Universities back new animal cruelty bill
Proposed law poses no threat to research, institutions say after years
of fighting Ottawa's attempts
Janice Tibbetts, Canwest News Service
Published: Tuesday, February 12, 2008
OTTAWA -- After years of fighting federal bills to toughen animal
cruelty laws, academia is putting its support behind a version that
universities say would not pose a threat to legitimate animal research.
The House of Commons justice committee is wrapping up public hearings
on the latest reincarnation, following a decade of several failed
attempts to rewrite a 116-year-old law that made it a crime to abuse
The Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada, the national
umbrella group for post-secondary institutions, says it no longer fears
that an anti-cruelty bill would make potential criminals out of
researchers who are trying to conduct ethical animal-based testing.
are shown at a research facility. Universities had feared that an
anti-cruelty bill would make criminals out of researchers working
ethically. Ian Lindsay, Vancouver Sun
Universities and colleges had opposed previous attempts since 1999,
partly because animals would cease to be considered property under the
Criminal Code and they would have stronger, specific protection in their
"Such changes could have led to unfounded allegations of misconduct
against universities and university researchers, and frivolous and
unwarranted private prosecutions under the Criminal Code by individuals
and organizations for whom no use of animal research is acceptable," the
association says in a recent written brief to the justice committee.
The latest bill has traveled an unusual path -- originating in the
Senate rather than the House of Commons. The legislative proposal, like
the original bill introduced by the Liberal government in 1999, would
increase criminal penalties for people who abuse animals.
If convicted, abusers could receive a maximum penalty of five years
imprisonment and a $10,000 fine, up from the current maximum punishment
of six months in prison and a $2,000 fine.
Universities and colleges say the newest version is a "carefully
tailored and reasoned solution" that avoids "serious damage to the
reputations of universities and to individual faculty members who are
conducting important animal-based testing and research in a highly
ethical and responsible manner."
The bill was introduced by Liberal Senator John Bryden, who tabled
identical legislation two years ago that did not make it as far as
public hearing at the Commons justice committee, one of the final stages
before a bill goes to MPs for a final vote.
Bryden's bill has the support of the governing Conservatives, who
opposed former Liberal bills to modernize animal-cruelty laws, amid
fierce opposition from researchers, farmers, aboriginals and hunters.
Two Liberal bills passed in the Commons, but they were blocked in the
Liberal MP Mark Holland is waiting to introduce his own private
member's bill, which effectively revives past Liberal legislation. Among
other things, Holland opposes a section of Bryden's bill that requires "wilful
negligence" rather than simple "negligence" in harming animals, an
accusation that he said is too difficult to prove.
Holland, who intends to hold a news conference with animal-welfare
groups and a "survivor" of animal cruelty today on Parliament Hill, says
Bryden's bill is "worse than nothing" because its passage would ensure
that Canada's law remains in the dark ages for years to come.
"Can you imagine the House of Commons passing an animal welfare bill
that has every major animal-welfare group opposed to it?" he asked. "It
is unbelievable that the House would do such a thing."
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