Ontario government takes steps to allow humane societies to enforce animal cruelty laws

Photo of the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (OSPCA).
Photo of the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (OSPCA). File photo / Global News

TORONTO – Humane societies in Ontario may be allowed to enforce animal cruelty laws once the province’s animal welfare charity abdicates its role next month.

A spokesman for Solicitor General Sylvia Jones says the move is a transitionary measure until the government comes up with new legislation in the fall.

She said a number of humane societies have asked to help after the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals relinquishes its enforcement duties on June 28.

“Our government wants to empower these affiliates to continue protecting animals as we develop a new model,” Jones said in a statement. “This work cannot be rushed, and animal protection is too important not to get right.”

READ MORE: Overwhelming support from Ontarians for police enforcement of animal cruelty laws: report

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The role of the OSPCA came into question in January when a judge ruled the province erred when it gave the private charity policing powers without also imposing accountability and transparency standards.

In March, the OSPCA surprised the province when it told them it would no longer enforce animal cruelty laws, as it has done since 1919. The province pays the OSPCA $5.75 million annually to enforce cruelty laws across the province, but the charity has said for years the money does not cover the costs of its enforcement regime.

The OSPCA said it wanted out of the enforcement game by April 1, but the two sides agreed to a three-month contract extension.

Under the OSPCA Act, only the organization’s chief inspector can bestow police powers on an inspector or agent.

A spokesman for Jones said the government filed a regulatory change to the OSPCA Act on Friday that allows affiliates – some humane societies in the province – to request one of its employees be appointed an inspector or agent.

“We need to fill in the gaps the best we can in the interim,” Richard Clark said.

WATCH: OSPCA to back away from enforcing animal cruelty laws

Click to play video: 'OSPCA to back away from enforcing animal cruelty laws' OSPCA to back away from enforcing animal cruelty laws
OSPCA to back away from enforcing animal cruelty laws – Mar 5, 2019

Brian Shiller, the OSPCA’s lawyer, said the new regulation is problematic because the way the act is currently written means agents and inspectors would have to report to the chief inspector.

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“The regulation presumes that the OSPCA is still in the enforcement business, when it will not be,” Shiller said. “The government did not consult with the OSPCA prior to publishing this new regulation.”

The government has also launched an online survey where the public can share their thoughts on a new animal welfare system.

“Our government has always maintained that the system can be made more robust, transparent, and accountable,” Jones said.

“While work is already underway to introduce a better system, I’m counting on the people of Ontario to share their ideas, feedback, and concern as part of our public survey.”

The survey seeks the public’s opinion on who should be responsible for animal cruelty enforcement, the importance of inspections of zoos and aquariums and questions about the agricultural industry.

It also asks about exotic animals in the province – currently only killer whales and pit bulls are banned across Ontario.

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