by SUSAN MANN
Carleton-Mississippi Mills MPP Jack MacLaren is trying again to introduce a private members bill that would curb the enforcement powers of Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals agents.
MacLaren’s previous proposal, Bill 37, received first reading on Feb. 23 and was scheduled for second reading March 29. But now he plans to scrap that bill after listening to concerns from municipalities and farmers and introduce a new bill on March 19. The new bill is more acceptable to farmers, he notes.
MacLaren, a Progressive Conservative, says his concern is the enforcement powers of the OSPCA along with the “fact that there’s no transparency or accountability” and that they must do fundraising as a charity. “There’s quite a conflict there.”
In his changed private member’s bill, MacLaren says the agriculture ministry would deal with the welfare of farm animals. As part of his proposal, the inspectors of farm animals would be agriculture ministry employees and be paid by that ministry.
They’d respond to animal abuse complaint calls on farms but they’d have limited powers to only observe and take notes on what they see. In addition they’d need the farmer’s permission to enter the property. They wouldn’t have the power to seize animals, write orders, write invoices for seized animals or lay changes under Canada’s Criminal Code.
If they see animal abuse, the inspector could call a veterinarian but farmers would have the right to accept the vet being called or pick another one including their own vet.
If the vet thought the animals needed to be removed for their own welfare, he or she would write a report stating that. Based on that report the inspector could request an order from a justice of the peace to seize the animals. The vet would be able to call police if they thought the farmer was abusing the animals and the police could decide to write an order under the OSPCA Act or lay criminal charges.
For small animals, the OSPCA would continue its shelter services and inspectors of non-farm animals would have the same limited powers as farm animal inspectors.
Under his proposal, MacLaren says only a judge or policeman could seize animals or lay charges, “which is quite different than what is happening now.”
What he’s trying to do is provide fairness and just treatment of people as well as animals, he says, noting he’s the past president of the Ontario Landowners Association and one of the major complaints they received was from people facing frivolous or wrongful charges from the OSPCA.
Other proposals within his bill are: the appointment of the chief inspector would be approved by the Lieutenant-Governor-in-Council rather than just being appointed by OSPCA board; and the OSPCA would no longer be able to send invoices to animal owners for the costs of caring for seized animals.
Crystal Mackay, executive director of Farm & Food Care Ontario, says she hasn’t seen the amended bill. The fact that a private member’s bill is being introduced “shows the level of concern and the need for some type of change and that the status quo is not an option.”
Ontario Federation of Agriculture vice-president Debra Pretty Straathof says MacLaren’s previous bill was a simplistic solution to a complex problem. “We told him we didn’t think it would work very well.”
Pretty Straathof says they’re trying to determine what the livestock groups think about the new proposal “but Jack’s bill has certainly come a long way and seems to line up with what we are looking for in terms of change.”
When there’s a majority government, private members bills never get passed. But MacLaren says with the minority government there’s some potential for a bill to pass. That would require support from both the Conservatives and New Democrats. The bill is scheduled for second reading on March 29.
Alison Cross, OSPCA senior marketing and communications manager, couldn’t be reached for comment. BF