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Zimmer 'pleased' to see defeat of animal protection bill

Local MP Bob Zimmer says he is pleased to see the defeat of a federal bill that advocates said was aimed at strengthening Canada's laws against animal cruelty.
MP Bob Zimmer speaks in Fort St. John on Sunday, Sept. 11.

Local MP Bob Zimmer says he is pleased to see the defeat of a federal bill that advocates said was aimed at strengthening Canada's laws against animal cruelty.  

Bill C-246, or the Modernizing Animal Protections Act, was defeated by a vote of 198-84 on Wednesday. 

"I am pleased that Bill C-246 was defeated by strong opposition on all sides of the House of Commons,” Zimmer said in a statement Thursday.

“While there are areas of this bill that I am supportive of, some amendments to the Criminal Code were very concerning, specifically interpretive language that could criminalize historic and normal activities of hunting, fishing, farming and trapping."

Ontario Liberal MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith introduced the private member's bill in February of this year, saying it would bring the country's "animal welfare laws into the 21st century." The bill included provisions to consolidate a number of offences against animals under the Criminal Code, and included bans on the import of shark fins and products made from dog and cat furs or skins, among others. 

"Canadians across our country, from farmers to pet owners, care about animal welfare. We expect our leaders and our legislators to protect those who cannot protect themselves," Erskine-Smith said when he introduced his bill.

He also said it would close loopholes in the law around animal fighting, and require labelling to identify the source of furs sold in Canada.

Zimmer could not be immediately reached for comment Thursday to speak to elements of the bill he did support. In his statement, however, Zimmer said Canada already has sufficient legislation to protect animals from harm. Bill S-203, implemented in 2008, "strengthened penalties for those who harm animals," he noted.

Zimmer spoke against the bill in the House on Sept. 28, saying certain language in the bill, such as "brutally" and "viciously," was "too far-reaching" and could potentially criminalize farmers, hunters, and anglers.

"For one, brutally and viciously is understood as something that is inhumane, that affects an animal in a negative way without concern for the animal's sensibilities," Zimmer said.

"However, another meaning could be considered for the common practices of even catching a fish for instance, where once people catch a fish, they have to end its life so it can be consumed and eaten as a filet for supper. That could be deemed to be brutally or viciously killing. That is my concern. We have groups of people that have traditionally fished, hunted, and trapped, etc. They would now be potentially accused of treating animals brutally or viciously. 

"I know the member who put this bill forward said that would not be the case, but the potential for that definition to be taken far and wide is what concerns a lot of us in this place," he said.

Earlier this year, Erica Hilbach joined the South Peace SPCA as a special provincial constable with the animal cruelty unit to carry out investigations in both the South and North Peace.

The position had been vacant through parts of 2015, which made it difficult for SPCA staff to follow up on cruelty complaints.

Unlike other shelter staff, Hilbach can recommend charges under both the Criminal Code and the provincial animal cruelty act.

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