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OSPCA Withdraws From Enforcing Animal Cruelty Laws

Animal Justice March 4, 2019

The Ontario SPCA has announced that it will withdraw from enforcing animal protection laws in the province of Ontario as of March 31, when its current funding agreement with the province expires.

While many animal lovers may be concerned by this news, and fear that it will be bad for animals, Animal Justice is applauding the Ontario SPCA for this bold move. We believe it will prompt the government to create a new, stronger, public enforcement system that will be better-equipped to protect animals from cruelty and suffering.

What’s the problem? First, animal law enforcement is woefully underfunded. The Ontario SPCA is not a government agency—it is a private charity. The Ontario SPCA is expected to enforce publicly-enacted animal protection laws in the province, and responds to nearly 16,000 animal welfare complaints each year, province-wide. But the agency receives less than $6 million from the provincial government to carry out its important work, and is forced to fundraise so it can afford to enforce public laws, run shelters, and care for animals. The funding provided to the Ontario SPCA represents a mere 0.001% of the $4.4 billion in public money that is spent on policing in Ontario every year, and the agency is ill-equipped to carry out its mandate. There are more fare inspectors working at the Toronto Transit Commission than there are animal welfare inspectors in the entire province.

Second, many people have questioned whether it is appropriate in 2019 for a private charity to enforce public laws. The Ontario SPCA is not subject to freedom of information laws, police accountability legislation, and other oversight mechanisms that apply to virtually all other law enforcement agencies. In January 2019, an Ontario judge ruled that giving police powers to a private body without transparency and accountability is unconstitutional. Animal Justice intervened in the case in support of the court’s decision, because we believe transparency and accountability are important to making sure animal cruelty offences are investigated and addressed. The case is now being appealed.

Animal Justice believes it is time for a new system, and the Ontario SPCA’s move should prompt the government to implement a well-funded, public law enforcement regime. Caring for animals is a public responsibility, and the government needs to step up and properly fund this vital area of our legal system so that vulnerable animals in our society have strong protections from from cruelty and neglect.

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. The Ontario SPCA has also offered to continue to provide enforcement services for a three-month transition period, until the end of June 2019.

The private, SPCA enforcement model is a quirk of history, and occurs in virtually no other area of the law. 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, and 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 2019 that it would end 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.

Animal Justice is committed to working with the Ontario SPCA and the province to examine the best options for a strong new enforcement system that puts animals’ interests first. We will keep you updated on future developments, and for ways you can help.

 

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Animal Justice

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Animal Justice Supports OSPCA Move to Withdraw from Enforcement

Animal Justice March 4, 2019

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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For more information, contact:

Camille Labchuk
Executive Director
camille@animaljustice.ca

Animal Justice

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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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Animal Justice

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