A plan by Ontario’s animal welfare agency to pull back from investigating cruelty cases involving farm animals is a cause for concern, the provincial government said Thursday, emphasizing the group’s obligations under the law.
The Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has said it lacks the funding necessary to continue investigating reports of abuse of livestock and horses, suggesting the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs should take over that responsibility.
But the ministry has said it does not have police powers to enforce cruelty laws. Those powers lay with the OSPCA and police forces across the province.
“We’re all concerned and want to make sure we have the best protection for animal welfare,” said Agriculture Minister Ernie Hardeman.
“The OSPCA under legislation has the responsibility for that and we’re going to work with them to keep doing that.”
The OSPCA stressed they will continue to protect livestock and horses for the time being, but they are losing money every year enforcing cruelty laws and are in the midst of restructuring to stanch the financial bleeding.
Last week, the OSPCA called in all its enforcement officers for a meeting where they were told the organization planned on pulling out of investigating allegations of cruelty among livestock and horses.
The government was unaware of the OSPCA’s restructuring plans. The provincial government pays OSPCA $5.75 million each year under an agreement that stipulates the agency is responsible for a wide variety of cruelty-related enforcement initiatives.
Hardeman said if the OSPCA cannot perform the duties, the Ontario Provincial Police would have to step up.
John Vanthof, the deputy leader of the provincial New Democrats and a dairy farmer, echoed Hardeman’s concerns. He also questioned whether the provincial police could reliably fill the gap should the OSPCA pull out.
“You need a level of expertise to say if an animal is being treated properly or is healthy or not,” he said. “The OPP isn’t trained to say if an animal is being treated well or not.”
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The OPP said it has the authority to protect animals from abuse and to bring offenders to justice.
“When necessary, we call upon outside experts in the area of responsibility to assist with investigations,” said OPP Staff Sgt. Carolle Dionne. “This is no different from other investigations that sometimes require specific expertise that is not available within the ranks of the OPP.”
John Fraser, the interim leader of the Ontario Liberal party, said the government must address the issue.
“The protection of livestock is critical because we’ve seen situations in this province where people have been charged and we’ve seen really awful things,” Fraser said.
“There’s a reason we have the OSPCA and that’s not just my dog at home or people’s cats, those are livestock, the animals that help to provide sustenance and we have to treat them humanely,” he said.
A spokesman for the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services, which is responsible for the OSPCA, said it was reviewing the issue.