Researcher seeks input on animal inspection alternatives

A recent court ruling mandated changes to animal inspection in Ontario in a year

A recognized expert in animal cruelty policy would welcome consideration of laws in other jurisdictions if and when Ontario updates its own legislation. But Dr. Kendra Coulter also wants to ensure the public has its say and she has launched an online survey she hopes will facilitate that input.

Coulter is chair of Labour Studies and the Chancellor’s Chair for Research Excellence at Brock University in St. Catharines. On Jan. 8, less than a week after Superior Court Justice Timothy Minnema directed the provincial government to use the next year to revamp its legislation governing inspection of complaints and enforcement of orders relating to animal cruelty, she launched an anonymous online survey encouraging Ontarians over age 18 to express their thoughts on a series of animal welfare enforcement-related questions.

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“There are valuable lessons we can learn from other jurisdictions across Canada, in the U.S. and in Europe,” Coulter told Farmtario in the days after launching the survey, adding, “I hope decisions (about how to proceed at the government level) are informed by evidence and expert insight.” She added, though, that she would also like to see any revamped legislation “reflect the views of the public.”

“It’s an important time to take the pulse of the public,” Coulter said, referring to the recent Superior Court ruling.

Coulter has been studying labour issues involving animals, including animal cruelty investigations, equine labour, and animals in public policy for many years. Her expertise was recognized nationally and globally by the Royal Society of Canada. A 2016 report by Coulter tackling the working conditions of animal welfare inspectors in the province was cited recently by officials with the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (OSPCA), as one factor leading to the organization’s decision to re-examine its commitment to continuing with farm livestock investigations in the future.

“I have rural roots and feel strongly about the need for sustainable livelihoods in the country,” Coulter told Farmtario. She said the survey “is about looking forward” to the type of inspection and enforcement model that the public would like to see replace the current OSPCA model.

“People want effective law enforcement,” she said. “So the key question is what specific steps will the government take? Will measures be implemented to make the OSPCA more accountable, or will the government pivot and move humane law enforcement into the public sector so crimes against animals are enforced by publicly-funded police or enforcement agencies like other kinds of crimes? If it’s the latter, there are a number of possible paths forward.”

The survey can be found at stopanimalcruelty.ca until the end of January. As of mid-January, Coulter said thousands of surveys had already been completed, and that “a public report (stemming from the responses) will be freely available and provided to the provincial government.”

About the author

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Stew Slater operates a small dairy farm on 150 acres near St. Marys, Ont., and has been writing about rural and agricultural issues since 1999.

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