Rabbit Advocacy Animal Matters

 

MPP reveals proposed changes to legislature

Mar 20, 2012 Sudbury Northern Life Staff 

The Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (OSPCA) didn't have much to say about proposed changes to the OSPCA Act, except that it does not take into consideration what is best for the animals.

In 2009, the Ontario SPCA Act was amended placing Ontario the front runner for animal welfare legislation across Canada, according to a statement issued by the OSPCA. The recent amendments would cause Ontario to hold the worst animal welfare legislation in Canada.

Carleton-Mississippi Mills MPP Jack MacLaren revealed the proposed changes to the Ontario SPCA Act March 19. Deemed Bill 47, he said the changes will see tighter controls to enforcement under the OSPCA Act.

Drastic changes have been made to the legislation since it was formed as Bill 37, which basically eliminated more than half of the existing Act, he said. It virtually rewrote inspection and enforcement. For example, fines and offences were taken out, and everything relied on the Criminal Code of Canada. First responders, inspectors and enforcement would have been police officers. Bill 47 “is nothing like that,” MacLaren vowed.

Bill 47, if passed, would separate the inspections to ensure animal welfare against abuse into farm animal inspections and non-farm animal inspections. Farm inspections would be carried out by the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA), while non-farm animal inspections would still be carried out by the OSPCA.

“The OSPCA has its niche, which does not include farm animals, and those animals should be looked after by the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, where inspectors would be given the same power the OSPCA inspectors would have, but for farm situations,” he said.

Both the OMAFRA and OSPCA inspection officers will be the first response to complaints and will be limited to observing, advising, educating and writing reports on visits made. Inspectors will no longer be able to inspect without the permission of the land owner, unless in the case of an animal welfare emergency.

Removing an animal will only be done with the recommendation of a veterinarian and then sanctioned by a justice of the peace, and the animal owner will have the right to accept the veterinarian that is called to examine the animal and make this decision, or the animal owner can choose their own.

The OSPCA would no longer be able to invoice animal owners, and only the police will be able to lay charges under the Provincial Offences Act or the Criminal Code of Canada.

Essentially, an inspector, under Bill 47, would attend and inspect the animal. If abuse is noted, a written report is filed to police. If an order was written to either seize the animal or destroy the animal, it would have to be recommended by a veterinarian, and the vet's report would have to be sanctioned by a justice of the peace. Simple orders for corrective measures would still be issued by the inspector.

Prior to his election in October, MacLaren spent about 10 years with the Ontario Landowners Association, supporting what he called “victims” of the OSPCA, people who were “raided” or had animals seized by OSPCA inspectors. In some of those cases, he said it was very difficult to understand how they could call what had happened abuse.

“The penalty didn't match the crime,” he said. “For very minor circumstances, there were very heavy penalties. We came to see there were things with the OSPCA we felt weren't quite right.”

The OSPCA is a charity, with about one-quarter of its funding coming from the province, he said. It has to raise the rest of the money. Under current legislation, as a charity, there is no oversight, which becomes a conflict of interest for people in positions of power, like police officers or the OSPCA, MacLaren said.

There is a clause in the OSPCA Act that states if investigators seize an animal from a property, they can charge the owner for the care, transportation or veterinarian work, and “it can become a source of income, and I've seen bills of upwards of $100,000,” MacLaren said.

Basically, the OSPCA is a private police service operating as a charity, which means there is no accountability mechanism in place, he said. “That was an error in the existing legislation,” he said.

With any kind of policing agency, there is an accountability process, he said. Police officers are properly screened and trained, and if they make a mistake, or something goes wrong, they are made to account for their action.

“Traditionally, there is very little training for OSPCA enforcement staff, who have, at times, more power than a police officer,” MacLaren said. “I'm not saying a lot goes wrong with the agency, but there is still nothing in place there to ensure the proper measures are taken if and when something does go wrong.”

Current legislation is fine with respect to animal welfare, MacLaren added, and Bill 47 doesn't eliminate the fines, rules and regulations of pet owners; rather, it changes who is able to enforce the legislation and removes money from the situation that could “present the opportunity or the temptation for corruption.”

The new legislation would also look at the current hiring practices for the province's chief inspector. Currently, the OSPCA board of directors hires the chief inspector for the province, a person who must be a member of the OSPCA, according to MacLaren.

“We've changed that a little bit, and want the Lt.-Gov. and council to have the ability to approve or disapprove anyone hired for that position, and that person doesn't have to be a member of the OSPCA. That would provide government oversight.”

Bill 47 will be debated on March 29 and MPPs will vote on whether to send it to public committee where it will be scrutinized and amendments can be made. During this process, residents and stakeholders have an opportunity to make recommendations to the committee. After these changes have been made, it will go back to the house for third reading where it will be debated again and another vote held.