OSPCA tells Ontario government it will no longer enforce animal cruelty laws

The Canadian Press
March 04, 2019
By The Canadian Press
TORONTO — For the first time in a century, Ontario’s animal welfare agency will no longer investigate and enforce animal cruelty laws.

In a letter Monday to Community Safety Minister Sylvia Jones, the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals said it will not sign a new contract with the province after the current one expires at the end of March.

“The current model is just simply not working,” CEO Kate MacDonald told The Canadian Press in an interview. “This is a very significant shift in who we are and what we do.”

The letter, obtained by The Canadian Press, said the OSPCA will offer a three-month transition phase, by way of contract, until June 28.

“During the transition period, we will not be accepting complaints or cases dealing with livestock,” said the letter signed by MacDonald and Catherine MacNeill, the chair of the OSPCA’s board of directors.

MacDonald said the organization will shift into a support role in animal cruelty investigations, providing animal shelter, forensic evidence collection and veterinary services.

She said the OSPCA would like to see a model similar to that in New York, where the NYPD has an animal cruelty squad that leads investigators and works with the American SPCA, which handles similar services.

``We expect to continue to be involved as a support to law enforcement agencies,” MacDonald said. ``They’re going to need help and we’re the logical choice.”

The organization has police powers — it can enforce both provincial and Criminal Code animal cruelty laws — under the OSPCA Act that became law in 1919.

Its role came into question in early January when an Ontario court found the OSPCA’s powers to be unconstitutional and gave the government a year to remedy the situation. The judge said the province erred when it gave police powers to a private organization without imposing accountability and transparency standards on the agency.

The province appealed the decision.

MacDonald said the court’s ruling was the ``catalyst” in its move away from animal cruelty investigations.

“The recent decision has helped us to see, truly, that enforcement is a function of government,” she said.

MacDonald said the agency’s 65 enforcement officers will be offered jobs on the organization’s expanding animal rescue arm.

A scathing 2016 report by Kendra Coulter, a labour studies professor at Brock University, found that the majority of the OSPCA officers were poorly paid, worked in the field alone often facing dangerous circumstances, and were responsible for extremely large geographic regions.

MacDonald cited that report as proof of the organization’s struggles.

“Our officers are not armed and they’re often alone and it’s just not a reasonable expectation for someone to go to work like that everyday,” she said.

Community members concerned about animal cruelty should contact their local police force or animal control units, MacDonald said.

The minister of community safety was not immediately available for comment.

About a year ago, the OSPCA said it was looking at transforming its operations. In October, management told frontline officers it planned to pull out of investigating cruelty complaints involving horses and large farm animals, trying to farm those out to the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs.

The organization also told frontline officers it would no longer euthanize dogs involved in attacks as required by law, floating the idea of handing off those responsibilities to the government and police.

The province gives the OSPCA $5.75 million annually, but the organization has long complained the funding is not enough to carry out enforcement services.

- Liam Casey

News from © Canadian Press Enterprises Inc., 2019

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