Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Social Affairs, Science and Technology
Issue No. 63 - Evidence - June 13, 2019
OTTAWA, Thursday, June 13, 2019
The Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology, to which was referred Bill C-84, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (bestiality and animal fighting), met this day at 10:30 a.m. to give clause-by-clause consideration to the bill.
Senator Judith G. Seidman (Deputy Chair) in the chair.
The Deputy Chair: Ms. St. Germain, we’ll start with you.
Monique St. Germain, General Counsel, Canadian Centre for Child Protection: Good morning, chair and distinguished members of the committee. Thank you for giving our organization the opportunity to provide a presentation on Bill C-84.
I am General Counsel for the Canadian Centre for Child Protection, which is a national charity dedicated to the personal safety of all children that has been operating for over 30 years. I am here to express the centre’s strong support for Bill C-84 and to speak specifically about our lens into the offence of bestiality.
Our agency operates Cybertip.ca, Canada’s national tip line to report the online sexual exploitation of children. The tip line is a central part of the Government of Canada’s National Strategy for the Protection of Children from Sexual Exploitation on the Internet. Our analysts assess online content tied to crimes against children, which content includes acts of bestiality.
By operating Cybertip.ca, our agency is a witness to the countless ways in which children are sexually victimized online. Since its inception nearly 17 years ago, Cybertip has processed over 2 million reports involving online crimes against children. This includes child sexual abuse content detected by Project Arachnid, an innovative tool that finds where child sexual abuse images and videos are being made publicly available on the Internet and provides notice for takedown.
We reviewed what Cybertip knew about bestiality imagery. Over a five-year period, Cybertip.ca assessed imagery depicting 192 different sex acts that involved an animal and a child. Nearly 80 per cent of those acts did not involve penetration; 55 per cent of the images depicted oral sex acts. These images and videos involve real children, real animals, and they are degrading to both the child and the animal. Bestiality content, along with material depicting bondage and sadism, is considered the most harmful form of child sexual abuse material. Possessing such content is typically an aggravating factor when sentencing an individual who possesses such content.
After the D.L.W. decision was issued, our agency reviewed reported Canadian criminal case law where sexual contact with an animal was mentioned, or the individual had collected imagery showing sexual acts involving an animal and a child. The highlights of that review were provided to this committee in advance.
Notably, 82 per cent of the Canadian cases that involved in-person bestiality activity also involved the sexual abuse of a child. Such a high level of crossover is meaningful from a public safety and risk management perspective and is worth exploring further. In addition, our study confirmed what the images assessed through Cybertip had told us: Non-penetrative activity is more common when a child is involved. Just like child sexual abuse, technology is increasingly playing an important role in inciting and facilitating these offences. Moreover, dogs, typically the family dog, is the animal frequently targeted for this particular offence.
Our organization regularly monitors reported criminal case law and media reports of charges, and we know that cases involving bestiality — either as a hands-on offence or as part of a child pornography offence — is increasing. This problem is not as rare as we might like to think, and it is not going away.
It is imperative that we learn more about the way in which this type of offending occurs, and how it ties in with other offending. Our paper is a start, but there is so much more still to do. This bill is a very good start.
We have four reasons why we support broadening the definition of bestiality.
First, any sexual activity with an animal is harmful, to the person and to the animal. We know this from the work that we do with survivors of child sexual abuse. Limiting the offence to penetrative activity means we miss so many other forms of harmful sexual behaviour. It also sends the general message that anything less than penetration is acceptable. This is not okay.
Second, removing the penetration requirement will bring this offence in line with virtually every other sexual offence in the Criminal Code.
Third, the definition of bestiality impacts the application of other provisions in the Criminal Code that incorporate section 160 by reference, such as section 161. Protective provisions such as section 161 are weakened and cannot operate as intended if the ambit of the bestiality offence stays narrow.
Fourth, when sexual abuse includes an animal victim, both the sentence imposed and the criminal record of the individual must clearly reflect that.
In closing, we strongly believe that bestiality is a much bigger problem than any of us realize, and that the cases reviewed for our paper are just the tip of the iceberg. The law, as it currently stands, is not at all adequate. The definition of bestiality must be broadened — and quickly — to reflect modern realities. We urge this committee and Parliament to ensure that nothing holds up the passage of this bill. Thank you.
The Deputy Chair: Thank you very much.
Now we’ll go to you, Ms. Labchuk.
Camille Labchuk, Executive Director, Animal Justice: Good morning. I’m an animal protection lawyer and the Executive Director of Animal Justice. We are Canada’s only national animal law organization, and we appreciate the opportunity to be here today.
Animal Justice works to ensure that animals have a voice in Canada’s legal and political systems. We work with citizens and legislators to improve animal protection laws in the country. We push for the vigorous enforcement of existing laws and we fight in court to protect and enhance the interests of animals. It was in this context, going to court, that we first became engaged with the issue of bestiality.
