Conservative MP's bestiality bill aims to close 'archaic' loophole in Criminal Code

It’s time to close the loopholes in Canada’s laws when it comes to bestiality, says Michelle Rempel.

WARNING: Content of this story may disturb some readers

Conservative MP Michelle Rempel introduced a private member’s bill to amend the Criminal Code around bestiality. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

It's time to close the loopholes in Canada's laws when it comes to bestiality, says Michelle Rempel.

The Calgary Conservative member of Parliament tabled a private member's bill to amend the Criminal Code to define bestiality as "any contact by a person, for a sexual purpose, with an animal," on Wednesday.

"It's not the most pleasant topic to discuss. That said, I think the current law is based on an archaic understanding of sex," Rempel said.

"To me it's just a no-brainer."

Currently, the law around bestiality is understood as focusing on penetration involving a person and animal — a loophole used by a British Columbia man who ended up in front of the Supreme Court of Canada.

In 2016, the top court ruled that a convicted sexual offender, identified only as D.L.W. to protect his victims, was not guilty of bestiality following charges stemming from sexual activity involving one of his stepdaughters and the family dog.

In a 6-1 decision, a majority of the justices ruled that the Criminal Code provisions around bestiality do not adequately define which sexual acts with animals are prohibited. In his ruling, Justice Thomas Cromwell urged Parliament to revisit the definition.

But Rempel says there's been no action.

"I don't see this as a partisan issue. I don't know why the government hasn't moved on it yet," she said.

"But I'm hoping that by tabling this bill that the government will quickly move to correct this deficiency in our Criminal Code."

Rempel said she thinks the government "needs a bit of fire put to their feet on this particular issue" and that's why she tabled Bill C-388 before the holiday season.

"This could just zip through Parliament if the government had introduced legislation. I'm hoping that's what will happen so that both humans and animals aren't subjected to additional abuse because of Parliament's inertia on this issue," she said.

'It's unacceptable'

Offences against animals in the Criminal Code of Canada have not been substantively changed since 1892, aside from an increase in some penalties.

Last year, Liberal MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith introduced a bill also aimed at closing some loopholes in the Criminal Code and The Fisheries Act, including expanding the definition of bestiality, but it didn't make it through the House of Commons.

Animal rights groups which have been calling for the changes were disappointed by the bill's failure.

Advocacy group Animal Justice said the Supreme Court's decision left animals across the country dangerously vulnerable to disturbing sexual abuse. In a news release on Thursday, Camille Labchuk, executive director of Animal Justice, said "the disturbing bestiality loophole can be closed with a simple, one-line amendment to the Criminal Code.

"It's unacceptable that 18 months have passed without action."

The government also had an opportunity to make the change when new legislation was introduced to update Canada's Criminal Code and get rid of so-called zombie laws this past June.

That it's not a criminal offence to have sexual contact with an animal, so long as there is no penetration, should be appalling to all Canadians, said Kevin Toyne, a lawyer and member of the board of directors of Winnipeg Humane Society.

"It's 2017. Bestiality should be illegal in Canada and the fact that it's not is shocking," he said.

Toyne added it should be an easy fix, but for some reason it's up to private members to take up the cause.

"This is something that should have unanimous support," he said.

Rempel said she is optimistic that other politicians will get behind the changes. She hopes the government will introduce legislation specific to bestiality as soon as possible and that Parliament will agree to push it through.

"This is something that we could have corrected a long time ago, we should have corrected immediately upon the Supreme Court ruling being issued," she said.

"A year and a half is too long for something as clear and as simple as this."

With files from John Paul Tasker