An attempt at updating Canada’s animal cruelty laws was curbed last night, with the government joining the Conservatives to vote down Beaches-East York MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith’s private members’ bill.
The Liberal MP’s bill would have modernized the criminal code’s animal section, banned the practice of shark finning, banned the sale of cat and dog fur and required cat and dog fur to be labelled.
A yes vote last night, October 5, would have sent Bill C-246 to committee for further study, but with a vote of 198-84 the bill was shut down at second reading. His party did not officially endorse the bill, which faced backlash from hunters, anglers and the farming industry when it was first introduced in February. Opponents feared that it would affect hunting and angling and open the door to legal challenges against farmers.
In response to the backlash, Erskine-Smith significantly watered down his bill between first and second reading, taking out portions he learned caused concern.
Private members’ bills rarely pass in the House of Commons, but Erskine-Smith hoped that a cause he believes Canadians of all parties care about would receive bi-partisan support, particularly because a form of this bill had been bandied about the house for almost two decades and some of Canada’s animal laws have not been updated since 1892.
The Bloc and the NDP were widely in favour of the bill, and he received support from several politicians across the aisle including NDP leader Tom Mulcair and Conservative Michelle Rempel. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau voted against the bill.
Hockey icon Don Cherry — who founded a pet rescue operation — came out swinging in favour of the bill late last month, devoting a video to the subject.
Show your support for Bill C-246 https://t.co/eHkFoQeNS1
— Don Cherry (@CoachsCornerCBC) September 29, 2016
— Nate Erskine-Smith (@beynate) October 6, 2016
But it wasn’t enough to get the bill to committee.
“The lobby from hunters and anglers, chicken farmers … there was a large group of organizations that view this as the thin edge of the wedge if we do anything for animals, even if its ending obvious animal cruelty measures,” said Erskine-Smith.
But he is confident his bill has brought Canada one step closer to modernizing its animal protection laws — and he expects to see the government introduce its own reforms in the near future.
“A number of my colleagues voted [with the government] because they were assured by the justice minister that action will be taken by government,” he said. “The justice minister has said that she will consult, she will review the criminal code, and that action will be taken by this government to end animal cruelty and to improve animal protection laws. And I’m happy to say that would not have occurred but for our bringing the bill forward, and more importantly Canadians across the country being so vocal and supportive.”
Private members’ bills are “often an opportunity to put an issue on the government’s agenda that wasn’t already on the agenda, and I think that’s exactly what we’ve accomplished,” he said.
Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould said in a statement that the bill “raised the important issue of animal protections and has created the opportunity for Canadians and advocacy groups to share a wide range of opinions and concerns on the topic.”
While the government believed animal cruelty is “an important social issue that deserves a national conversation,” she said, comprehensive reforms to animal cruelty laws “must involve large scale consultation with all stakeholders, including rural Canadians and those who have concerns about the effect of this proposed legislation on legitimate animal uses, such as farming, hunting and fishing.”
She said she “will be having discussions on expanding the definition of bestiality and the definition of animal fighting in the [criminal code].”
This story has been updated.