Farm groups have less standing in new interim animal welfare system

Province sticking to January timeline for new animal welfare legislation

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Livestock commodity organizations do not have formal standing to provide insight and expertise under a new interim regime for investigating and enforcing concerns regarding animal welfare in Ontario.

But a representative for the province’s Solicitor General insists work is ongoing to allow that to become reality.

Why it matters: Many livestock farmers are concerned that the legislation that replaces the OSPCA Act will lead to restrictions on what they consider to be normal and welfare-neutral farm practices.

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Some commodity organizations had a formal role in the process until the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (OSPCA) stepped away from its legislatively mandated role in animal welfare investigation earlier this year, following an Ontario Superior Court ruling calling into question that legislation’s validity.

The interim animal protection model came into effect June 29, with a new phone number to report animal welfare concerns (833-926-4625), a newly-appointed interim chief inspector, and “new temporary animal welfare inspectors, many from local humane societies and (local) Societies for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, appointed by the chief inspector,” according to a provincial government release.

Missing from that news release was reference to pre-existing memoranda of understanding between the OSPCA and livestock commodity organizations, under which the OSPCA agreed to contact the commodity organization after receiving a complaint regarding that type of livestock, and agreed to have investigators accompanied by a commodity organization representative if deemed appropriate.

A commentary by Ontario Federation of Agriculture Director Crispin Colvin, says that “Ontario’s agricultural commodity organizations will continue to work with inspectors on farm inspection cases to provide expertise to remedy any situations encountered.”

Ministry of the Solicitor General spokesperson Brent Ross stopped short of a full endorsement of the previous agreements. What he did say is that the province “values partnerships with the farm livestock commodity organizations” and “is reviewing the agreements”.

He added the province “will be further engaging with those (commodity organization) partners to establish and formalize the appropriate ongoing practices.”

Leading the process will be Paula Milne, most recently a Detective Inspector in the Criminal Investigation Branch of the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP). Ross cited “over 25 years of policing, predominantly in criminal investigations and most recently in major case management” as experiences that should serve Milne well in transitioning into her new, interim role.

“Her work in the Professional Standards Bureau of the OPP involved oversight of public complaints, internal complaints investigations and criminal investigations, (all of) which provide her with both the skills and knowledge to ensure the interim animal protection regime meets the needs of Ontarians,” he said.

Milne has already appointed livestock and equine experts as a part of a provincial team to provide subject matter expertise. Expertise will also be brought in by Milne to help deal with zoos and aquariums.

The expectation of working with farm livestock groups is in keeping, Ross suggested, with the ministry’s strategy leading up to the creation of new legislation — which he says is on target to be completed by January, 2020. “Partnerships are a key component of this interim model,” he said. “(Milne) will rely on experts employed by local humane societies, police services, academics, and veterinarians, among others, to ensure that all inspections/investigations are conducted in a complete and thorough manner.”

About the author

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Stew Slater

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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