TORONTO – A report from two animal rights groups released Monday urges the Ontario government to have members of the public sector enforce the province’s animal cruelty laws rather than leaving the responsibility to a private charity, as is currently the case.
The review from Zoocheck and Animal Alliance of Canada – titled “New directions for animal welfare in Ontario” – suggests the government launch a commission to oversee animal welfare law enforcement, hire special frontline investigators and expand powers granted to existing conservation and farm inspection officers.
“Animal welfare reform in Ontario just isn’t working,” said Rob Laidlaw, executive director of Zoocheck.
The Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, a private charity that receives $5.5 million annually from the government, has enforced animal cruelty laws in the province since 1919. The government gave the agency police powers under the OSPCA Act to enforce both provincial and Criminal Code animal cruelty laws.
Last week, an Ontario judge struck down the enforcement powers of the OSPCA, saying they were unconstitutional.
Justice Timothy Minnema said the provincial government erred by giving the charity police powers without proper accountability and transparency, noting that it isn’t subject to freedom of information laws, the Ombudsman Act or the Police Services Act. He gave the provincial government a year to re-write the laws that govern the OSPCA to make them compliant with the charter.
The report from Zoocheck and Animal Alliance of Canada, which was two years in the making, highlights the same concerns Minnema emphasized in his judgement and recommends forming the government commission to provide oversight.
“It’s important we have proper animal welfare law enforcement in Ontario,” said Liz White, director of Animal Alliance of Canada. “As of right now, I don’t think we do and it’s not the OSPCA’s fault.”
A team of inspectors would report to the new commission, the report suggests.
Those inspectors would be made up of special investigators as well as existing conservation officers with the Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry who would be given expanded powers to enforce animal cruelty laws, the report suggests. The document also recommends giving those enforcement powers to inspectors and veterinarians with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs who currently investigate food that comes from farm animals.
The report also said there should be a licensing regime for wildlife kept in captivity in Ontario. The OSPCA maintains a zoo and aquarium registry, but it is only voluntary.
It further suggests the province implement a “positive list” of animals that can be kept as pets as there are no province-wide rules on owning exotic animals. The report said the effort could be funded by a proposed two per cent surcharge on all non-medical pet supplies.
Laidlaw said he has sent the report to the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services, which oversees the OSPCA. The ministry did not respond to a request for comment.
The OSPCA, which has long said it doesn’t receive enough funding from the province to carry out its enforcement duties, said it was open to working with the government and other stakeholders on the future of animal cruelty enforcement and potential oversight and accountability measures.
“Zoocheck and Animal Alliance are two established and well respected and very knowledgeable organizations,” said OSPCA lawyer Brian Shiller. “We trust the government will pay attention to what they’re saying.”