Who will inspect livestock welfare complaints?

Restructuring at OSPCA casts doubt on future of livestock inspections. Here are some potential outcomes

OSPCA gets $5.75 million annually through the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services, specifically for investigation services. This funding supports a call centre for complaints/concerns, officer training, and the operation of the officers in the field. There are about 75 officers across the province.


Representatives from Ontario’s livestock commodity groups will meet in early December to compose a letter expressing concern about predicted changes in how animal cruelty complaints are inspected and prosecuted.

Why it matters: Concern arose earlier this fall after published reports that the OSPCA had called in its inspectors to outline a plan to either out-source the inspection of complaints regarding farm livestock, or get out of that work altogether.

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“We’re in the process of doing some restructuring,” confirmed Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (OSPCA) spokesperson Alison Cross, in a recent interview. “But the welfare of animals is our mandate, and right now it’s status quo.”

“We don’t know if it’s real, or if it’s perceived. The government seems to be taken aback by this as well,” said Kelly Daynard, executive director of Farm and Food Care Ontario, a coalition tackling environmental and animal-welfare concerns on behalf of various farm-sector organizations.

Farm and Food Care operates a business-hours-only animal welfare farmer help line and has an agreement with the OPSCA to pass on concerns about cruelty that may arise through that help line.

Farm and Food Care also works with the OSPCA to create training for inspectors that’s specific to livestock complaints.

Daynard said she and her organization’s livestock sector representatives saw recent media reports suggesting the OSPCA plans to, as one Canadian Press article stated, “pull back from investigating cruelty cases involving livestock and horses as part of a restructure that insiders say may eventually see all its resources go toward shelters and rescue programs.”

Farm and Food Care decided to compose a letter to the provincial government expressing concern.

“If it is true, this is going to leave a fairly significant gap in enforcement of animal cruelty legislation in Ontario,” Daynard said. A meeting with livestock sector members was scheduled for early December, and Daynard expects the letter will request “a roundtable meeting to discuss the ramifications.”

Final recommendations a year away

Cross, though, says the letter will come too early in the process. Although the OSPCA began discussions back in early 2017 about what she referred to as “right-sizing the funding that we receive with the model we have of service delivery,” final recommendations about how to accomplish that aren’t expected until the end of 2019.

The decision to re-examine service delivery, Cross said, arose in part from a 2016 study by Kendra Coulter, associate professor at the Centre of Labour Studies at Brock University in St. Catharines. That study drew on inspector questionnaires to conclude that front-line OSPCA staff are under-resourced and have almost none of the supports provided to other similarly-tasked personnel in Ontario such as police and conservation officers.

Further examination of its own financial and human resources, Cross said, led the organization to initiate the “restructuring” discussions.

One of the possible outcomes, she said, could be discussions with other agencies as potential partners. Cross specified the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) as one of these potential partners. But she stressed that concept hasn’t been approved and those discussions have not been initiated.

Court case outcome a possible factor

Ottawa-based lawyer Kurtis Andrews, who tackles farm and animal welfare cases across Ontario, offered a different take on why the OSPCA is re-examining its involvement. He suggested the organization is preparing for a negative outcome in a Superior Court of Justice case launched with his assistance in May, 2018 — a constitutional challenge of the Society’s police-like powers, for which a final ruling hasn’t yet been handed down.

Andrews expressed confidence that, despite Cross’s assertions, the decision to hand off authority has already been made. “It’s an interesting timeline (of late 2019 suggested by Cross) because it would take about a year for the government to go through and change the legislation,” he said.

And OMAFRA, he added, is the most logical government ministry to take over inspection and enforcement activities which, according to Andrews’ argument in the Superior Court case, should not rest with a largely donor-funded organization that falls outside the view of Ontario’s Ombudsman and other government watchdogs.

OMAFRA, he argued, would “probably have to hire a few more people,” but it is already active in inspection and enforcement for other food and agriculture-related concerns.

OSPCA gets $5.75 million annually through the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services, specifically for investigation services. This funding supports a call centre for complaints/concerns, officer training, and the operation of the officers in the field.

There are about 75 officers across the province, with an average of 17,000 cruelty complaints (all animals, not just livestock) investigated annually. Some of the funding is subsequently passed on to almost 30 affiliate organizations — some are local Societies for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, others are local humane societies – with their own trained inspectors, but this doesn’t cover the entire province.

“And where the OSPCA is unable to provide (inspection services), then the authority falls to the police,” Cross explained.

She added it depends on the situation when the OSCPA might call upon the police; sometimes it’s related to distance to the closest OSPCA personnel, but more often it’s related to how quickly a person can respond in the case of what’s deemed an emergency situation, such as a pet in a hot car.

The Ministry funding doesn’t cover animal care, she said, and continued and this must be covered by the OSPCA. Sometimes a judge requires a defendant to pay for the animals’ care, but not always.

Although she confirmed pets take up the vast majority of the agency’s resources, Cross couldn’t provide a breakdown of OSPCA investigations into farm livestock versus pets and companion animals. Both Daynard and Andrews asserted, though, that farm livestock is very often at the bottom of the OSPCA priority list.

“Cases of suspected abuse of farm livestock in Ontario are pretty rare,” Andrews said. “Trust me. I hear about most of them.”

Cross said there has been an awareness for some time among OSPCA leadership that the funding made available by the government is not sufficient to continue inspection and enforcement under the current delivery model. “It is something that has been a problem for years.”

But until a new model is determined, OSPCA inspectors will remain available for livestock-related complaints.

“People can still call 310-SPCA if they see something they’re concerned about,” she said of the agency’s 24-hour, toll-free animal abuse hotline. “And if there are changes that the public needs to know about, they will definitely be announced.”

About the author

Contributor

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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