The Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (OSPCA) says it will stop cease enforcing animal cruelty regulations for farm animals as of March 31.
That’s shorter than the three months after March 31 that the OSPCA has offered to continue enforce legislation for pets.
Ontario’s Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services will have to figure out quickly how it will enforce animal welfare legislation in Ontario, especially for farm animals.
The Community Safety and Correctional Services ministry is “actively reviewing the implications” after the OSPCA made the announcement that it would no longer be involved in enforcement after it contract ends March 31.
Why it matters: Farmers have had concerns for years with the non-profit organization’s enforcement powers without the accountability of police and other government agencies.
In early January, a Superior Court ruling centering on OSPCA powers gave the provincial government a year to rewrite the rules surrounding animal welfare enforcement; this month’s announcement effectively hastens the timeline for that rewrite to occur.
A registered charity, the OSPCA receives about $5.75 million annually from the ministry for inspection. The funding supports a call centre for complaints/concerns, officer training, and the work undertaken by approximately 75 officers.
An OSPCA news release says the offer was made to the Ministry for “a three-month transition phase of the current working arrangement that could see the charity continue service to June 28, 2019.” That news release makes no mention of farm livestock, but a letter to Minister Sylvia Jones from OSPCA CEO Kate MacDonald and chair of the board of directors Catherine MacNeill states that “during the transition period, (the OSPCA) will not be accepting complaints or cases dealing with livestock.”
OSPCA spokesperson Alison Cross told Farmtario the organization is ready and willing to serve in a support role – both in the short term after March 31, and in the longer term – to whichever agency or agencies are chosen by the government to take over inspection and enforcement. Indeed, Cross said, the OSPCA has gathered stakeholders in animal welfare and begun a process of writing a draft version of new legislation to be submitted to the ministry, that would meet the requirements of the Superior Court ruling. And she expects that legislation to include at least some elements of a model already in place in the United States governing partnerships between enforcement agencies and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA).
“It’s not surprising,” said Brock University animal welfare expert Dr. Kendra Coulter, when contacted by Farmtario regarding the OSPCA announcement. “The (organization’s) leadership has shown a preference for the more animal care-oriented elements of its work over the last couple of years.” Indeed, two months prior to January’s Superior Court ruling, news filtered to the agricultural sector that the OSPCA was in the midst of a major “restructuring” that would have potentially seen the organization either outsource or completely step away from its livestock inspection and enforcement roles by the end of 2019.
The January ruling in the town of Perth, in the case of paralegal Jeffrey Bogaerts versus the province’s Attorney-General, didn’t directly involve the OSPCA. But Justice Timothy Minnema did determine that the powers granted to the organization overstep Constitutional bounds because they don’t include the level of oversight afforded publicly-funded enforcement agencies such as police or conservation officers.
Cross offered veterinary care, transportation, and temporary placement of distressed animals as services OSPCA could provide on a fee-for-service basis to agencies chosen by the government to enforce the yet-to-be-rewritten legislation.
She added the organization doesn’t anticipate any job losses as a result of the change. “We do believe the support system (proposed under its draft plan) will be a great resource for enforcement agencies.” She added the OSPCA also plans to heed the desires expressed by many charitable donors, by expanding on its current programs for responding to natural disasters and taking in animals from people fleeing at-risk domestic situations.
The statement from Minister Jones, meanwhile, says “animal welfare will always be of upmost importance to our government and we are committed to ensuring no animals fall through the cracks as a result of (the OSPCA) announcement.
“Let me be clear, we will always ensure animal welfare is upheld and enforced,” Jones said.
For Coulter, that assurance isn’t enough. “We need clarity from the Ontario government about whether it has a plan and what the next steps will be. So far there has been silence and that does not bode well for animals, officers, or public safety.”