” rating for its “archaic anti-cruelty legislation” truly does not care about improving that rating and protecting Canada’s animals. They will be sanctioning animal abuse and ignoring the 92% of Canadians surveyed who support “updating [the] criminal code to make it easier to convict on animal cruelty" (see page 6) and the 157,399 people who have signed petitions in support of Bill C-246.
If you want Bill C-246 to pass, it is imperative that you let your MP know NOW!