In the fall of 2015, we were the only intervenor in the Supreme Court case of D.L.W., which brings us here today. We had asked the court to interpret the bestiality offence broadly to ensure that all sexual contact with animals was captured by the offence. The decision was released three years ago this week, and unfortunately it identified a legal gap, namely, that sexual abuse of animals stopping short of penetration conduct was not covered by existing laws.
After the D.L.W. decision, I think it’s fair to say that Canadians and people actually around the world were shocked that something so appalling as the sexual abuse of animals could be considered legal in this country. We heard from countless people who just could not believe this.
But to us the outcome was actually not surprising at all. The Supreme Court was put in the position of interpreting what are seriously outdated laws in this country. Our cruelty laws date back to the 1800s, and they haven’t been significantly updated since the 1950s. I note with some optimism that this actually finally changed on Monday, when the House of Commons passed Bill S-203, which is a national ban on keeping whales and dolphins in captivity. It’s the first serious animal protection legislation passed by Parliament since the 1800s.
The D.L.W. case was a headline-grabbing example of many of the ways our laws let down animals, but there are countless other ways that this happens as well. The animal cruelty laws we have in Canada have fallen tragically behind our Western nations and behind our own values as Canadians.
This is tragic because people in this country do care very much about protecting animals, and the sentiment is only growing the more we learn more about their social and cognitive capacities and how they suffer at our hands. We have no animal protection act in this country, something that most other Western democracies do have. And Canada is one of the few countries, especially within the Commonwealth, that has not substantially reformed our animal cruelty laws even within the last decade. Indeed, most Canadian provinces have done this as well with their animal protection rules. The U.K., Australia, New Zealand, for instance, are all making radical attempts at bringing their laws in line with modern values.
I was pleased to hear the Minister of Justice testify yesterday and emphasize his personal commitment to overhauling animal protection legislation in Canada more broadly, not simply focused on the cruelty protections but looking more holistically at the picture and seeing where the law can evolve. He appropriately recognized that Bill C-84 is only a first step, and a small one at that, because this country does need to bring laws into the modern era. The vulnerable animals who are suffering deserve a timeline and clarity on the next steps that the government has promised in terms of getting this work done.
I’m happy to elaborate on other deficiencies with our animal protection laws if you wish in the question period, but for now I’ll move on to the specifics of Bill C-84.
We support Bill C-84 in its current form. It accomplishes what it set out to do, which is to criminalize all forms of bestiality, sexual contact with animals involving humans, and closes loopholes that make it easier to prosecute animal fighting. I won’t spend too much time talking about the specifics of what it does because I think you’ve heard from enough witnesses who understand those details, but we support what the bill does. The proposed definition of bestiality is strong and covers all sexual contact. It recognizes that animals are vulnerable and cannot consent to sexual contact and that there is always a risk of harm involved with the offence of bestiality.
The animal fighting provisions are also strong and accomplish what they set out to do.
Animal Justice previously proposed two amendments before the House of Commons Justice Committee when we testified back in February, and those were happily adopted. I think those strengthen the bill. The first was to empower judges to ban bestiality offenders from owning, having custody or control, or residing in the same premises as an animal in the future, for a period of time that the court considers appropriate in all of the circumstances. This is a critical tool that’s already available to judges who are sentencing other animal cruelty offenders, so it makes sense to include bestiality in that as well.
Many prosecutors will tell you that one of their top priorities, even more than jail time, fines or other penalties that they get for animal cruelty offenders, is simply getting that order, what’s known as a prohibition order, keeping people away from animals in the future. It’s a preventative measure and a good thing.
The second amendment that was happily adopted was repealing section 447(3) of the Criminal Code, which was a harmful provision requiring any cocks seized from a cockfighting operation to be automatically killed without regard to their individual circumstances.
We viewed this as needless because it tied the hands of authorities. Each individual animal is an individual with individual circumstances and separate needs. We already treat offenders as individuals when we sentence people who have been convicted of offences. It’s only fair that, at the very least, we treat animal victims of offences as individuals as well and treat them with compassion. Rescued birds may be appropriate for rehabilitation. There are sanctuaries that can take them where they can receive a high quality of care and enjoy a high quality of life.
I will wrap my remarks up at that and will be happy to answer any questions that you might have.
The Deputy Chair: Thank you both very much for your presentations. We’ll now proceed to questions from senators. I’d like to remind each senator that you have five minutes for your question and your answer, and then, if time permits, we’ll go to a second round.
I’d like to begin with the critic, Senator Boyer.
Senator Boyer: Thank you. I’m the sponsor of the bill. I have a question for Ms. St. Germain, and it has to do with your Cybertip.ca. That sounds like a very effective tool that you’re using at the moment.
