OSPCA’s powers unconstitutional

CHESTERVILLE – As of April 1st, and for the first time in 100 years, the province no longer has an agency to investigate and enforce animal cruelty laws with livestock.

The Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (OSPCA), which enforced both provincial and Criminal Code animal cruelty laws under the OSPCA Act that became law in 1919, notified the government in March it would not renew their contract with the province.

This shift in direction comes on the heels of a January ruling by an Ontario court that found the OSPCA’s powers to be unconstitutional. The judge gave the government a year to address the issue.

For Jackie Pemberton, Dundas County representative for the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, the announcement by the OSPCA didn’t come as much of a surprise.

“There has always been some concerns that the OSPCA is a fundraising organization that was doing regulatory enforcement,” she said.

While critics agreed that the OSPCA wasn’t the right outfit for the job, what organization steps in and fills the void?

Pemberton addressed the issue at the Dundas Federation Of Agriculture annual general meeting.

She broached the possibility of turning to Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) or the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) when speaking to members of the Dundas Federation Of Agriculture at the annual general meeting.

“If the OSPCA is not looking after livestock, who do you call? Where does the call go? Police have enforcement and they always have. Could it be the MNRF because they have those powers?,” questioned Pemberton.

OSPCA is still under contract for a three-month transition phase until June 28 but the clock is ticking and action is needed.

“It’s happened very quickly and we’ve been working very hard on trying to get an immediate and long-term solution,” said Pemberton. “There are really no specifics on who’s taking the lead. This is one thing that looks to me like we are working together. Dairy, beef, feathers. They’re all concerned.”

One of the major considerations is that not only will the enforcing authority change, but the OSPCA Act could undergo significant changes as well.

“If they’re changing the regulation, the Ontario Prevention and Cruelty Act, [all we ask] is that agriculture has some input in that,” said Pemberton. “We are very much self-regulating. We have codes of practice for our livestock that we follow. There’s always that perception from others that it’s the fox watching the hen house, but we are the best ones to know animal husbandry, how to care for animals and to help design a piece of regulation or some ideas that are able to facilitate this gap that is going to happen.”

The OSPCA receives $5.75 million in provincial funding annually, but has publicly stated it wasn’t enough to carry out their enforcement duties. The OSPCA will continue to provide animal shelter, collect evidence in animal cruelty cases and offer veterinary services.