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Comment: And now, for the good news

With markets still on the sour side and winter around the corner it’s time for some good news to lift the gloom of shorter days to come.

We need look no further than Ottawa, where on October 5, our members of parliament defeated Bill C-246, a private member’s bill put forward in February by Toronto MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith.

Many private member bills never see the light of day but this one has sparked a lively debate across the country.

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Erskine-Smith garnered support from the usual sources, animal welfare organizations, MP Elizabeth May and even Don Cherry, but also Thomas Mulcair of the NDP and, according to Erskine-Smith’s publicist, the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association.

C-246 has been coined the bill that was going to end animal cruelty in Canada. Put in those terms, who could disagree, but as the Beef Farmers of Ontario (BFO) recently explained, their concerns — and those of all other livestock organizations, hunters, fishermen, veterinarians and animal researchers — are with the unintended consequences that this bill could usher in.

The position paper put forward by BFO gives a very clear outline of the reasons why the entire livestock industry has been lobbying against this bill almost from the moment it was introduced.

Here’s a summary:

The standards for prosecution proposed increase the likelihood that farmers would at some point be forced to defend their use of accepted production practices that adhere to the industry-supported Code of Practice.

The bill did not explicitly exempt lawful activities such as farming, ranching, hunting, fishing, trapping and medical research. That may have inadvertently created a conflict of law, causing these legal activities to be deemed illegal by a court, and that is clearly a threat to anyone who makes their living from animals.

The bill also proposed moving the animal cruelty provisions of the Criminal Code from Part XI, Wilful and Forbidden Acts in Respect of Certain Property, to Part V.1, which deals with Sexual Offices, Public Morals and Disorderly Conduct. No farm group could support such a change, as it suggests giving animals the same rights as humans and no doubt would lead to numerous court challenges to farming practices by animal rights groups.

It also proposed to make it an offence to kill an animal, or permit it to be killed, “brutally and viciously” with no clear definition of what these terms mean. These would have been new terms in law with no precedence for how they would be interpreted by the courts.

When asked about these terms during the second reading of his bill Erskine-Smith said these weren’t his terms. “It was originally drafted by the Department of Justice in 1999.” Then he added, “the minister is stating categorically that it will not affect animal use practices, but I completely appreciate that some might want to see that in black and white. That is exactly why I am asking to get this bill to committee. Let us have criminal lawyers testify as to its plausible effects, and if there is any possibility that would affect any animal use practices, let us either remove that provision or put a definition section in the bill.”

Instead his fellow members took the more sensible route and voted the bill down. For the moment then the current cruelty to animals section of the Criminal Code of Canada remains the law of the land. In short, it remains a criminal offence to wilfully cause or permit unnecessary pain, suffering or injury to an animal or bird, or fail to provide adequate food, shelter and care for it.

It’s nice to know that the rural lobby still has enough clout to be heard over the shouting of the animal rights groups in this country on issues of importance such as this one. But we should never take this support for granted, or even assume it will always be there.

Bill C-246 is dead, but somewhere, someone is dreaming up an alternative, needing only another video of an animal being attacked to bring it to the surface.

In that light, it is rather unfortunate that the day before the MPs voted, one of the owners of Chilliwack Cattle Sales, Canada’s largest dairy, and three employees told a Vancouver court that they would be pleading guilty to charges of animal cruelty under the provincial Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act. B.C. SPCA filed charges against the dairy in March based on a video of dairy workers kicking, punching, beating with chains and generally abusing the cows in their care.

This is not normal behaviour on today’s farms and ranches, but each such incident is one too many for an industry that is working so hard to maintain its social licence by living up to its own code of practice.

About the author

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Gren Winslow

Gren Winslow is a past editor of Canadian Cattlemen.

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