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OSPCA Enforcement Powers Deemed Unconstitutional in New Court Ruling

Animal Justice January 4, 2019

After hearing arguments from Animal Justice lawyers, an Ontario court has ruled that animal law enforcement by the OSPCA—a private charity—is unconstitutional because the agency is not sufficiently accountable or transparent.

Animal Justice intervened in the case of Bogaerts v Attorney General of Ontario, a legal challenge to the OSPCA’s investigative and police powers that was heard in a courthouse in Perth, Ontario in May 2018. Animal Justice was in court to ensure the best interests of animals were front and centre.

Animal Justice has long been concerned that while the public cares deeply about animal protection, the government pushes responsibility for enforcing animal protection laws onto a private charity.

The OSPCA receives minimal funding and must fundraise to support its operations. Animal Justice pointed out that this itself could be a conflict of interest as the organization may receive donations from the very individuals it may be investigating.

The OSPCA is also not subject to reasonable transparency, accountability, or oversight like other public law enforcement agencies, such as the police. For example, police services legislation and freedom of information laws don’t apply to the OSPCA, nor is it subject to oversight by the Ombudsman.

Because of Animal Justice’s arguments on behalf of animals, the court recognized a new principle of fundamental justice: That an agency with police or investigative powers must be transparent and accountable, or it will not comply with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The Ontario government now has an incredible opportunity to review animal law enforcement, and ensure in the best possible way that it will benefit and protect animals from cruelty. Animal protection laws are currently the only laws still enforced by a private agency, and we are hopeful the decision will acknowledge government responsibility to lead the way and adequately fund animal protection.

The court has given the province 12 months to introduce a new system. It is not yet clear whether the province will appeal the decision.

Thank you for standing by our side to ensure our lawyers can represent animals in court when they cannot speak for themselves. We’ll keep you updated on how the government moves forward after this legal outcome, and let you know how the province’s future decisions in this matter will affect animals.

 

 

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Court Strikes Down Ontario SPCA Law Enforcement Regime as Unconstitutional

Animal Justice January 3, 2019

OTTAWA—An Ontario court has struck down the province’s animal protection law enforcement regime, declaring that it is unconstitutional for the Ontario SPCA—as a private charity not subject to reasonable oversight measures—to enforce public animal protection laws. The Superior Court decision was released yesterday in Bogaerts v. Attorney General of Ontario, a constitutional challenge to Ontario’s provincial animal welfare laws and the way they are enforced.

The decision recognized a new principle of fundamental justice, declaring that under section 7 the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, it is unconstitutional for the province to assign police and other investigative powers to a law enforcement agency not subject to reasonable standards of transparency and accountability. The Ontario SPCA is not subject to freedom of information laws or the Police Services Act that apply to other law enforcement bodies.

Animal Justice, a national animal law organization, intervened in the case to argue that enforcement agencies must be accountable and transparent to ensure animals benefit from legal protections. Animal Justice shared many of the applicant’s concerns over the transparency, oversight, and accountability of animal law enforcement. The court agreed with Animal Justice’s contention, noting, “Overall, the OSPCA appears to be an organization that operates in a way that is shielded from public view while at the same time fulfilling clearly public functions. As stated by the intervener, although charged with law enforcement responsibilities, the OSPCA is opaque, insular, unaccountable, and potentially subject to external influence, and as such Ontarians cannot be confident that the laws it enforces will be fairly and impartially administered.”

The Court suspended the declaration of invalidity for 12 months to give the province time to devise a new animal protection regime, stating it would be “an untenable result” if a void of enforcement compromised animal protection even for a transitional period.

The Court also considered whether Ontario SPCA search and seizure powers were too broad, and whether provincial animal protection offences are truly criminal in nature and fall outside provincial jurisdiction, but found that powers and jurisdiction were both appropriate. In particular, the court adopted Animal Justice’s argument that search and seizure powers must be robust because of the importance of protecting animals, who are often kept behind closed doors and cannot report abuse themselves.

“Animal protection laws are the only laws still enforced by private agencies, and the court ruled that private enforcement without transparency and accountability is unacceptable,” said lawyer Camille Labchuk, executive director of Animal Justice.” Animal Justice’s key concern is ensuring an accountable, well-funded enforcement system that protects animals to the maximum extent possible. The province of Ontario will now have an opportunity to revisit provincial animal law enforcement, and Animal Justice will support a system that puts animals first.”

The case was argued on May 16, 2018 in Perth, Ontario. Animal Justice was represented by lawyers Arden Beddoes of Arvay Finlay LLP, and Benjamin Oliphant of Gall Legge Grant Zwack LLP. It is unknown whether the decision will be appealed.

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The decision in Bogaerts v Attorney General of Ontario 2019 ONSC 41 can be found here.

For more information, contact:

Camille Labchuk
Executive Director
camille@animaljustice.ca

 

 

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Animal Justice Troubled by Animal Cruelty Charges Against City of Edmonton

Animal Justice October 26, 2018

EDMONTON – National animal law non-profit Animal Justice is deeply troubled by animal cruelty charges laid earlier this month against the City of Edmonton after the deaths of three cats.

According to news reports, the City of Edmonton, the director of the city’s Animal Care and Control Centre, and three other staff are all facing charges under the provincial Animal Welfare Act of allowing an animal to be in distress. The charges carry a maximum fine of $20,000 and a lifetime ban on having custody of an animal.

The charges allegedly stem from an incident that took place on May 18, 2018. According to news reports, three cats were transported in a rubbermaid container and subsequently died. Several months later, in July, the Alberta SPCA received a complaint over the incident. The Alberta SPCA apparently laid charges on October 5, and the accused will appear in court on December 12.

“It’s incredibly disturbing that a government agency entrusted with helping vulnerable animals is now facing very serious charges for harming three cats,” said lawyer Camille Labchuk, executive director of Animal Justice. “We are troubled that while the City held a press conference on Thursday afternoon, it refused to elaborate on the circumstances that led to the cats’ dying.”

“It is relatively rare for such a large group of individuals to face charges, including the City and management,” said professor Peter Sankoff, law professor at the University of Alberta and a director with Animal Justice. “There are many unanswered questions, and the public urgently deserves more information about the details of this incident. Was this a systemic issue? What happened between May, when the incident occurred, and July, when the Alberta SPCA received an independent complaint? What type of internal investigation was conducted and who was notified? Why did the public not learn of this incident sooner?”

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For more information, contact:

Peter Sankoff
Board of Directors, Animal Justice
Professor of Law, University of Alberta
psankoff@ualberta.ca

Camille Labchuk
Executive Director
camille@animaljustice.ca

Animal Justice

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