OTTAWA – National animal law organization Animal Justice is applauding the Ontario SPCA’s move to transition away from enforcing animal protection laws after March 31, 2019. The agency announced today that it will instead offer to partner with provincial law enforcement experts, providing veterinary services and other animal-related support.
Although the Ontario SPCA is a private charity, it is empowered by legislation to enforce animal protection laws in the province of Ontario. The Ontario SPCA receives a small amount of government funding to do so, but is forced to raise additional funds on its own to ensure animal protection law are enforced. Of the estimated $4.4 billion spent on policing in Ontario, less than $6 million is given to the Ontario SPCA, representing only 0.001%.
Unlike virtually every other law enforcement agency, the Ontario SPCA is not subject to freedom of information or police accountability legislation. In January, a Superior Court judge ruled in the case of Bogaerts v. Ontario that it is unconstitutional for the province to delegate policing powers to the Ontario SPCA without transparency and accountability mechanisms. Animal Justice intervened in the Bogaerts case and argued in support of this outcome. The case is being appealed to the Ontario Court of Appeal.
“Animal Justice supports this courageous move by the Ontario SPCA as a first step toward modernizing animal law enforcement,” said lawyer Camille Labchuk, executive director of Animal Justice. “As the courts have already recognized, the private enforcement model needs an overhaul. Animal protection is the only area of the law where the government relies on private charities to enforce public laws, and forces them to raise their own funds to support this essential work.
“Law enforcement by private charities is no longer appropriate in 2019, and vulnerable animals in Ontario deserve a robust, well-resourced public system. People care deeply about preventing animal cruelty, and we are committed to working with the government and the OSPCA to usher in strong new legislation that provides maximum protection to animals and ensures laws are effectively enforced.”
The Ontario SPCA decision will not leave animals unprotected in Ontario. Police officers have always had the authority to enforce federal and provincial animal cruelty laws, and have often done so despite the Ontario SPCA’s overlapping authority.
Private enforcement of animal protection laws is largely a quirk of history. When early animal cruelty laws were enacted in the 1800s in England, most prosecutions were done privately by aggrieved individuals. The Royal SPCA formed to ensure animal laws were enforced, as animals were unable to prosecute cases on their own. The SPCA enforcement model spread throughout Commonwealth countries.
Other provinces have already moved away from private animal law enforcement. The Edmonton Humane Society announced in January that it would get out of enforcement, concluding that it is no longer appropriate for a donation-supported body to fulfill a public enforcement function. Manitoba animal protection laws are primarily enforced by the office of the Chief Veterinary Officer, a public agency. In Newfoundland, the police enforce animal protection laws.
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