My perspective - This little piggy can’t go to market?


By Kate Jackman-Atkinson

Neepawa Banner/Neepawa Press

Prohibiting the practice of shark finning, making dog fighting illegal, banning the import of products made of dog or cat fur or skin and creating more legal mechanisms to prosecute those who starve animals to death– A newly introduced federal bill aims to close the loopholes that currently allow these practices to continue. You would be hard pressed to find a Canadian who doesn’t support such legislation, the problem is that this isn’t all that Bill C-246 contains. 

Introduced this February as a Private Member’s bill by Liberal MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith, Bill C-246, the Modernizing Animal Protections Act, aims to: “amend the Criminal Code, the Fisheries Act, the Textile Labelling Act, the Wild Animal and Plant Protection and Regulation of International and Interprovincial Trade Act and the Canada Consumer Product Safety Act (animal protection)” in order to better protect animals.

Hunters, anglers and even farmers have come out against the bill and it isn’t because they aren’t animal lovers. If passed, this act will move animals from the property section of the law into the section of the Criminal Code, which deals with morals and offences committed against persons. The vague wording then creates a situation in which animals could be entitled to similar rights as people. Following the first reading of the bill, animal rights groups, such as the International Fund for Animal Welfare and Animal Alliance of Canada, voiced their support.

At the heart of the issue is section 182.1, which reads, “Everyone commits an offence who, wilfully or recklessly, causes or, being the owner, permits to be caused unnecessary pain, suffering or injury to an animal; kills an animal or, being the owner, permits an animal to be killed, brutally or viciously, regardless of whether the animal dies immediately; kills an animal without lawful excuse.”

The legislation doesn’t define the terms “brutally” or “viciously”– which is where the potential problems arise. Where does hunting or the slaughter of animals for food fall in this spectrum? What about veterinary procedures, like castration or dehorning, which can cause pain and suffering? There is nothing in the proposed legislation that would exempt Canadians doing any activities which are considered normal by society’s standards.  

Unlike the current animal welfare legislation, Bill C-246 actually contains some teeth and those who violate it could face fines as high as $10,000 or 18 months in jail. This seems fair for those who partake in dog fighting, but what about someone who baits a hook with a minnow?

Local MP Robert Sopuck, who was a fisheries biologist before going into politics and is the Conservative Party’s critic for wildlife conservation and Parks Canada, has been a vocal opponent of the bill, which he says aims to eliminate all animal use in Canada. Sopuck has noted that other legislation, for example the Ontario SPCA Act, specifically lists exempted activities, such as fishing with a license, but no such wording exists in Bill C-246.

Much of the contentious wording in Bill C-246 has appeared in seven other bills, starting in 1999. One such bill even made it to the Senate.

On May 9, Erskine-Smith is scheduled to present the second reading of C-246 and he could face some tough opposition. Angling groups in particular have been actively encouraging the 3.3 million adult Canadians who fish to contact their MPs and voice their opposition to the proposed legislation.

The urban-rural divide in Canada is real and this legislation could have been an opportunity to unite all Canadians on our desire to protect animals from neglect or death in a fighting ring.  If this is the true intent of the bill, then it could be made clear in the wording. Instead, the bill has served to further stoke the flames that rural ways of life and Canadian traditions are under attack.