For the first time in 100 years, the OSPCA will no longer be exercising police powers, leaving the future of who will conduct animal-cruelty cases uncertain once its contract with the government expires at the end of the month.
In January, Ontario Superior Court Justice Timothy Minnema ruled the police powers granted to the 146-year-old agency to be unconstitutional. He gave the provincial government a year to rewrite the laws. The OSPCA has offered a three-month transition phase until June 28, by way of a new contract, but says the present approach doesn’t work and has suggested ideas for the government on how to proceed.
With the agency not renewing their contract, that leaves nobody to conduct animal-cruelty investigations. The OSPCA has suggested a new service model called SPCA Enforcement Support Services. It is a method that is used in the United States by the ASPCA and has been very effective. The OSPCA would assist whatever agency the government chooses to handle enforcement with anything to do with the animals, including care and providing evidence.
A recent study by Brock University polled 20,000 Ontarians and asked them who they thought should take over the OSPCA’s role. A vast majority indicated they would like the police to assume those responsibilities.
What does this all mean for the animals? Without the proper context, it could easily be assumed that the OSPCA is abandoning distressed animals across the province. Some online reactions had the agency on the defensive.
WHY?!?! #Ospca This is the craziest thing you can do! And by broadcasting this you are opening up a whole nother level to animal cruelty. People are messed up and its only gonna get worse, then what, your going to reverse your decision in 5 years?!?! Not acceptable…. pic.twitter.com/aytkUKTlk7
— 👑QUEEN K.I.M👑 MyLifeIsA📽️🎬 (@_QueenKIM_) March 4, 2019
Go to Hell #OSPCA
— Miss Vickies (@Oh_Miss_Vickies) March 4, 2019
Alison Cross, Senior Director for Marketing and Communications for the OSPCA, reiterates that investigations and laying charges aren’t the only services the agency offers.
“This one service is only 20 per cent of what we do across the province,” she told The Observer. “So there are so many programs and services and more programs that we’re bringing out this year to help support animals across the province. The only thing that’s changing is that we’re just not laying charges and being the lead on investigations. That’s it.”
Cross spoke about a program called SPCA Animal Rescue, for animals in communities that have dealt with natural disasters like tornadoes, forest fires and hurricanes. The OSPCA will also be working with the municipalities and have a framework in place for housing and caring for large numbers of animals in hoarding situations.
The OSPCA was founded on July 4, 1873, by citizens concerned with the well-being of both animals and children. The Children’s Aid Society was created some years later, leaving the OSPCA’s primary focus on animals and bringing animal-cruelty cases to the authorities. In 1887, the OSPCA pushed to appoint a police officer to handle animal-cruelty matters full-time, and in 1919 the first legislation to protect animals was passed.
The OSPCA agents and inspectors were given the ability, via the Ontario SPCA Act, to investigate cases of abuse. That was repealed and replaced in 1955 with legislation that gave more powers to the investigators and agents, which allowed them to enter a property and remove animals considered to be in trouble.
The government wants to reassure the public that the well-being of the animals is their number one priority. “We are actively reviewing the implications of this change to find a solution that works for everyone,” Community Safety and Correctional Services Minister Sylvia Jones said in a statement sent to The Observer. “Let me be clear, we will always ensure animal welfare is upheld and enforced.”
There are only two other provinces that do not enforce animal-cruelty laws: Saskatchewan and Newfoundland and Labrador. Newfoundland and Labrador use the RCMP to enforce their laws, while Saskatchewan uses four different humane societies to handle investigations, including Animal Protection Services, Saskatoon SPCA, Regina Humane Society, Prince Albert SPCA, and the RCMP and other police.
In January 2015, the Saskatchewan SPCA’s board ruled that resources were being focused too much on intervention and not enough on prevention, making March 31, 2015, the last day of enforcing.
“When intervening in animal-cruelty cases, you’ve kind of failed in the prevention aspect,” said Community Relations Co-ordinator Josh Hourie.
The Ontario SPCA receives $5.75 million dollars annually from the government to carry out investigations, with everything else being funded by donors.