by GEOFF DALE
Changes to Ontario’s Animal Welfare Act may have secured passage at Queen’s Park but some producers and politicians are still expressing concerns about the legislation.
Oxford County hog producer John VanDorp says he doesn’t like the fact Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals officials can inspect farm property without a warrant.
“They can do this on the basis of a phone call from another party,” says Van Dorp, also president of the Oxford County Federation of Agriculture. “Police need a search warrant so apparently the OSPCA has more authority than them.”
Passed by the provincial legislature on November 18, Bill C-50, which amends the Ontario SPCA Act, now awaits Royal Assent.
Burgessville producer Barry Smith describes the powers given to the OSPCA under the new legislation as “death to animal agriculture, as I see it.” He calls for “more self-policing and encouragement from those who care for farm animals.”
Bill Murdoch, the Independent MPP for Bruce Grey Owen Sound says he’s not happy with the exclusion of standard farm practices from the Act adding urban residents do not understand farm operations.
The Progressive Conservatives’ critic for agriculture Ernie Hardeman agrees with VanDorp’s assessment that the biggest problem may be the enforcement mechanism giving the OSPCA more power than the police. “Under this law an inspection officer just has to deem an animal needs better care,” says Hardeman. “He can just go on to the property, make this kind of judgment and take action without a warrant.”
He says the law may be giving more rights to animals than to people – a clear example of over-reacting to a situation.
Some of the key changes featured in the legislation – the first updating of the animal protection laws since 1919 – include:
• Creating new provincial offences including causing or permitting distress to an animal.
• Giving the OSPCA the right to inspect places where animals are kept for entertainment, exhibition, boarding, sale or hire.
• Telling veterinarians to report suspected abuse and neglect.
• Extending the Act’s coverage to zoos.
• Allowing OSPCA officials to seize dead animal remains or take samples for an investigation.
Under the phrase “protect existing practices” the Act now states:
• Creating appropriate exemptions for wildlife, agriculture and veterinary practices
• Respecting areas already regulated by other legislation, such animals for research and municipal regulation of animal control.
The legislation clearly has supporters like Community Safety and Correctional Services Minister Rick Bartolucci, who says it “gives the province the strongest animal protection laws in Canada and will bring more abusers to justice.”
Ontario SPCA chief inspector Hugh Coghill says the legislation will give the organization “greater opportunity to educate animal owners before conditions deteriorate to the point where the animals’ lives are at risk.”
Kelly Daynard, program manager for the Ontario Farm Animal Council, says the council supports the intent of Bill 50. “We expect agriculture’s concerns will be resolved through future regulation,” she says.
But even though the council supports the legislation, it has submitted recommendations, asking the government to:
• Mandate a system of oversight and accountability of both the OSPCA and Animal Care Review Board.
• Develop clearly written clarification of warrant-less entry on agricultural activities – including what those activities do and do not entail.
• Revise section 21 that would establish the OSPCA Act as the provincial standard in order to ensure legal consistency across the province.
Hardeman says those with an understanding of animal husbandry should be part of the process that determines what constitutes an acceptable farming practice. “The Humane Society shouldn’t be making these kinds of decisions,” he says. BF