Animal welfare bill’s defeat relieves livestock groups

Groups say the bill was flawed and would have allowed animal rights groups to challenge farm practices

Livestock groups were pleased at the Oct. 5 defeat of Bill C-246, legislation to modernize the Canadian Animal Protections Act, in a 198-84 House of Commons vote.

The private members bill, brought forward by Liberal MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith of Beaches-East York, was primarily de-signed to address the practices of shark finning and imported dog and cat hair products.

However, livestock groups said the wording was so broad that it could subject farmers to charges under the Criminal Code.

“At best, it’s poorly crafted. At worst, it’s kind of reckless and it’s probably nothing more than a tool to escalate harassment against farmers amongst those kind of folks that want to eradicate animal agriculture,” John Masswohl of the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association said before the vote.

On Oct. 6, Canadian Pork Council public relations manager Gary Stordy expressed relief at the bill’s defeat.

“This stopping of Bill 246 from moving any further essentially clears the air and allows the industry to move forward and continue discussions about how animals should be treated and how it relates to the laws in Canada,” said Stordy.

Had the bill passed, it would have gone to a parliamentary committee and then been presented for third and final reading.

“We’re pleased that the bill is not moving forward,” Stordy said.

“We were of the opinion that it was a flawed bill to begin with. Moving it to committee would not necessarily ensure that any of those flaws would be addressed.”

Animal Justice, which says its mandate is to lead the legal fight for animal protection, said defeat of the bill was a bad day for animals. It called for a government commitment to update animal protection legislation.

Camille Labchuk, executive director for Animal Justice, said current laws are archaic.

“Voting to block Bill C-246 was a very low moment for Parliament and for the Liberal government,” said Labchuk in a news release.

“Canada has the worst animal protection laws in the western world, and it is disturbing that the government apparently cares so little about animals that it would vote down this important effort to make their lives better.”

Sayara Thurston, campaign manager for Humane Society International–Canada, also expressed disappointment at the vote’s outcome.

“This vote has clearly signalled, in the support that the bill got from Parliament and from Canadians, it’s clearly signalled to government an urgent need to address these issues,” said Thurston.

She disagreed with the view that Bill C-246 would have affected legal activities of livestock producers and said the latter “should be championing this legislation” because it would address incidents of cruelty revealed in undercover videos in the livestock industry.

Masswohl said it is already illegal to willfully neglect animals.

He said Erskine-Smith met with the CCA to discuss his bill after it was introduced and told the group there was no intent to affect livestock production practices.

However, the CCA said the wording was not specific enough to prevent that.

Had the bill passed, “we envision that farmers are going to be harassed with complaints and allegations as those activists and prosecutors seek to flex their muscles and test out these new legal tools that they’re trying to provide. We’re not all that eager for that to happen,” said Masswohl.

“I genuinely believe that his intent was not to negatively affect farmers. I think he expressed that he doesn’t want the bill to affect farmers, but I think he’s naïve in thinking that that is possible.

“Regardless of what the intent is on this, it’s the law of unintended consequences. If you start changing these things, it’s going to create the opportunity for those folks who do not want agriculture, animal agriculture, to exist. And those people are definitely out there. It gives them a tool to harass farmers.”

Stordy said the bill would have lowered the threshold at which the Criminal Code could apply to farming operations and noted activist groups are intent on pushing the limits of existing laws.

Bill Blair, parliamentary secretary to the justice minister, said in a May House of Commons debate that animal protection would likely be addressed in a larger review of the Criminal Code.

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