What I am wondering about is the online aspect. Does any of this originate in Canada, on Canadian servers? My curiosity comes from wondering if this bill will be able to encapsulate the online aspect of the abuse that you’re seeing, and as long as it’s on Canadian servers. I’d like you to comment on that.
Ms. St. Germain: Cybertip.ca was set up to process reports from Canadians about online crimes against children. In that context, a lot of what Cybertip.ca reviews are materials that members of the public believe to be child pornography and meeting the definition under 163.1 of the Criminal Code. If the picture or video includes an animal, that is caught already under the child pornography provisions.
The definition of bestiality, while very narrow in the D.L.W. decision, does not implicate on the child pornography side. However, where there is still a gap is in the connection of bestiality pictures or videos that don’t involve a child, and there’s a lot of that out there. So as far as I know, there isn’t anybody who is accepting reports or investigating sites that post primarily adults with animals and sexual activity. Because of the nature of the Internet, oftentimes you can’t tell where an image or video originates, and so the location of the server is not really the most critical issue.
For example, one of the things we do with child pornography is we send notices to hosts that we believe to be hosting child pornography material. For the most part, many of those hosts are quite compliant with taking down the material.
One of the issues we have is that in Canada, because we don’t have a clear prohibition against bestiality pornography, unless you can put it into the obscenity offence or fit it into child pornography, there is a gap there.
Senator Boyer: I have one quick question for you, Ms. Labchuk, and it has to do with the sentience of animals and our legal framework. Are there biases in our legal framework that prevent us from appreciating the sentience of animals? Can you elaborate?
Ms. Labchuk: That’s a good question. I would say our legal framework inherently recognizes to some extent that animals are sentient. I say that because we would not have any animal cruelty or protection laws whatsoever if we didn’t recognize there was a reason that we’re protecting them from being caused to suffer or feel pain or receive any other injury. So I would say that, as a baseline, our laws do accept that animals are sentient and can suffer because we prohibit the causation of suffering, but that they don’t go as far as they need to.
Many other countries are now recognizing explicitly that animals are sentient in their laws, and this is symbolic to some extent, but it is still a positive step and symbolically important to people and to animals.
I would say that one issue people are often concerned about when they start thinking about our animal protection framework is that animals are still considered pure property under the law. In the Criminal Code, offences against them are housed in the offences against property section, which doesn’t really accord with how we now think of animals as individuals and not necessarily simply pieces of property that people own.
For instance, other countries, instead of including animals in general criminal codes, sometimes have their own animal protection acts were where all of the offences involving animals and the protections that countries want to see them have been housed in one separate area together so it’s clear what their purpose is.
Senator Eaton: I have a question for both of you, but I’ll start with you, Ms. Labchuk, following on Senator Boyer’s question. You talked about New Zealand and Australia being ahead of the game or being certainly ahead of us. What have they done, what are they doing differently that’s not included in this legislation?
Ms. Labchuk: The legislation is pretty narrow, so there’s quite a lot of aspects covered in other countries that —
Senator Eaton: Could you give me two or three points that they have?
Ms. Labchuk: Sure. One example in other countries, we often see a national animal protection piece of legislation where everything is centralized and it’s very clear what one must do to comply with the law and what animal protections are available. More significantly, it’s important to recognize that in Canada most animal use is unregulated. We don’t have national regulations dealing with the protection of animals on farms, for instance. What we have are laws that kick in when an animal is transported to slaughter and when an animal is being slaughtered. But from the second they’re born until the day they’re transported, there wouldn’t be anything there in federal law that would assist animals.
You could say the same things for federal standards for laboratories. Right now there’s no legislation at the federal level that affects animal use in the research industry. At least 4 million, likely quite a lot more, are used in this capacity and we don’t have federal rules for that. There are voluntary mechanisms and oversight by non-profit agencies but no actual laws that can be enforced.
The exotic pet trade, for instance, is something where there aren’t often restrictions on specific animals coming into Canada for use in the exotic pet trade. The federal government has often conceded to the provinces the ability to regulate these things and hasn’t stepped into the sphere itself, which in many cases it should do. Some of these issues are addressed in other countries.
Senator Eaton: Thank you very much.
Ms. St. Germain, I’m curious as to the link between animal abuse and child abuse or other violent crimes against people. There is evidence of it in cases such as Luka Magnotta or John Wayne Gacy. Is animal abuse a gateway to the sort of desensitization process that leads to violence against people?
Ms. St. Germain: I think that might be something that’s really a better question for somebody who has a psychological background. What I can tell you is that in terms of the case law that we reviewed for our paper, as well as in terms of the incidents we’re aware of that are proceeding through the courts now, there certainly is a lot of crossover between hurting animals and hurting people. In some instances the individual who is the offender will be abusing both the animal and the person at the same time, so compelling the person to commit an act of bestiality with the animal. In some instances, the individual will be abusing individuals separately from the animals, but they will be engaging in both activities.
