The Ford government has only a few days left to come up with plan to ensure that animal welfare laws will continue to be enforced, says Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner.
“In January, an Ontario Superior Court decision ruled that enforcement of animal welfare laws had to change. In early March, the OSPCA gave notice that it would no longer enforce these laws as of April 1 —just six days from now — yet the government has not announced a plan to cover the gap,” said Schreiner, who represents Guelph, warning that “the clock is ticking.”
Brian Shiller, the general counsel for the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, said the contract with the provincial government expires March 31 but the society has offered to extend it to June 28.
“The government has not formally advised whether it will agree to that three-month extension, although they have not formally indicated they will do so,” said Shiller.
Then on Tuesday, the OSPCA turned down a government request to continue enforcing cruelty laws until the province passes a new law, saying those responsibilities should rest with police.
In a letter sent Tuesday to the Ontario Society for the Prevention Cruelty to Animals, Community Safety Minister Sylvia Jones said she hoped the new legislation — based on a “new animal welfare enforcement model” — would be in force by January 2020.
“In the meantime, it is important that enforcement of animal protection laws continue without any gaps that could leave animals more vulnerable than they are today,” Jones wrote in her letter, which was obtained by The Canadian Press.
Health Minister Christine Elliott said the government is “committed to ensuring that animal welfare continues in the province. Both our government and the OSPCA have a long history and a shared commitment to protect animals in Ontario. We are actively reviewing the implications of this change to find a solution that works for everyone.”
Currently, the OSPCA — Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals — has the power to enforce animal cruelty laws, as do police.
The two typically work together on more serious investigations, particularly when a property has to be entered.
But the OSPCA says the cost of investigating more than 15,000 cruelty cases annually surpasses the $5.75 million it receives each year from the government.
Its role came into question in early January when an Ontario court ruled the government erred when it gave the OSPCA policing powers without also imposing accountability and transparency standards.
The OSPCA has said that ruling was the catalyst to ending its role and shifting its focus from enforcement to its shelter business.
Shreiner urged the government to “step up and make sure an interim plan is in place. Protections for animals should not be left in limbo.
“We clearly need stronger laws to protect animals in human care.”
Shiller said the OSPCA, which began in 1873, is a charity and the “vast majority” of work it does is education and advocacy, sheltering, spaying/neutering as well as rescue efforts in cases of floods or fires.
In January, the Ontario Superior Court ruled that because the OSPCA is a private charity, it is unconstitutional for it to have police powers with no government oversight, and gave the province a year to fix the problem.
The government is appealing.
With files from Canadian Press
Kristin Rushowy is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow her on Twitter: @krushowy