Second reading of Bill S-15, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and the Wild Animal and Plant Protection and Regulation of International and Interprovincial Trade Act

By: The Hon. Pierre Dalphond

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Hon. Pierre J. Dalphond: Honourable senators, Mahatma Gandhi said, “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”

In this spirit, I rise in steadfast support of government Bill S-15, which proposes legal protections for elephants and great apes in captivity in Canada.

Science tells us that these amazing creatures are self-aware, highly social and emotional. In other words, they are sentient animals. Elephants and great apes also share these characteristics and needs with whales and dolphins, which Parliament passed laws to protect from the harms of captivity in 2019.

The time has come to extend that protection to elephants and great apes in captivity. In Ontario, a licence is not even required to possess an elephant or a great ape, meaning a chimpanzee, bonobo, gorilla or orangutan. This is no longer acceptable considering both animal welfare and public safety.

Thank you and congratulations to Minister Guilbeault and Minister Virani for bringing forward this legislation before the Senate. This bill follows the Liberal Party’s 2021 election commitment to legislate the protections of wild animals in captivity.

Thank you also to my colleague Senator Klyne for sponsoring this bill and leading this house towards more humane treatment of captive wildlife.

As said by previous speakers, Bill S-15 will pursue some of the goals of the Jane Goodall act authored by the Honourable Murray Sinclair in 2020. In sponsoring Bill S-15, Senator Klyne is upholding the vision and determination of Senator Sinclair in his tenacity to protect our fellow creatures, whom Indigenous wisdom teaches us to respect as all our relations.

Today, I will comment on four topics: first, the justification for protecting captive elephants and great apes; second, the significant differences between Bill S-15 and Bill S-241, the Jane Goodall act; third, the constitutionality of Bill S-15; and fourth, the road ahead for this bill.

On the first point, as Senator Klyne told us, the situation with elephants is especially concerning. Elephants suffer serious behavioural and health problems in captivity in North America, with two dying for every birth, as well as a record of their use for rides and performances for entertainment at African Lion Safari near Hamilton, Ontario. I was shocked that in 2021 this organization tried to sell elephants to a zoo in Texas, even though that would have broken up two mother-daughter pairs, who normally stay together for life.

Senators, that is not showing respect for sentient animals. I share the view of Dr. Jane Goodall, the Honourable Murray Sinclair, Senator Klyne and independent elephant experts that the time has come to phase out elephant captivity across Canada.

In the case of great apes, senators have heard that a lack of outdoor access was previously a concern for orangutans in Toronto prior to the opening of a new habitat last year. I applaud the Toronto, Calgary and Granby zoos’ embrace of the principle of legal protections for great apes. These zoos’ leadership sends a powerful message to the world about humanity’s shared need to protect our closest living relatives from both unsuitable conditions in captivity and the risk of extinction. The loss of part of our biodiversity is, in the end, a threat to our own survival.

For these reasons, Bill S-15 will prohibit the new captivity — including breeding and importation — of elephants and great apes unless licensed for their best interests, conservation or scientific research. Any such licences may also include conditions to promote their well-being. With Bill S-15, the granting of any licences will depend on the evidence and the judgment of the Minister of Environment or, in the case of breeding, also on the judgment of the relevant provincial government for the same restricted purposes.

In addition, Bill S-15 will prohibit the use of these species in performances for entertainment, ending the elephant shows that have taken place at African Lion Safari.

In addition to preventing animal cruelty, Bill S-15 will also protect public safety. Captive elephants and great apes are very powerful and potentially dangerous, with a record of attacks in North America. In Canada, this has included an elephant attack at African Lion Safari in 2019 that resulted in serious injuries to a trainer, and a fatal attack at the same location in 1989. This public safety aspect is legally significant, which I will return to with my third point.