One of the things we found in our paper is that a tremendous amount of serious offending was going on with some of the offenders who were being caught into this provision. We likely don’t know enough about this issue at this point in time, due in part to the fact that the data collection is sort of all over the place in terms of where we have information about individuals who have committed sexual crimes against animals.
Senator Oh: Thank you, witnesses, for being here.
I want to know whether Bill C-84 goes far enough, because now is the opportunity to really come down on sexual offences involving animals and bestiality. Do we go far enough in terms of penalties to stop it? You mentioned earlier that the last law was in 1950. Does it extend to include Canadians who commit offences overseas? A lot of these things happen; from here, they go to Asia or South America and do the same thing that we stopped here.
Ms. Labchuk: That’s an interesting question, senator. I’m probably not the best person to answer questions about the technicalities of criminalizing Canadians’ conduct overseas. I know there are issues that can arise, both constitutional issues but also with respect to the way those offences are investigated. That might be a question that perhaps department officials can answer.
I think Bill C-84 sets out what it intends to accomplish, which is to make sure that bestiality committed in Canada is prosecutable. I think it does that quite well. I think it does the same thing for animal fighting. It closes loopholes and takes away one barrier.
One thing we often see when it comes to the commission of offences against animals is that we have structural difficulties in detecting and prosecuting them in the first place. Chief among those is that animals can’t report abuse they’re experiencing, so they rely on people to report that abuse for them. Oftentimes, animals are kept behind closed doors, so there wouldn’t be access to the public to oversee their condition. That’s a structural barrier that, frankly, this bill certainly can’t do much about.
However, what this bill does do is remove the barrier to conviction that existed by virtue of our outdated and poorly drafted laws. That’s quite a good thing.
Ms. St. Germain mentioned a few moments ago the prospect of potentially considering bestiality pornography within the purview of Canadian criminal law, and that’s an issue we have given thought to. I know that constitutional issues arise there as well. It would be an interesting issue, I think, for further study.
Senator Oh: Any comment, Ms. St. Germain?
Ms. St. Germain: Picking up on what Camille said, I think looking at the bestiality pornography issue would be an important next step after this bill gets passed. The reason we say that is I think there are a lot of parallels in terms of what was observed in connection with child pornography when it was specifically criminalized in the code, so once we stopped relying on obscenity to criminalize child pornography and we actually had a stand-alone provision for it.
I think a lot of the arguments that were made at the time to criminalize child pornography would be equally applicable to bestiality pornography in that this is the type of pornography that could incite offences and can groom individuals, particularly children, into thinking that this type of activity is okay or that everyone does it. Certainly we’ve seen evidence of that, which is detailed in our paper, in terms of offenders sending to children links to bestiality pornography to try to get them to do it, or engaging in online luring with a child to get them to sexually abuse their own pet.
Senator Oh: Do you think that the Criminal Code should be tightened up again to be tougher on offenders?
Ms. St. Germain: I’m not going to speak to sentencing because that’s obviously an individualized process that judges engage in. In terms of penalties, obviously whatever penalty is set by Parliament does provide some sort of gauge for judges in terms of the seriousness of the offence. But in every case, they’re going to look at the specifics and the particulars of the offence.
I do think this bill is an important first step, because the definition of bestiality reflects upon so many other provisions in the code.
For example, a moment ago I mentioned online luring. For online luring, one of the offences that can be facilitated is bestiality. If the definition of bestiality remains narrow, then the only time the online luring will be criminalized is if you can say that it was bestiality to the point of penetration, which is not acceptable.
Senator M. Deacon: I have a question, Ms. St. Germain. You shared with us a document from your organization that gives some of the history, story and the numbers that surround what we know, and we know that we don’t know the whole story.
At the end of that you had five recommendations. I keep going back to that document. When we look at bills, we look at how to make bills better, and we have something called observations.
Do you see those five recommendations as natural next steps for the implementation process of this bill? Is there anything you would alter, adjust or think about at this moment?
Ms. St. Germain: No. The five recommendations we included are natural next steps. I want to be clear, though, that I think the passage of this bill is absolutely job one. Once this bill is passed, there are ideas we have included in this document, as well as in our paper, that warrants further study.
If I were to pick out one, it would be on the risk assessment side of things. Sexual offences against animals are not currently captured under so many of the risk assessment tools that are being used. Because we rely on those tools so much for public safety, we really need to take another look at whether or not that makes sense.
Senator M. Deacon: Thank you. The risk assessment one jumped out, because it can be good for all, so to speak, and we don’t see it. Thank you.
Anything to add?
Ms. Labchuk: I haven’t had an opportunity to review the recommendations.
