A recently defeated Bill to extend animal rights opened up all traditional uses to potential litigation.

By MP Robert Sopuck, November 7, 2016, Policy Options 

When I first read Bill C-246, the Modernizing Animal Protections Act, I said to myself, uh-oh, here we go again — another politician who wants to give rights to animals and to ultimately destroy my way of life and that of my constituents. Bill C-246, a private member’s Bill (PMB) sponsored by Beaches-East York Liberal MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith, was portrayed as an innocuous piece of legislation meant to merely modernize our animal welfare laws. Naturally, as one who has spent over 20 years fighting animal-rights extremists, I (pardon the pun) smelled a rat.

As a result of the legal analysis of the Criminal Code amendments proposed under C-246, conducted by the Doney Law Office for the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters, it was very clear that Erskine-Smith’s PMB posed a grave threat to agriculture, hunting, angling, trapping, ranching, and even animal-based medical research. Doney’s analysis noted, “This may therefore create an entirely new area of offences directly affecting people who are otherwise engaged in lawful and proper activities, exposing them to criminal charges.”

Accordingly, C-246 was opposed by all farm and ranch organizations; the livestock processing industry; and hunting, angling and trapping organizations; to name a few. These organizations represent millions of Canadians.

Bill C-246 was a reincarnation of Bill C-15B, a government Bill under the Jean Chrétien administration. At that time, the animal-use community from across Canada fought this Bill and brought it to a standstill. It thankfully died on the order paper in 2006, when the Conservatives under Stephen Harper took office. My contribution to that fight was an analysis of Bill C-15B that described the negative implications of such legislation.

But let’s dispense with the red herrings. C-246 also had provisions that dealt with the importation of shark fins, the labelling of cat and dog fur in garments, bestiality, and animal fighting. These provisions were not contentious, and a Bill composed of only those elements would probably have passed. But the Criminal Code modifications proposed by C-246 were the real Trojan Horse.

The Doney Law Office’s analysis of C-246 concluded that one aspect of the proposed Criminal Code amendments, “may therefore create an entirely new area of offences directly affecting people who are otherwise engaged in lawful and proper activities, exposing them to criminal charges.”

C-246 also proposed to take animals out of the “property” section of the Criminal Code, which some legal scholars have told me was the first step to full blown animal rights. Bill C-246 proposed that there should be a test to determine criminality when an animal is killed “brutally and viciously.” However, there is no legal test for these terms. Is the accepted method of cooking lobsters “brutal and vicious?” Would currently legal methods of religious animal slaughter (kosher or halal) fit this bill? How about a live worm on a hook? The trouble is, nobody knows. It would be up to the courts to define these terms: the outcome would be very uncertain and it would subject innocent citizens to costly litigation.

C-26 included no specific exemptions for legal conduct, which are listed in many provincial statutes. For example, the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act lists exempted activities such as hunting, fishing and trapping under license and animal husbandry conducted using reasonable and generally accepted standards of care. Thus C-246 opened up all traditional animal uses to potential litigation. Furthermore, it raised serious constitutional issues, since it potentially criminalized activities that are deemed lawful and regulated under provincial law.

Erskine-Smith’s Bill was just the kind of legislation that animal rights activists were waiting for so that they could go after ranchers, farmers, hunters and even medical researchers.

Animal-based medical research has saved countless lives in Canada and around the world. New life-saving surgical techniques, wonder drugs, and organ and tissue replacement advances have all been made possible by animal-based medical research. HIV/AIDS research is conducted on primates. I was told by the Heart and Stroke Foundation that over 60 percent of the research in the heart and stroke field is conducted on animals. All of us know someone — a parent, child, relative or close friend — who has been saved by heart surgery. I had a stent installed in my lower anterior descending coronary artery, which was 95 percent blocked. That was in 2002, and I have been hale and hearty ever since. This and most other surgical techniques were developed and perfected on animals; to those animals, who made such a sacrifice for us, we owe an eternal debt of gratitude. Animal-based medical research has been a favourite target of the more extremist animal rights groups.

Peter Sankoff, who wrote an article in support of C-246, is a well-known animal rights activist and a member of the animal rights lawyer’s group Animal Justice Canada. In spite of the serious legal issues related to C-246 described above, Sankoff still views the Bill as merely tinkering with the existing legal framework in terms of animal welfare.

Erskine-Smith, Sankoff, and the animal-rights proponents of C-246 would have Canadians believe that there are no safeguards to prevent animal cruelty in Canada. That is simply not the case. Every province has legislation to protect animal welfare, as does the federal government — most recently, S-203, An Act to Amend the Criminal Code (cruelty to animals). Furthermore, all animal use is subject to veterinary- approved codes of practice. Animal-based medical research is subject to rigorous codes of practice and frequent inspections. There are Farm Animal Councils across Canada that deal with raising and transporting livestock. Environment Canada supports a facility in Vegreville, Alberta, that conducts research on the development of more humane trapping methods.

There’s an old saying, “those with weak stomachs should neither watch law nor sausages being made,” and the contortions that Erskine-Smith went through to pass his Bill proved that. At one point, he suggested the contentious Criminal Code sections could be amended at committee after passing second reading. Sounds fair, right? Wrong! Voting for this Bill at second reading would have meant Parliament accepted the basic principles of the Bill in its entirety, including the offending Criminal Code amendments. And there was no guarantee that amendments would have passed the committee stage. So we were asked to buy the proverbial “pig in a poke” and take Erskine-Smith at his word. As a result, 198 parliamentarians, from all parties, voted at the second reading to kill C-246, and they handed the animal rights movement and MP Erskine-Smith a major defeat.

And frankly, I was as concerned about who was supporting C-246 as I was about the contents of the Bill. The animal rights community has a disgraceful track record when it comes to attacking traditional animal uses and the way of life of the world’s hunters, anglers, and the people who “live off the land.” In fact, they are still going after Canada’s seal hunt, in spite of the humane killing methods employed and the sustainability of seal populations.

The animal rights activists’ campaigns to end the seal hunt have had devastating impacts on remote and rural communities in Canada. Peter Williamson, an Inuk from Nunavut, told the Standing Committee on Indigenous and Northern Affairs about the tragic impact the campaigns to end the seal hunt had on his community. “I really started noticing a difference in how many young people committed suicide after their parents and their aunts and uncles and their grandparents could no longer afford to go hunting, because living the traditional lifestyle and being brought up in a community and in a family where the traditional lifestyle is the way you are brought up really does make a difference,” Williamson said.

Animal rights activists are deadly serious people, many of whom want to see an end to all animal use. We can already see the effects of their efforts. From increasing suicide rates in Inuit communities; curtailing vital medical research that may or may not be conducted; reducing the quality of our food supply; threatening traditional animal uses such as hunting, trapping, and angling — the animal rights movement will never give up. Defeating C-246 was a major victory for all Canadians, but we must be ready when the next animal rights Bill surfaces. And it will.