Bill S-15 will achieve the measures I have described through amendments to the Criminal Code and the Wild Animal and Plant Protection and Regulation of International and Interprovincial Trade Act, or WAPPRIITA, which is administered by Environment and Climate Change Canada. In my opinion, this is a straightforward way to achieve the bill’s justified changes, a model closely based on Canada’s whale and dolphin captivity laws in the Criminal Code and the Fisheries Act. This follows the same logic we used with respect to whales and dolphins.

I turn to my second point: the significant differences between Bill S-15 and Bill S-241, the Jane Goodall Act. As Senator Klyne told us, these bills are related but quite distinct. Even the measures that are similar are drafted differently and contain substantial policy differences, such as Bill S-15’s lack of prohibitions on the possession and transport of reproductive materials, its lack of prohibition of elephant rides, its lack of potential provincial licensing of performances for entertainment and the availability of enforcement mechanisms for conditions of licence.

In addition, Bill S-241 is far broader than Bill S-15, covering over 800 wild species, including big cats, bears, wolves, sea lions, certain monkeys and dangerous reptiles, as well as a mechanism to add and remove wild species from the bill’s application. As well, Bill S-241 contains sentencing measures providing for the relocation of wild animals involved in captivity offences, with costs, in a manner analogous to the seizure and disposition of property.

Importantly, Bill S-241 also contains a complex framework for “animal care organizations,” allowing zoos meeting the highest standards and other criteria to breed and import the many wild species contained in Bill S-241 but not Bill S-15.

To illustrate in plainer terms, Bill S-15 is 9 pages long and Bill S-241 is 29 pages long. We would know they are very different just by weighing them.

It is important to consider some of these differences as our debate and committee process proceeds in order to hopefully pass the best possible bill.

I turn now to my third point on Bill S-15: the bill’s constitutionality. Senators, in my view, this bill is a straightforward application of the federal criminal power regarding the prevention of animal cruelty and the protection of public safety, and to a lesser extent, the federal trade and commerce power over international trade.

On this point, I refer senators to a letter commenting on Bill S-241 and Bill S-15 received by the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee from six law professors across the country, organized by Professor Angela Fernandez and Krystal-Anne Roussel, Research Associate in Animal Law at the Faculty of Law, University of Toronto. That letter states:

The Supreme Court has repeatedly emphasized that the criminal law power is the most expansive and flexible of Parliament’s legislative powers. In this case, no expansive definition of criminal law is required to support the validity of this law. The Act’s matter – prohibiting and penalizing unethical and dangerous conduct – falls squarely within the traditional scope of the federal criminal law power.

Senators, I am sure that the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee will welcome any submissions on this matter. I believe our committee is an appropriate forum, though not the only valid committee, to study a bill to prevent animal cruelty using Canada’s criminal law.

Colleagues, I’ve come to my last point: the road leading to this bill being adopted. As Senator Klyne said in his speech on Bill S-15, the parliamentary process of passing government legislation on wild animals in captivity was slow and difficult, especially when it came to private member’s bills from the Senate or the other place.

The Senate has been studying bills on the captivity of elephants and great apes since the end of 2020. Bill S-241 was the bill that was most debated in the Senate at second reading stage in the previous Parliament with 17 speeches and more than five hours of debate over a period of 14 months. Before that, the passage of the bill on the captivity of whales was the longest legislative process in the history of Parliament; it took three and a half years.

However, despite what appears to be broad support for enhanced protection of wildlife in captivity, senators have not yet had the opportunity to hear testimony from scientists, accredited zoos or non-governmental animal protection organizations about the legislation. I’m talking about Bill S-241. If there are arguments against this bill, let them be studied in committee. As with all bills, the facts must prevail and be taken into account as we proceed with amendments and the final vote.

Colleagues, I would invite you to wrap up second reading of Bill S-15 as soon as possible and refer it to our Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee for in-depth study as a criminal law measure so this doesn’t drag on for months to come.

Section 36 of the Constitution Act, 1867, requires a majority vote in the Senate. I believe that a majority of senators have heard the calls from Dr. Jane Goodall, the Honourable Murray Sinclair, Senator Klyne and many others and are prepared to send this bill to committee. Thank you.

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