Senator M. Deacon: Part B would be that even though we’re learning a lot — and we thank you for that — within a very concerning piece of legislation, I think it would also be diligent for us to ask this: You both said the passing of this bill is quick; we need to get it done; we need to get it in front; we need to get it ready to roll; let’s move.
As you went through the bill, were there any sections, should we have six months, that captured your attention and that you think could be better?
Ms. St. Germain: I missed part of that question. Could you repeat it?
Senator M. Deacon: I’ll steer it to Ms. Labchuk first. When we’re looking at the bill, I know that both your wishes have been well articulated about moving forward on it; let’s go. Are there any aspects of the bill that you reviewed where you thought: If we had more time, I think we could make this part of the bill better?
Ms. Labchuk: I can say, no. I think the bill, as it stands, is strong and covers everything that it needs to. I think the House of Commons Justice Committee did great work to make sure it was strengthened. They included the ban on animal ownership post-conviction. They included some cost-recovery mechanisms for agencies that care for animals who have been victims of abuse. They closed any remaining concerns I had regarding the bill.
The only thing I would say is that the bill does what it needs to do quite well, but it leaves out much more. I know that’s beyond the scope of what we’re studying today, but that’s something for next steps.
Ms. St. Germain: I would echo what Camille said. I do think this bill does a very good job with what it set out to do. I think the amendments made at the Justice Committee were incredibly important, and we wholeheartedly support them.
Senator M. Deacon: Thank you.
Senator Ravalia: My question is for Ms. Labchuk and it’s in the vein of what Senator M. Deacon alluded to, if we were looking at next steps.
There have been recent media highlights about the vulnerability of animals, such as horse races and greyhounds and so on, and the potential cruelty they may be facing. But these are in large industries that are global, that have huge outreach, with significant financial considerations. Do you envisage a time when we may start monitoring those types of activities more closely with respect to the potential cruelty and harm these animals face?
Ms. Labchuk: For a very long time, Canadian industries that use animals have essentially policed themselves. There have not really been federal laws that apply to them or oversight in any meaningful ways. Sometimes at a provincial level there may be varying levels of rules. Sometimes there aren’t any at all. Sometimes there are rules of general application that may apply to specific uses of animals. I would say what Canadians are starting to wonder about is why we don’t have specific rules for specific industries and why we don’t have oversight and proactive inspections of places like farms, laboratories, horse racing facilities that use animals. Most of our lives, and certainly situations where there is an aspect of vulnerability or potential for harm, the government oversees that in some way and tries to prevent that harm from occurring before it does happen. This is what regulation seeks to do. It’s been pretty remarkable in Canada, most industries have escaped attempts to regulate them and have self-regulated. Canadians are starting to ask for something more and that is an area the federal government and provinces should step into and look at how we can bring our laws in line with modern social values.
Senator Ravalia: Thank you.
Ms. St. Germain, did you have anything to add with respect to that question?
Ms. St. Germain: No.
Senator Omidvar: My question is to both of you. I hear that you both support the bill and I want to focus on the definition of bestiality and its expanded scope. Lots of Canadians, especially families with children have pets. Those pets are loved by the families, and the pets love their families back. Based on your own experience is there potential for unintended consequences or confusion here?
Ms. Labchuk: You are referring to the definition of bestiality in the bill being so broad as to capture conduct that wasn’t intended?
Senator Omidvar: Contact for a sexual purpose with an animal is broad. It’s open to interpretation and therefore misinterpretation.
Ms. Labchuk: The term “for a sexual purpose” actually has a specific meaning in Canadian law. It’s the same language used in many offences in the Criminal Code. Courts have looked at what the words “for a sexual purpose” mean. What they say is it must be readily apparent to a reasonable observer that there is a sexual or carnal nature to the conduct. Courts have said very clearly that situations in the human sexual assault context, a doctor examining somebody in a way that would otherwise be sexual contact is not covered by our sexual assault laws because it is not sexual contact for the examination. You could say the same thing about a veterinarian examining an animal in a way that might involve touching sexual organs. Obviously, the purpose of that contact is for veterinary care, it’s not being done for a sexual purpose. The way that this provision in other sexual offences has been interpreted makes it pretty unlikely that any contact not intended to be captured by this bill will be criminalized.
Ms. St. Germain: I would echo what Camille has said. The “for a sexual purpose” language that is caught in all of the provisions that talk about the criminalization of sexual contact with children is well understood by the courts. There is a lot of case law and interpretations, so I don’t have any hesitation that there would be any unintended consequences.
The Deputy Chair: Thank you.
Senator Boyer: I think Senator Deacon covered my final question, and that would be the importance of passing the bill in its current form. Would you suggest any observations at all or just send it like it is?
