After a period of uncertainty, the province of Ontario will soon have an updated animal welfare system.
The Provincial Animal Welfare Services (PAWS) Act was recently passed, and will come into effect on Jan. 1, 2020.
In January of this year, 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 were 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’s to respond to animal cruelty calls.
The Ford government unveiled the proposed new system in early-November.
Penalties for more serious offences such as animal fighting or failing to provide standards of care have increased significantly.
Formerly, individuals and corporations faced a maximum fine of $60,000 and/or a maximum of two years in jail.
Under the PAWS Act, individuals can now get 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 face fines up to $500,000 for a first offence, and up to $1 million on subsequent charges.
Veterinarians are now required to report animal abuse to the province, and provincial inspectors possess more specific powers than those under the OSPCA Act.
For example, inspectors will be allowed to enter motor vehicles to help animals in critical distress in extreme weather conditions.
Enforcement of the PAWS Act will 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.
“I am proud to say we have followed through on our commitment to deliver a modern animal welfare system,” said Solicitor General Sylvia Jones in a media release. “Ontario is now a leader in Canada when it comes to protecting animals, especially when it comes to penalties for offenders.”