By Jonathan Martin
The Ontario government is calling for public input on its planned update to the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act.
The Ministry of the Solicitor General developed a public survey that will “directly inform Ontario’s new (animal welfare) model,” an information package reads.
The survey, which is available on the government of Ontario website, is a series of multiple-choice questions. The survey will be accessible to the public until June 6.
“I know this goes beyond livestock commodities and that’s why they need input from the general public,” Keith Currie, president of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA), told Farms.com.
“That can be dangerous, though, because (the general public doesn’t) have an intimate knowledge of the subject. Most people won’t have had an opportunity to work with reporting animal cruelty, so maybe asking them questions about who they should call if they witness something could skew the data.”
The OFA, along with other ag groups, has been working with the solicitor general’s office since talk about amending the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act began, Currie said.
The Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (OSPCA) amended the act on May 17 by allowing affiliate organizations to submit a request to the solicitor general asking that one of the affiliate’s employees be allowed to enforce the act.
The amendment “will provide options to ensure effective enforcement until the new (animal welfare) model is implemented,” the information package reads. “The regulation enables affiliates of the OSPCA, such as local humane societies, to continue enforcement should they wish to do so.”
The government is developing a new model because the OSPCA can no longer enforce animal welfare legislation.
On Jan. 1, Ontario Superior Court Justice Timothy Minnema ruled that it is not constitutional for the province to give private charities the policing powers of animal cruelty enforcement without government oversight to ensure accountability and transparency.
“The best option is to develop a new agency to oversee the whole sector,” Bruce Kelly told Farms.com. Kelly is Ontario Farm and Food Care’s program manager. “When (the responsibility) just falls to police, they lack the experience in knowing what normal farm practices are. So, the more I look at this, the more I see the need for an agency to enforce the laws.”
Richard Horne is the manager of policy and issues with Beef Farmers of Ontaro (BFO). He told Farms.com that his organization believes the agency ultimately charged with enforcing the act should be developed in coordination with the sector it’s overseeing.
“Any agent that’s enforcing the care of an animal must be trained in the nuances of the species they’re protecting,” he said. “In terms of who is going to do the enforcement, we feel that it is the responsibility of the public sector to to ensure (the agency) is transparent and accountable. The rules for gathering evidence should be clear to all parties.”
He said the enforcement agent should be made to submit mandatory reports to legislators as a means of accountability.
Currently, enforcement represents about 20 per cent of the OSPCA’s services and is governed by a 100-year-old piece of legislation called the OSPCA Act, an SPCA press release says.
The private charity, which is funded through taxes as well as private donations, has had police powers since the OSPCA Act became law in 1919. The organization is responsible for enforcing both provincial and Criminal Code animal cruelty laws.
“Although charged with law enforcement responsibilities, the OSPCA is opaque, insular, unaccountable, and potentially subject to external influence, and as such Ontarians cannot be confident that the laws it enforces will be fairly and impartially administered,” Minnema wrote in a document outlining his decision to eliminate the OSPCA’s policing powers. “The OSPCA appears to be an organization that operates in a way that is shielded from public view while at the same time fulfilling clearly public functions.”
The OFA, Ontario Farm and Food Care, BFO and other ag organizations are collaborating to look at how other jurisdictions enforce the laws. Horne said it seems like all the groups involved agree on the “principles and recommendations that the coalition developed together.”
Ontario Farm and Food Care presented a list of proposals to the solicitor general’s office on May 10. It includes a list of recommendations and guiding principles that Kelly said several groups developed after poring over other provinces’ policies.
Kelly hopes the groups’ research will be taken into consideration when it comes time to write the new laws.
The process is “going well,” Currie told Farms.com. “The solicitor general’s office has been very good about listening to our concerns.”
“We really went through everything line-by-line,” Kelly agreed. “I think we submitted some good ideas and we’d like to continue being involved as the policy develops.”
Minnema gave the legislature one year to come up with a new policy that will override the current Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act.
This story was updated on May 24, 2019.