The Fear of Change

You may or may not know this (I didn’t until I was vegan) but all animals are considered property under the Criminal Code of Canada.  That means that if I had a neighbour who had a dog that they left outside in all kinds of weather and was clearly neglected, if I took that dog out of their yard and gave them food and shelter, I could be charged with property theft or mischief under $5,000.  In that scenario, because the animal was a dog, I would likely have the public on my side and may even avoid charges. But were that a farm animal – good luck.  Anita Krajnc of Toronto Pig Save is currently facing the latter charge for giving water to a pig on a hot truck destined for the slaughterhouse. Though Canada does have animal cruelty laws in place, they also reside under the Property Section of the Criminal Code and not much has been updated since 1892.  Yes, you read that correctly – not 1992. 1892.

Provinces all over Canada have been looking to change that, for several years, and I wrote briefly about Alberta’s efforts back in 2014 to move animals out from under the property section of the criminal code. This would allow for tougher sentencing and/or fines to those who willfully abuse and neglect animals and would allow for the welfare and treatment of animals to be better represented under the law, especially since animals can hardly represent themselves when they’ve been harmed or violated.

Nathaniel Erskine-Smith of Toronto is the latest MP to take up the reigns on this proposed legislation for Canada. His private member’s bill, Bill C-246, called the Modernizing Animal Protections Act, is not the first time this legislation has been mentioned: Bill C-246 has been proposed on seven different occasions since 1999 and the last attempt by a Liberal MP to update animal cruelty laws, according to an article from March, was about 15 years ago.  This bill, as Erskine-Smith states himself in that same article, is hardly “reinventing the wheel here.”

Bill C-246 consists of three recommended goals:

  1. End shark finning in Canada, both the practice and importing of (that’s where sharks are caught, their fins cut off and their carcasses are dumped back in the ocean).
  2. Strengthen and modernize the Criminal Code by introducing a “gross negligence” offence as it pertains to animals (such as dog fighting or sexual abuse of an animal).
  3. Ban the sale of cat and dog fur in Canada and require source-fur labelling (e.g., what animal the fur came from listed on clothes and other accessories).

In terms of animal rights, this is some pretty low-hanging fruit and a good place to start.  Canada represents about two percent of shark fin consumption in the world and according to one article, Canada “accounts for less than two percent of global trade,” although apparently we are, “the largest importer outside of Asia.” As for increasing jail time or fines for people who willfully harm animals, I can’t see many people objecting to that. And the banning of cat and dog fur in Canada and labelling our clothing properly so consumers can be informed about what animal the fur came off of is hardly going to turn people’s lives upside down.

But oh…to some people, you’d think it was the most radical proposition since Martin Luther King, Jr., suggested the desegregation of buses in Montgomery. Not surprisingly, the most vocal objectors to Bill C-246 are the Canadian Sportfishing Industry, lobbyists for Fish and Wildlife Conservation, and of course, our beloved game hunters who account for so few of the population but dammit, this bill might mean they won’t be able to use animals for sport in their spare time.

Their main objection is not so much these three isolated recommendations but rather that this bill is part of some larger animal rights agenda.  And to be fair, they’re not wrong.  I can’t speak to Erskine-Smith’s “agenda” but yes, were this to pass, it would be a step toward in furthering animal protections in Canada and it would open the door for future updates in the law and bring animals closer to being treated as living beings under the law as opposed to inanimate objects.  It’s called progress. But that’s why it’s also wise to start small.  This is politics after all, and you have to tread lightly sometimes. Considering so many of the previous iterations of this bill have been defeated, it’s persistence at this point and not, “reinventing the wheel.”  But even the slightest hint of change brings out the fear of change from the bill’s opponents.

From Robert Sopuck, Conservative critic for wildlife conservation and Parks Canada (and hunter) in a statement responding to the bill:

“This bill proposes to move animals out of the property section of the Criminal Code and place them in the public morals section. Its terms are so broad that they could place all animal use in legal jeopardy.”

Erskine-Smith’s response to Sopuck:

“They (animals) are not the same as a table, as a chair.  You can’t do with them whatever you like. While they are property, they are owned, you also have to treat them in a humane way.”

