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Animal cruelty laws in limbo

By Dave Flaherty/The Oshawa Express

In a few short months, the Ontario SPCA will cease to enforce animal cruelty laws in the province for the first time in over a century.

Ontario’s animal welfare agency has announced it is not renewing its contract with the province when it expires at the end of March.

Instead, the organization plans to supply “animal-related expertise” to the provincial government as a support service to enforcement agencies, similar to the model in the United Sates.

The OSPCA has offered a three-month transition phase that would see the province continue its current services until June 28, 2019.

Earlier this year, an Ontario Superior Court Justice ruled some of the powers given to the OSPCA by the provincial government are unconstitutional.

In his decision, Justice Tim Minnema struck down sections of the OSPCA Act which assign “police and other investigative powers” to the organization, and the provincial government one year to address the situation.

The act, first brought into law in 1919, gives the organization the authority to enforce provincial and federal animal cruelty laws.

OSPCA investigators and agents have the capability to enter homes or businesses if an animal is believed to be in distress or in danger.

The organization provides local investigative services for the Humane Society of Durham Region, an independent operating affiliate of the OSPCA.

Request for comment from the Humane Society were redirected to the OSPCA.

There were approximately 400 animal cruelty complaints made in Durham last year.

According to the OSPCA’s 2017 annual report, 573 provincial charges and 21 criminals charges were laid as a result of investigations. Additionally, 1,220 animals were retrieved.

Durham Regional Police Service officers also respond to animal cruelty complaints from time-to-time.

DRPS director of corporate communications Dave Selby said these are handled the same as any other calls, and are responded to on a priority basis.

OSPCA CEO Kate MacDonald said it is not in the interests of the organization, or the animals it is mandated to protect, to continue with its current system.

“Enforcement is the responsibility of government, one that we can confidently support by offering animal protection services to enforcement agencies,” McDonald stated. “Being an outside agency, we have been woefully under-resourced to provide legislated enforcement. We have struggled to meet the need and have struggled with both officer safety and, at times, conflicts with our charitable mission.”

The OSPCA was founded in 1873. It is a private charity and therefore not an agent of the provincial government.

According to MacDonald, the OSPCA will begin drafting recommendations for a new act to legislate animal protection in Ontario.

Animal Justice, a non-profit law organization lauded the move, calling it “bold and courageous.”

“Change doesn’t always come easily, but it is necessary. It’s clear that our animal law enforcement must evolve to keep pace with the 21st Century,” Camille Labchuk, Animal Justice’s executive director stated in a news release. “We are committed to working with the Ontario SPCA and the provincial government to help develop a robust, well-resourced public enforcement model that puts animals first.”

The Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services has yet to address the OSPCA’s plans.

In an emailed statement, Minister Sylvia Jones says the government remains committed to the safety of animals.

“Animal welfare will always be of upmost importance to our government and we are committed to ensuring no animals fall through the cracks as a result of [the OSPCA’s] announcement,” Jones said. “We are actively reviewing the implications of this change to find a solution that works for everyone. Let me be clear, we will always ensure animal welfare is upheld and enforced. We look forward to speaking more about this in the future.”