Fin in the News: MPs call on senators to stop playing games with animal protection bills
Holly Lake, ipolitics.ca, June 19, 2018
June 20th, 2018 - 1:25pm
Members of Parliament from all parties joined together this morning to call on senators to stop playing games with the three animal protection bills and allow them to be voted on before the Senate rises for the summer.
"So far this Parliament has not accomplished anything for animals, despite the very high hopes of people who voted in the last election with the expectation that would happen," said Camille Labchuk, executive director of Animal Justice, at a press conference Tuesday.
"It's time for Parliament to start taking action. If these bills do not make it out of the Senate soon, there's a very good chance this Parliament will accomplish absolutely nothing for animals before the next election."
She was joined by Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, Conservative MP Michelle Rempel, Liberal MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith, and NDP MP and fisheries critic Fin Donnelly, as well as Julie MacInnes, campaign manager for the Humane Society International/Canada.
"These bills deserve to be voted on by the Senate, they deserve to reach that point, and move forward to the House of Commons so the MPs behind me can do their work as well," Labchuk said.
Among the three bills is S-203, which would ban the captivity of whales and dolphins in Canada. It was introduced in December 2015 by former LiberalSen. Wilfred Moore and stalled repeatedly by Conservative senators before passing second reading in November 2016.
It spent months before the Senate Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans, which held more than 17 hearings and heard from more than 40 witnesses between February and October of 2017. By then, Moore had reached retirement age, so sponsorship was taken over by Independent Sen. Murray Sinclair.
Along the way, Conservative senators tried to quietly kill the bill on more than one occasion, but the proposed legislation cleared committee by a vote of 9-5 in October 2017. The committee's report was only adopted by the Senate in April.
At this point, it's now been in the Senate for 29 months.
The Cruelty-free Cosmetics Act has also been before the Senate for 29 months. Introduced by Conservative Sen. Carolyn Stewart Olsen in December 2015, Bill S-214 would prohibit cosmetics testing on animals in Canada. It would also amend the Food and Drugs Act to ban the sale of cosmetics developed or manufactured through the use of animal testing.
Like S-203, the bill also cleared committee this past October and was referred to the Senate. The committee's report was adopted in February 2018.
There is significant public support for ending the captivity of cetaceans and the same has been shown for banning cosmetic animal testing. Last month, the largest petition in nearly 70 years landed on Parliament Hill's doorstep. It contained the signatures of 630,542 Canadians from across the country who are calling for an end to the practice.
As the crowd arrived on the Hill to deliver the boxes of signatures, they were met by MPs and Senators from across party lines who support the bill.
The third piece of legislation that's stranded in the Senate is Bill S-238, which would ban the import or export of shark fins into Canada, as well any shark fin derivative or product. The Ban on Shark Fin Importation Act was introduced by Conservative Sen. Michael MacDonald in April 2017. It received unanimous support at committee and the Senate adopted the report in February 2018.
"These bills have the power to transform and improve the lives of countless animals," MacInnes said. "(And yet) they have been held hostage by certain senators."
"Animals do not have a voice in our Senate. That's why we're here to speak for those that are so often forgotten and left to the wayside of our political process," she added.
Senate rules allow for substantial procedural delays that can hold things up indefinitely. Unimpressed by their deployment, last week Sen. Yuen Pau Woo, leader of the Independent Senators Group, tore a strip off his colleagues after amendments, sub-amendments and several hour-long delays proposed by Conservative senators opposed to the Bill S-203 took things into the night - only to have no vote at the end of it all to show for it.
"I was thinking if the Canadian public got to see the spectacle we engaged in - ringing one-hour bells, using procedural tactics to essentially not allow a billthat's been on the order paper for three years to have a vote - I think the public would be appalled," he said.
"What are we doing in the Senate, twiddling our thumbs for hours, waiting for a vote to happen?"
Woo said at some point, all bills should come to a vote when there's been a thorough airing of views.
"It's hard to argue that that hasn't happened with this bill. It's frustrating that the Senate, my Senate, engages in practices that are archaic, time-wasting and money-wasting, and not in keeping with the mission of the Senate."
Rempel also has no time for the Tory tactics happening down the hall. She said given how much time has been spent on these bills, "it's incumbent on the Senate to bring it to a vote."
"I strongly encourage my Senate colleagues, regardless of their feelings, to let this come to a vote. They can vote how they want, but this needs to come to the House for review. There's no reason for this to continue to sit among Senate games."
She added: "This is a non-partisan issue. Frankly these are bills that reflect common sense and growing best practices. There is a broad consensus on these issues in Canada. Lets just move on. That's my plea to my colleagues in the Senate."
Erskine-Smith said the fact that members of all parties were in attendance is reason to be hopeful.
"Animals who think and feel deserve to be treated humanely," he said. "These bills represent the very minimum of what Canadians expect from us."
"Canadians want to see legislators working together for animals and for good legislation to happen," he said. "It's ridiculous that we're waiting this long for these bills to come to a vote. We need to end this. We want an opportunity for democracy to happen for animal justice and welfare."
Donnelly stood alongside Sen. MacDonald when he introduced his shark finning bill last spring. In 2013, he'd proposed a similar ban which was narrowly defeated 143 to 138, but was supported by both the NDP and Liberals. Donnelly said that in the years since, awareness has increased around the issue, including among MPs and senators.
"It's five years since then and the appetite (for a ban) has only grown. Whether it's municipal, provincial or the country itself, people want to see change happen."
Donnelly himself spent a year on a cross-country campaign to help foster awareness about the horrific practice of finning, which sees sharks' fins cut off while they're still alive, and the helpless shark then tossed back into the water to drown or be eaten by predators.
"The Senate needs to do its job and get those bills passed so we can get this to the lower house and do our job," he said. "Hopefully our Senate colleagues will listen and do the right thing."
When Moore introduced his bill to ban whale and dolphin captivity, May was with him, announcing that she would sponsor it when it made it to the House.
"I would never have guessed we would be here in June 2018 trying to get the bill out of the Senate," she said.
"How on Earth did Marineland manage to keep so many senators captive?"