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Bill to Amend the Criminal Code and the Wild Animal and Plant Protection and Regulation of International and Interprovincial Trade Act

Second Reading--Debate Continued

February 15, 2024

Hon. René Cormier [ - ]

Honourable senators, I rise today to support Bill S-15, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and the Wild Animal and Plant Protection and Regulation of International and Interprovincial Trade Act.

I want to acknowledge that the land on which I am speaking to you today is part of the traditional unceded territory of the Anishinaabe Algonquin nation, a nation that has always had a unique and inspiring relationship with the animal kingdom.

As our former colleague, Senator Murray Sinclair, reminded us, and I quote:

In many Indigenous cultures, we use the phrase, “all my relations” to express the interdependency and interconnectedness of all life forms and our relationship of mutual reliance and shared destiny. When we treat animals well, we act with both self-respect and mutual respect.

Over the past few months, like most of you, no doubt, I’ve received numerous emails from Canadian citizens in favor of advancing this legislation.

Here in the Senate, we have debated at length the fundamental principles underlying the question of banning, subject to certain exceptions, the captivity of elephants and great apes, whether through this bill or another.

Essentially, the legislative proposal before us is based on the idea that the captivity of elephants and great apes, particularly for entertainment purposes, is a form of animal cruelty under the Criminal Code, subject to certain legitimate exceptions. By “great apes,” we mean chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas and orangutans.

Bill S-15 reflects a deep respect for the dignity and physical and psychological well-being of these highly sensitive and intelligent creatures. Based largely on current scientific knowledge, this legislation recognizes that the captivity and breeding of these non-domesticated animal species for purposes such as entertainment constitutes a form of animal cruelty.

The preamble of the bill is clear in that regard, and I quote:

 . . . the science establishes that certain animals, particularly elephants and great apes, should not, because of the cruelty it represents, be kept in captivity;

In a letter to the bill’s sponsor, Senator Klyne, 23 independent experts asserted that elephants are not suited to any form of captivity, as no captive facility can fulfill their basic biological, social, spatial and cognitive requirements and needs.

They have stated:

As specialists on elephant well-being, we can attest that public display facilities keeping captive elephants are no longer supported or justified by the growing body of science on their sociobiological needs. In these situations, elephants endure conditions that are inadequate to meet their needs, as they lack essential components of wild ecosystems and inhibit expression of natural behaviours.

Studies have also demonstrated the harmful effects of captivity on great apes, particularly on their psychological state.

Colleagues, just like the Ending the Captivity of Whales and Dolphins Act, Bill S-15 reflects the complexity of interactions between humans and certain animals in captivity.

Generally speaking, our relationships with animals are, for the most part, characterized by their function and the intrinsic value we ascribe to them. Consciously or unconsciously, we categorize the animals in our care based on how we use them.

For example, some animals supply food, others are pets, and still others are used for entertainment. Our relationships with and perceptions of them are complex indeed and influenced by many cultural, religious and social factors.

That being said, however we categorize them, we recognize that animals can feel pleasure and pain, and that we therefore have a legal and moral responsibility to minimize their unnecessary suffering.

Thanks to advances in our scientific knowledge, humans’ thinking about animals, particularly great apes and elephants, has evolved. Nowadays, no one can seriously claim that animals are mere automata as conceived by French philosopher René Descartes. Science teaches us that animals have interests and needs and can feel pain if those needs are not fully met.

Jeremy Bentham, an English philosopher and jurist, eloquently affirmed about animals that:

The question is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer? Why should the law refuse its protection to any sensitive being?

It is notably on the basis of this principle that our Criminal Code provides for certain offences designed to remedy animal cruelty, confirming that, in legal terms, we have positive duties toward animals. At present, the Criminal Code provides for offences relating to the unnecessary suffering of animals, as well as those prohibiting the captivity of cetaceans, subject to certain exceptions.

While the provinces and territories may enact their own animal welfare legislation pursuant to section 92(13) of the Constitution Act, 1867, Parliament remains legally able to enact criminal laws that also affect animal welfare.

Bill S-15, which makes it an offence, subject to certain circumstances, to possess great apes and elephants that are kept in captivity, particularly for entertainment purposes, seems to reflect the same criminal law objectives as Bill S-203, which was passed in 2019 and will phase out cetacean captivity.

Both legislative measures criminally prohibit a practice that is considered cruel from a scientific and moral perspective, and they constitute a valid exercise of federal authority with respect to animal cruelty pursuant to subsection 91(27) of the Constitution Act, 1867.

In a letter sent to the Standing Senate Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources on December 4, law professors asserted that passing Bill S-15 would indeed be a valid exercise of Parliament’s powers to pass criminal laws in this area.

Honourable colleagues, Bill S-15 takes a critical look at our place and our role in relation to intelligent beings with social, cognitive and biological capacities that are similar to ours. Consider the chimpanzee, which shares nearly 98.8% of its DNA with humans.

Canadian jurisprudence recognizes that chimpanzees have the cognitive capacity to solve complex problems. British ethologist and anthropologist Jane Goodall showed through her research that chimpanzees exhibit many cognitive abilities that were previously thought to be unique to humans, including a form of rational thought.

Chimpanzees can feel a wide range of emotions, including happiness, sorrow, tenderness, jealousy, remorse and anger. They are highly complex beings with many abilities.

As our former colleague senator Murray Sinclair declared within this chamber, with his trademark sense of humour:

Chimpanzees live within complex societies, forming political alliances to achieve their goals — kind of like Parliament. Male chimps even fawn over infants when vying for power — kind of like parliamentarians. When disputes break out, diplomatic individuals will patch things up. Chimps, like humans, can be violent, but they also demonstrate cooperation and altruism, such as delivering food and water to elderly relatives. They have been seen saving others in danger and helping wounded birds. Chimpanzees grieve their dead.

Would Senator Cormier take a question?

Senator Cormier [ - ]

Absolutely, senator.

An Australian study published in Geo magazine found that monarch butterflies, which are known for migrating 4,000 kilometres from Canada to their hibernation grounds in Mexico, have a different wing shape when bred in captivity. They are not as strong and lose all sense of direction. Should monarch butterflies be added to the bill?

Senator Cormier [ - ]

Thank you for the question, senator. We must pay attention to more than just the animals specified in this bill. In fact, we must collectively, as a society, consider the issues that affect all animals on this planet.

The monarch butterflies I am lucky enough to see in my garden do go on this important journey. As citizens, we need to be increasingly aware of what’s at stake. We need to acknowledge that the human race is not superior to the natural world around us. Perhaps the committee could study this question within the bill or in another context.

We must take into consideration all living beings on this planet.

Thank you.

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