Ms. Labchuk: One thing we often struggle with in doing animal protection work, especially when looking at how to change the law to do a better job, is a lack of data and information. We don’t collect national statistics on animal abuse in a very comprehensive way. Same goes for situations where children and animal abuse coexists. I have spoken extensively about how our federal cruelty laws are inadequate. What has ended up happening is that provinces have tried to pick up the slack when they see these inadequacies by introducing their own provincial animal protection rules. There has been a shift where often agencies will lay charges under provincial rules instead of federal rules, but we don’t have enough data to know with certainty whether there are detrimental effects. One potential problem is that sentences are stronger and there are more remedial measures available under the federal criminal cruelty rules. A criminal record would follow someone across the country whereas a record for a provincial offence wouldn’t necessarily follow that person. One thing I would urge the committee to emphasize in the report is a need for the collection of national data on animal cruelty offences.
Senator Eaton: This is from the Canadian Centre for Child Protection. What would they like to see changed is, to promote cross reporting between animal and child protection agencies. They say this will lead to better detection enabling protective intervention that might not otherwise happen. Any comment from either one of you? Do you think that’s a good idea, or not?
Ms. St. Germain: We think it is a good idea. It was one of our recommendations and we do know this is something that is explored in some other jurisdictions. Because we know that there is a crossover between the abuse of animals and the abuse of children and domestic violence. There is a very strong and documented link of violence in the home. If there is violence against the animal there is likely violence against the other people in the home. We know that services that go into homes for various reasons have the opportunity to observe things other than what they are there for. If you are there on an animal complaint and you happen to notice that the children do not look like they are well cared for, reporting to child welfare would be an important thing to do. Because there is a mandatory duty to report in most provinces, that likely would get reported.
What isn’t happening, necessarily, is reporting the other way. So if there is a child welfare worker who goes into a home and notices that the dog is not being well cared for, there might not be a report to the animal protection agency. If that hand-in-hand work were going on, there is an opportunity to detect these types of situations of abuse more broadly, not just bestiality. That would be an important thing for the protection of everybody in that home frankly. It would also enhance data collection.
Senator Eaton: Would that be a good observation to amend in the bill?
Ms. St. Germain: I wouldn’t say to amend this bill.
Senator Eaton: Observation to attach to the bill.
Ms. St. Germain: We would be supportive of that.
Senator Dasko: This is a follow-up to Senator Eaton’s question. So there is a broadening of the definition of bestiality. At the same time there is a great difficulty of detecting the crime. Do you expect the number of charges to go up substantially with the new definition given the difficulty of detecting the crime?
Ms. Labchuk: I am aware of a number of cases where authorities have become aware of potential animal sexual abuse but have not been able to lay charges because of the definition laid out in the D.L.W. case. I would not say that’s a substantial number. I think what this bill does is when those allegations come forward it would make it much easier to prosecute but I don’t think that the bill will or is capable of doing anything to address the broader question of how we detect these offences in the first place. That is something that likely involves a public education component.
Typically the only way these offences are successfully prosecuted now is if there is video or photographic evidence. That’s a real problem. It’s helpful that we live in this digital age in a sense because now that evidence is sometimes available. It lays out in stark contrast the difficulty with detecting these offences at all, and it leaves us all wondering exactly how prevalent this conduct is. We don’t know the answer to that question and it’s difficult to study.
Senator Dasko: There is no prevalence data from what I understand. There is just data on the number of charges that have been made, from Stats Canada. So yes, as was said earlier, even if social workers or others are going into a home and see animals who look like they are in distress, there would be absolutely no evidence to gather on this crime because you can’t gather the evidence.
Ms. Labchuk: It’s a challenge. Sometimes there are observations about the behaviour of an animal that can be made or external signs.
Senator Dasko: Even in that case, you don’t know what the cause of that is.
Ms. Labchuk: All it would allow one to do in most cases is to conduct some further investigation.
Senator Dasko: However that’s done. Yes. Ms. St. Germain, do you have any thoughts on this question?
Ms. St. Germain: Yes. I think detection is absolutely one of the most difficult challenges, and I don’t think this bill is necessarily going to aid with detection. What it may do, though, and to Ms. Labchuk’s point, some charges are not being laid at this point in time because of the definition. We will start to get a better idea of numbers, when charges can be laid, when we have the broader type of activity occurring.
The other thing that I know is happening and happens with increasing frequency in the case law that we review, which is very focused on children, is that when an animal is involved it tends to get subsumed under some other provision of the code. For example, using sexual interference right now is something that will get done in order to capture the animal aspect, but that’s not really capturing the animal part separately and it’s not recognizing that the animal is a separate victim. It’s not adequate where we are right now, and certainly once the definition is broadened we will have an opportunity to get a better understanding of prevalence, which may ultimately help us to aid in detection.
The Deputy Chair: I would like to say thank you to our witnesses for appearing before us today. It’s been very helpful. As everyone knows, we are going to go into clause-by-clause right now. So I’ll give a few minutes for our witnesses to leave the table and we’ll prepare to commence clause-by-clause. Thank you.
