It’s been three and a half years since the 2010 conviction of puppy mill operator Bud Wheatley exposed serious flaws in how Prince Edward Island protects animals. The case revealed what many people already knew, that animals had been suffering terribly and dying for years, and the province’s Department of Agriculture and Forestry (DOAF) had done virtually nothing to stop it.
It wasn’t simply a case of weak legislation but a government department that appeared indifferent and unwilling to enforce it. Faced with widespread condemnation, the DOAF had little option but to state that it would be reviewing how it trains its staff and conducts its inspections, and that it would be making amendments to the province’s animal welfare legislation.
So what’s been happening since 2010? It is hard to say because no effort has been made to keep the public informed. The Minister of Agriculture and Forestry, George Webster, has been non-responsive on the issue of animal welfare. Occasional inquiries from the media have resulted in only vague responses from the Department’s Manager of Policy and Legislation, Brian Matheson.[i]
Training and Procedures
According to Matheson, the department conducted an internal review of all of its policies and procedures related to the province’s Companion Animal Protection Act (CAPA) in 2011. However, he has not been willing to comment on the results of that review. Regarding training of inspectors, he has conceded that in the past it has not been “all that formal.” That’s putting it mildly. Records resulting from freedom of information requests show that it has been practically non-existent. No experience in animal welfare has been required, and no training in the area provided to inspectors.
The department has added conservation officers appointed under the province’s Wildlife Conservation Act to act as inspectors, but while this may have increased the number of people able to conduct inspections, there is no indication to date that any policy has been put in place regarding the type, length or regularity of training that inspectors receive. Whatever changes may have been made to training and procedures, they are nothing more than guidelines because although legislation authorises regulations respecting qualifications, identification and codes of conduct for officers and inspectors, none currently exist. There are also no regulations governing either training or internal procedures. Whatever exists remains voluntary and unenforceable, like agricultural codes of practice.
Beyond that, there has been little if any oversight of what inspectors do. According to Matheson, this problem has been rectified by requiring that complaints be reviewed by a group rather than single inspectors. While this may provide better oversight, it still isn’t known how complaints are being assessed, or to what degree this procedure may be impeding taking action in urgent cases.
The only other procedural change to date that the department has identified is that veterinarians are now brought in sooner on investigations, and inspectors now take their advice regarding any necessary measures. This is a welcome change, but the fact that this was not happening in the past is an indication of just how inadequate investigations have been.
Regarding legislative amendments, much talk appears to have happened, but little meaningful change. By 2011, according to Matheson, the department had completed an evaluation of animal welfare legislation in other provinces, and planned to meet with industry stakeholders for discussion and input. By 2012, he could only state that he hoped for tougher legislation, identifying in particular inadequate standards of care, inadequate fines, and no jail time. By 2013, Matheson acknowledged that the review process was happening slowly, but that the department’s goal was to develop legislation that could stand up to the types of court challenges taking place in other jurisdictions. He stated that a draft document had been developed, and again identified better defined standards of care, increased fines and jail time as areas being considered. He hoped to have a submission ready for the autumn session of the legislature that year, but saw it possibly extending into the spring of 2014.
Now it is 2014. A few minor amendments have been made to both CAPA and the Dog Act since 2010. These include the appointment of conservation officers as inspectors, clarification of the authority of peace officers and enforcement officers, clarification of definitions not related to animals, and replacement of “sprayed” with “spayed” in the Dog Act.[ii]
But by far the greatest effort to date has gone into the Animal Health and Protection Act (AHPA), whose main focus is health and safety in agriculture, with animal welfare a distant second. Amendments made so far deal almost entirely with disease control. The only real changes to benefit animals are the increase of fines for offences under the Act from $100 – $2,000 to $500 – $15,000, and the inclusion of restrictions on ownership of animals upon conviction.[iii] However, given that AHPA includes the ubiquitous “generally accepted practices” exemption from causing distress to an animal, it remains doubtful that a conviction for causing distress could be secured.[iv] It is interesting to note that significant amendments were also made in 2012 to the province’s Farm Practices Act, whose object is to protect farmers following what it refers to as “normal farm practices” from civil action in nuisance.[v]
PEI has a long way to go to improve protection of animals. The DOAF’s training and procedures are still a mystery, and it’s not clear how the department intends to improve the situation, given that less than 5% of its estimated budget for 2014-2015 is earmarked for animal welfare.[vi] Added to that, the province’s current animal welfare legislation is rudimentary, outdated and inconsistent. It is no surprise that the Animal Legal Defence Fund’s 2012 Canadian Animal Protections Laws Rankings placed PEI in its bottom tier, alongside the Northwest Territories, Nunavut and Quebec.[vii] PEI was only able to move into the middle tier in 2013 thanks to the restrictions and increased fines in AHPA.[viii]
Nonetheless, the DOAF does appear to be making some headway. The department has recently invited Animal Justice Canada to submit recommendations on amending the province’s animal welfare legislation covering companion and farm animals. It is my hope that we will see continued improvements in the coming months and years.
Written by Elizabeth Schoales BA, MA, PhD, LLB (Candidate)
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. The opinions expressed are those of the author.
[i] For examples, see “PEI Puppy Mills” and also The Guardian, Charlottetown: “Shocking P.E.I. case has led to changes aimed at better protecting companion animals” 1 June 2012. Online: http://www.theguardian.pe.ca/News/Local/2012-06-01/article-2993939/Pet-care/1
[ii] An Act to Amend the Companion Animal Protection Act (Bill no. 37) May 2012; An Act to Amend the Dog Act (Bill no. 9) Dec. 2012; An Act to Amend the Dog Act (Bill no. 15) Dec. 2013.
[iii] Penalties under CAPA and the Dog Act have yet to be changed. Fines remain fixed at $200 – $5,000 and $100 – $5,000 respectively.
[iv] An Act to Amend the Animal Health and Protection Act (Bill no. 27) May 2012.
[vi] The department’s estimated budget for 2014-15 is $36,785,700. Of that, $1,850,800 is earmarked for Agriculture Regulatory Programs, which include animal health and welfare, plant health, food safety and the enforcement of legislation. Prince Edward Island: Estimates of Expenditures and Estimates 2014-2015, pp. 19, 25.