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Potential PR points for protecting puppies

Who doesn’t love puppies? Or a basketful of kitties? Awwww.

Facebook is full of cute pet pictures. As a civilization, we generally adore animals and cringe at the thought of causing them harm.

But it’s not that simple. There are some cruel people who willfully hurt animals for that reason we have had legislation to protect them for 100 years.

The issue now, however, is that legislation is crippled. Earlier this year Ontario Superior Court Judge Timothy Minnema struck down the section of the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act which empowered the charity, the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to investigate and enforce that Act.

The decision came after a complaint that the OSPCA had breached a woman’s rights by seizing her pet without accountability and transparency.

Subsequently the OSPCA informed the province it would no longer enforce the law and as of June 30 it becomes the bailiwick of Ontario police services, a chore they say they are unprepared to handle.

Clearly, this is not optimal and there’s a gap in how we investigate, enforce and prosecute cases involving mistreatment of animals. There was a palpable need for the legislation to be updated, Brian Shiller, General Counsel for the OSPA agrees but leaving it vacated is not the right approach.

The legislation is 100 years old and though it has had minor amendments over the years, it hasn’t substantially changed, he says, noting it dates to an era when women had just won emancipation in Ontario.

Things have changed and with the Charter of Rights the bar is set higher.

As it stands, he says, the OSPCA is lobbying the government to get their attention to drafting new legislation.

“There are three ways to proceed really,” says Shiller. “One to take out references to the OPSCA and leave it to police services, two, create special constables to replace the OSPCA agents or inspectors or three, create a new animal welfare agency,” he says.

The third would be the most expensive and given this government’s mandate to bring spending under control, unlikely to gain traction, easy PR points aside.
The OSPCA as a charity, does not have the resources to police animal protection across the province. It needs funding and resources beyond what donations cover.

The first two, then, are the best path to daylight but it’s a long road with several other parties, animal activists and advocates all vying to be heard.

Getting onto the government’s agenda is a task in and of itself, Schiller admits, though they have met with Minster of Government and Consumer Services Bill Walker.

What they need is a champion within government because private members’ bills have all died on the order paper in the past. There’s some hope that Premier Doug Ford might be persuaded to take an interest given his family’s love of pets and his own limited meat diet.

Animal protection is governed by two statutes, he points out, one the OSPCA Act, now with its constrained authorities, and the Criminal Code which is enforced by police.

“The issue is that if police go to a scene as they did recently where a dog’s limb was hanging loose and they charge someone with under the criminal code, what do they do with the dog?” he argues.

“They’re no set up to deal with and animal so they would call us or animal services and we could take the dog to a vet and, if needed, re-home the dog.”

With the OSPCA shifting its focus to be more of an advocate for animals than a policing authority, there’s clearly a gap.

“Enforcement is 100 per cent complaint driven,” he says. “So who goes to investigate a complaint? Who decides whether in fact there is an issue, whether it can be worked out or whether charges and seizure are warranted. With no enforcement powers we can’t get warrants and we can’t enter onto properties to investigate.”

Ian Harvey has been a journalist for more than 42 years, writing about a diverse range of issues including legal and political affairs. His email address is ianharvey@rogers.com.


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