Sopuck is also reported as saying the bill would have “drastic implications,” for communities who rely on “farming, hunting, trapping, commercial fishing and angling,” as well as medical research, stating that sixty percent of Canada’s heart and stroke research is performed on animals (and we shouldn’t question things done to animals if it’s for the greater good of humans, right?).

First of all, in theory, yes, these changes could have “drastic implications” to other areas just like trespassing laws mean that theoretically I could be charged one day for crossing a school yard after hours when I use it as a shortcut to get to my house.  But Erskine-Smith made these points specific for a reason – so that it wouldn’t threaten other industries. He even responded to this precise concern and was open to amending the bill and adjusting some of the language if necessary:

“If we kill this bill before we can fix some of the language that people are uncomfortable with, we’re not going to stop these practices that should be stopped.”

It’s the same feeble argument companies and governments use to not raise the minimum wage to a rate people can actually live on: if we raise the wage to $15 an hour, what will they want next? Benefits? Sick days? No, we’d rather keep people living in poverty and oppression in case they ask for total liberation one day.  I mean, at the rate things are going for animals under the law, Sopuck will be long dead by the time the same consideration for sharks gets extended to cows, pigs and chickens. But people like Sopuck would rather keep shark finning legal – a practice that kills 100 million sharks every year – just to preserve his right to hunt other animals.  If Erskine-Smith can be accused of having a larger agenda, I would certainly say that Sopuck is capable of having one too.

He admits as much himself, in the above-linked CBC article:

“Being a hunter himself, Sopuck said some view hunting….as cruelty to animals, and he asks what’s going to stop hunters from facing charges after putting down an animal.”

“Our animal welfare legislation is as good as it is,” Sopuck said.

Well of course it is to him – he benefits from animals being mere property ’cause it means he can shoot them in his spare time.

He also erroneously states the following in an article he wrote for The Western Star in response to Bill C-246:

“Canada’s Atlantic Provinces have been especially victimized by the activities of well-funded, anti-sealing, anti-trapping groups and those organizations opposed to fur farming. Entire regions have been devastated by the anti-sealing and other anti-use campaigns of animal rights groups. Liberal MP Erskine-Smith’s Bill C-246 would only empower those groups to inflict even more damage on the communities of Atlantic Canada.”

Please. First of all, Canada’s famous annual seal hunt hasn’t been “devastated” because of animal activism – it’s dying because more than 30 countries, including the U.S. and Russia, have banned the import of seal hunt products.  Same with the fur industry.  The industry is fading (though not soon enough) because the demand isn’t what it used to be.  As for commercial fishing, commercial fishing has decimated commercial fishing, not animal activism!  And nowhere – nowhere – in this proposed legislation is the use of animals for any of these industries prohibited. Bill C-246 is only about sharks, dogs and cats and people who really go out of their way to abuse animals getting a harsher punishment. That’s it, that’s all.

But this is big business to some, some with far more funding than any animal rights organization.  From Sopuck’s same article:

“Stakeholders across Canada are rightfully outraged by this proposed legislation. For example, Phil Morlock, of the Canadian Sportfishing Industry Association (CSIA) stated that this bill “is a nuclear strike against our outdoor heritage activities and threatens anyone who just wants to take their kids fishing”.”

Give this guy an Oscar for his flare for drama.  Because yes, that’s what this bill is really about – preventing you from spending time with your children (and way to play the kid card, you manipulative wang).

They’re panicking.  Because it might mean they have to change their habits.  It might mean they have to consider animal suffering over their own desires.  It might mean letting go of some of their long-held traditions that have come to define them.  And I get that.  But if we as humans are not open to change, if we continue to do things for no other reason than because that’s-what-we’ve-always-done, the world will never improve or progress.  As soon as our traditions, hobbies, religions or anything else require the suffering and bloodshed of others, we must reevaluate our position, no matter how difficult it may be. An activity should not define us.  Our mercy, compassion and intelligence should.  Do we want to live in a country that prosecutes people for showing kindness to animals and protects those that harms them or vice-versa?

The next reading of Bill C-246 is on Monday May 9 where it will go on, die or be tabled for future.

To sign the petition in support of Bill C-246, click here.  And thanks for reading this really long post.

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