TORONTO – Ontario will spend $5.5 million a year to toughen enforcement of animal welfare laws, crack down on puppy and kitten mills and improve care for marine mammals in the province, the government announced Friday.
Madeleine Meilleur, minister of community safety, said there will be regular inspections of zoos and aquariums to ensure the health and safety of animals in captivity.
Speaking at Toronto’s High Park Zoo, Meilleur said the annual funding will go to the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to help it strengthen its animal protection work.
She said the government has come up with several ways to help OSPCA investigators respond better to complaints, such as a centralized dispatch service enabling officers to respond to animal abuse calls from anywhere in the province.
A squad of specially trained investigators will also be created to crack down on puppy and kitten mills, and the government says the OSPCA will conduct twice-yearly inspections of zoos and aquariums.
Massimo Bergamini, executive director of Canada’s Accredited Zoos and Aquariums, said Meilleur’s announcement is a good “first step” but more needs to be done.
He said there are other issues, such as public safety, related to the keeping of exotic animals in the province.
“It is unclear how today’s announcement addresses the regulatory and enforcement gaps that in the past have come to light – in Ontario and in other provinces – sometimes with tragic consequences,” he said.
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“A new legislative and regulatory framework is needed to replace the current patchwork of municipal animal control bylaws and bring province-wide consistency to the keeping and care of exotic animals.”
There also should be an accreditation-based licensing regime for zoos and aquariums, Bergamini said, adding this would involve “internationally accepted standards of animal care, public and employee safety, education and conservation.”
Meilleur said the new measures will strengthen enforcement of animal welfare laws in areas that have been under-served, such as rural and northern communities, and address concerns about proper inspections of facilities where animals are held in captivity.
“Our government cares deeply for the well-being of animals wherever they live in this province,” she said.
There are more than 60 zoos and aquariums in Ontario, more than any other province, according to government figures.