OSPCA-OK? Before and After the Meek Lesage Review

It is no secret to the public that over the past few years the OSPCA has been a frequent feature in the news. What may be surprising however, is that despite the events that have taken place and reports and recommendations that have been made, there is no indication of what lies ahead for the OSPCA or it’s enabling legislation; indeed the matter appears to have fallen silent since the release of the Animal Welfare Task Force Report in October 2012.

Background

The OSPCA is a non-profit charitable organization that provides shelter services to animals, conducts investigations and has enforcement powers pursuant to the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act (“OSPCA Act” or “Act“).[1] The Act itself is legislation that sets provincial animal welfare requirements, while also regulating the operations and powers of the OSPCA. The Act establishes the object of the society, which is namely to facilitate and provide for the prevention of cruelty to animals and their protection and relief therefrom.[2]

The most recent amendments to the OSPCA Act took place on March 1, 2009, when the Provincial Animal Welfare Act came into force. These amendments represented significant updates to the Act as they were the first wide-ranging changes to be made to Ontario’s animal protection laws since 1919.[3] Changes included the creation of standards of care for all animals, the granting of authority for the OSPCA to inspect premises other than homes, making it an offence to cause or permit distress to an animal, and exemptions to animal cruelty provisions for standard industry practice.[4]

The Ringworm Outbreak
In 2010, the OSPCA York Region Branch stated that they planned to “depopulate” their shelter as a result of an alleged ringworm outbreak. Public outcry poured in opposing the euthanization of approximately 350 animals who were affected by the outbreak of ringworm; a treatable condition. This prompted many to voice concerns about the OSPCA, particularly regarding the powers and authority granted to the OSPCA under the Act. For example, Member of Provincial Parliament Frank Klees tabled a resolution in the Legislature on June 1, 2010, which sought “to ensure that there is a clearly defined and effective provincial oversight of all animal shelter services in the province, and to separate the inspection and enforcement powers of the OSPCA from its functions as a charity providing animal shelter services.” Questions raised regarding the lack of clear provincial oversight of the OSPCA are important from the perspective that the OSPCA is a non-profit charitable organization.

Reports and Recommendations
Following this incident, an independent review was commissioned by the OSPCA. Coming out of the review was the Meek LeSage Review report, released in 2011. The report provides various recommendations regarding both the OSPCA and the Act. Some recommendations speak directly to infectious disease control and record keeping in light of the events which took place, however, other recommendations of note are:

i) Separation of Investigative Mandate and Sheltering Mandate
The Meek LeSage report states that in carrying out it’s investigative and sheltering mandates, inadequate financial resources for each often results in investigations consuming the budget of the shelter mandate.[5] This forms the basis of the recommendation that the government consider separating the investigative and enforcement services of the OSCPA from shelter services.[6]

ii) Legislative Amendment to Ensure Independent Inspection of OSPCA
At present, there is no provision in the OSPCA Act which identifies a responsible agency for over-seeing the OSPCA in how it executes it’s mandate; the Report characterizes this situation as one in which the OSPCA is “responsible to police itself”[7]

iii) Creation of a Task Force
The Meek LeSage Report also recommended that a task force be created, composed of members from various Ministries involved in animal issues, “to ensure that appropriate changes are made.”[8]
Subsequently, the Animal Welfare Task Force was established in June 2011, and the Animal Welfare Task Force Report was released in October 2012. This Report contains “high priority recommendations,” which includes the recommendation that the OSPCA Act be amended in a way that ensures independent inspection of OSPCA shelters.[9]

It is also interesting to note that after the Task Force was established, but prior to the release of the Task Force Report, Bill 37 – An Act to Amend the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act was introduced by Ontario PC Party MPP Jack MacLaren. Bill 37 would have had the effect of gutting animal cruelty laws, and some critics argued that it was an attempt to hijack good faith efforts to reform the OSPCA for the betterment of animals by those who are most likely to run afoul of existing animal welfare laws. This is a reference to the agricultural sector, as Mr. MacClaren does represent particular animal interests, as evidenced by his involvement in the Ontario Landowners Association, Carleton Cattlemens Association, and the Arnprior Region Federation of Agriculture. The Bill, however, was defeated in its second reading.

Now
Despite the considerable number of reports and recommendations that have been made to date, there is no indication that they have been taken to heart. What are the next steps? Will legislative amendments to the OSPCA Act be considered? Should the public expect the OSPCA to continue to provide both shelter and investigative services? Is the OSPCA-OK? The answers to these questions are unclear, but to be sure, too much time has now passed in a state of inaction.

This blog and the contents herein are for informational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice. Readers are advised to seek legal counsel prior to acting on any matters discussed herein.

Written by Ashley Hamp-Gonsalves, BA, JD (Candidate), Summer Student

End Notes:

[1] Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Inside the OSPCA, online: <http://www.ontariospca.ca/inside-the-ospca.html >

[2] Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, RSO 1990, c O.36, s 3.

[3] Ontario Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services, Animal Welfare, online:<http://www.mcscs.jus.gov.on.ca/english/AnimalWelfare/paws.html>

[4] Ibid.

[5] Dr. Alan H. Meek, Hon. Patrick J. LeSage, “Independent Review of Events in May 2010 at the York Region Branch of the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals” (April, 2011) at 72, online: <http://ospcatruth.com/docs/OSPCAReport/> [Meek LeSage Review]

[6] Supra Note 5 at 83.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Supra Note 5 at 73-74.

[9] Animal Welfare Task Force, “Animal Welfare Task Force Report(October 2012) at 11, online: <http://www.mcscs.jus.gov.on.ca/english/publications/AWTF/awtf_report.html >