Senators, is it agreed that the committee proceed to clause-by-clause consideration of Bill C-84, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (bestiality and animal fighting)?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
The Deputy Chair: At this point I want to let my colleagues know that we have the officials from Justice Canada, and they are standing by right here in the audience should you have any questions.
Shall the title stand postponed?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
The Deputy Chair: Shall clause 1 carry?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
The Deputy Chair: Carried.
Shall clause 2 carry?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
The Deputy Chair: Carried.
Shall clause 3 carry?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
The Deputy Chair: Carried.
Shall clause 4 carry?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
The Deputy Chair: Carried.
Shall the title carry?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
The Deputy Chair: Agreed.
Shall the bill carry?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
The Deputy Chair: Carried.
Does the committee wish to consider appending observations to the report?
Senator Boyer: We have got two good observations. I’m not sure of the process. Can you explain the process?
The Deputy Chair: Normally, if we attach observations they may be prepared in advance, so we need to have them written, a text and translation. We need them in both official languages.
If we want to try to give some language to it here and now, the result would be that the analysts would draft it. We’d have to get it translated. We either could meet again to look at the observations or you could ask the steering committee to review them and give the steering committee permission to sign off on them. But I would caution you — and that’s perfectly fine — that we would not be able to report back to the Senate until perhaps next Monday in order to get this done.
Senator Boyer: In my opinion, I don’t think we should have any observations. I would rather see this move quickly.
The Deputy Chair: How does everyone feel about that? Agreed.
Senator Eaton: I will go by Senator Boyer as she is the sponsor, but I feel it’s a shame we are not going to say anything about cross-reporting between animal and child abuse, because that would be an easy thing to do. But I’ll go by your lead.
Senator M. Deacon: Interests of time I understand, but that particular item is very important. When I asked the question about the five recommendations, that’s an implementation, so how do we take this legislation and make it work. That one was very important. I want to say it for the record, because we want to move this along quickly, that those recommendations that people have spent time on and are in French and English are very good but we can let that go for the observation, for time.
The Deputy Chair: I think you have options here. Yes, Senator Boyer is the sponsor, and we all have heard very clearly from our witnesses they want to see this legislation pass. They don’t want to see a delay. However, we have options here: One, you can speak to this in third reading and make the point in the chamber in third reading. Or we can draft an observation about this one particular issue and in both languages review it and report back to the chamber on Monday night when we meet.
I’m at your disposal here so the committee has to decide. With all due respect to the sponsor, of course, but it’s a committee decision.
Senator Munson: The clock is ticking and we could be out of here Wednesday or Thursday of next week. Can the committee put out a press release once this has passed? Could we have unanimous consent on a press release that will state what the observations would state, that we passed the bill unanimously in the committee, with a line or two about what Senator Eaton talked about, without holding up the bill.
Senator Boyer: I also would be more than happy to put it in my third reading speech what we heard here at the committee and make sure that is front and centre.
Senator Kutcher: I appreciate the issue about the time. What I don’t understand is in terms of the reality of our deadline, when is the last time you think this should be signed off so that it can go and we can get it finished? The reason I ask is that clinically — and I’m sure Senator Ravalia will agree with me — this is not uncommon. We see this a lot. There is no vehicle to have those cross-references, and, frankly, this would make a huge difference.
The Deputy Chair: To have an observation.
Senator Kutcher: Yes. I don’t want to stop the bill, but I don’t have an idea myself of when is the drop-dead date that this has to happen.
The Deputy Chair: Of course, the sooner we report it back to the Senate, the sooner we can get to third reading and pass the bill. If we pass it through the committee now, I can report back to the Senate this afternoon. That means that we could go to third reading on Monday evening. Senator Boyer could make her third reading speech — and anyone else who wants to — and potentially the chamber could pass it Monday night.
Say we don’t sit tomorrow; then we have to get this done. We can’t report back to the chamber until Monday. Senator Boyer speaks Tuesday. We are moving into at-risk territory. I don’t know what to say beyond that in terms of the schedule, but I appreciate the issue.
Let me ask our analysts if there is any way we can get this written, translated and to the chamber this afternoon.
Daniel Charbonneau, Clerk of the Committee: We can ask for leave to revert, to have it tabled a little later in the sitting.
Senator Omidvar: We are in camera, right?
The Deputy Chair: No.
Senator Omidvar: We’re not in camera.
The Order Paper is very full. My concern, as appropriate and necessary as these observations are, is that in the hierarchy of what is considered to be important, this may well fall below that lens.
Senator Eaton: It’s government business.
Senator Omidvar: I know, but within government business, within the hierarchy of what we have in government business, I would be very concerned. One of my learnings in the Senate is that perfection is not in our reach.
The Deputy Chair: That’s probably a good lesson.
