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Province proposes new animal welfare system

By Dave Flaherty/The Oshawa Express

After months of Ontario’s animal welfare system sitting in limbo, the Ford government has unveiled its new proposed model.

The proposed Provincial Animal Welfare Services (PAWS) Act was announced by the Office of the Solicitor General late-last month.

The act, if passed, would introduce new offences tied to the welfare of animals.

Penalties for more serious offences such as animal fighting or failing to provide standards of care, would increase significantly.

Currently, individuals and corporations face a maximum fine of $60,000 and/or a maximum of two years in jail.

Under the PAWS act, individuals would face a maximum fine of $130,000 and/or two years in jail on the first offence, and fines up to $260,000 and/or two years jail time for subsequent offences.

Corporations would face fines up to $500,000 for a first offence, and up to $1 million on subsequent charges.

Ontario would require veterinarians to report animal abuse to the province, and provide provincial inspectors with more specific powers than those under the OSPCA Act.

Enforcement of the PAWS Act would be undertaken by a provincial enforcement team headed by a chief inspector, locally deployed provincial inspectors, and specialized staff for zoos, aquariums, and the agricultural and equine industries.

In terms of oversight, the province would introduce a new complaint system regarding the conduct of inspectors, and oversight by the Auditor General, Ombudsman, Privacy Commissioner, and the Freedom of Information Act.

The Animal Care Review Board would continue on as the appeal body for orders and seizures by inspectors.

“We made a commitment to take action and develop a modern animal welfare enforcement system to keep animals safe. I am proud to say we are delivering on that commitment with new legislation that includes the toughest penalties in Canada,” said Solicitor General Sylvia Jones. “Ontarians can be confident the government is proposing a system that will better protect animals from negligent care.”

In January, Ontario Superior Court Justice Tim Minnema ruled some of the powers given to the Ontario Society for the Protection of Cruelty to Animals (OSPCA) at the time by the province as unconstitutional.

Minnema struck down sections of the OSPCA Act, the governing law of animal welfare since 1919, which assigned “police and other investigative powers” to the organization.

The Ford government was given one year to come up with new legislation.

In March, the OSPCA announced it would stop enforcing animal cruelty laws.

The organization said it plans to supply “animal-related expertise” to the provincial government as a support service to enforcement agencies, similar to the model in the U.S.

Once the OSPCA backed out at the end of June, it left police services such as Durham Regional Police Service to respond to animal cruelty calls.