Senator Munson: I think the key here is the essence of the bill, what this bill will do. An observation, as good as it is, will change nothing, for now.
Senator Eaton: It will change something, because —
Senator Munson: Well, it won’t change the essence of the bill. As Jean Chrétien would say, “Jimmy, you’ve been around here since a long time,” and I’ve been around here a long time since. I worry about what can take place at the end of a session, because I have seen it. No matter how important this is, we have to get back to what this will do for those who work within that environment, which is a difficult environment. Finally, it will give them the tools to do their work. I believe we should get on with it.
Senator Kutcher: I don’t want to jeopardize this in any way, shape or form. I was just unclear as to what is the drop-dead point. If Senator Boyer would think about addressing some of these issues in her third reading speech, it seems that would square the circle, so to speak.
The Deputy Chair: The third reading speech is very much on the record.
Senator M. Deacon: Not to put too much of a fly in the ointment, but this third recommendation about cross-reporting is already clearly written, in French and English, should we want to use it:
Promote cross-reporting between animal and child protection agencies. This will lead to better detection of the abuse of both children and animals, enabling protective intervention that might not otherwise happen as both types of abuse tend to be very difficult to uncover.
This is in two languages, and it might take milliseconds or minutes to make it work. It’s in the documents received from the Canadian Centre for Child Protection. It’s at the end, in the five recommendations, and it’s in both languages.
The Deputy Chair: While you were speaking, we had a brief whispered consultation here. In fact, I have it up on my screen. The observation would state:
It is this committee’s observation that the Minister of Justice should promote cross-reporting between animal and child protection agencies. This will lead to better detection of the abuse of both children and animals, enabling protective intervention that might not otherwise happen as both types of abuse tend to be very difficult to uncover.
Is that correct? Okay. We have this observation in both languages right in front of us now. We can easily add this to the report, and everything will then be on time for reporting this afternoon.
Senator Eaton: Very good.
The Deputy Chair: Senator Boyer, are you okay with this?
Senator Boyer: Yes, I am, as long as we can keep on track.
The Deputy Chair: It sounds like we are on track. The committee has agreed now to append this observation to the report.
Is it agreed that I report this bill, with observations, to the Senate?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
The Deputy Chair: Thank you. I think that is the last item on our agenda. In fact, this is likely our last meeting, senators. It has been quite a session.
In closing, I’d like to say thank you to everyone for your collegiality and for your insightful and hard work on this committee. It’s been a very interesting time, with many important pieces of legislation. Over the last four years, some of the legislation has been rather challenging. I think specifically of Bill C-45, the cannabis bill; Bill S-5, the Tobacco and the Non-smokers’ Health Act; and Bill C-81, which we recently did, the accessibility act. Perhaps these are the most historic of the 28 government and private members’ bills that we studied during this session.
Of course, I can’t forget the studies of this committee, which have always been, and continue to be, cutting edge, such as our obesity study, the dementia study, the robotic and artificial intelligence, the health care study — just a few examples.
On behalf of our members, I would like to thank our chair, who could not be with us today, and her staff, for their leadership. Personally, I would like to say that it has been a true pleasure to work with Senator Petitclerc, always in the most cooperative spirit.
I would also like to thank Senator Munson, the third member of our steering committee, who has also given us the benefit of his wisdom and experience. Thank you very much, senator.
I would also sincerely like to thank our clerks, past and present — now Dan Charbonneau — for all you do to keep us organized as a committee.
Thanks to the many analysts — two of whom are sitting with us today, but we have had many — who have seen us through the broad range of subject matter we have covered as a committee, and all the others behind the scenes, including the administrative assistants, the stenographers, the translators and the pages, for all their hard work in supporting the committee.
I think it’s important to make special mention of those support staff who worked very hard to make our hearings on Bill C-81 accessible. That was a big deal and it was very historic.
On a personal note, I would like to say a special thanks to our staff, those senators on the steering committee, and to my own staff, Sylvie and Valerie, who see us through the trials and tribulations on a daily basis. Our success as a committee would not have been possible without all of you.
I wish you a wonderful, restful summer, and I guess we’ll all be seeing each other after the election. Thank you very much.
Senator Munson: I think it’s appropriate to thank you very much because, in my 16 years here, this has been the most collaborative committee I have ever been on. We worked towards compromise and consensus on everything.
We have done something, Senator Seidman, that is unheard of in the Parliament on the accessible Canada act, which is a historic piece of legislation. It’s unheard of that all of our amendments were accepted by the government. I would like to go back and look at the history to see if all of a committee’s amendments were approved by the Government of Canada.
We really moved a long way, and I personally want to thank you. I think I am the oldest here, and I thank you on behalf of the younger senators, like Senator Oh and others. I’m serious about that. He still has five years here.
You’ve been wonderful to work with as well. Thank you.
The Deputy Chair: Thank you very much.
(The committee adjourned.)