Bowmanville Zoo Owner’s Evasion of Criminal Charges Raises Conflict of Interest Concern

TORONTO – Bowmanville Zoo owner Michael Hackenberger was exposed late last year on undercover video for viciously whipping Uno, a tiger held captive at the zoo. The Ontario SPCA announced yesterday that it laid provincial charges against Mr. Hackenberger for causing distress to an animal and failing to meet the required standards of care for an animal.

Animal Justice, a national organization working to secure legal protections for animals, is expressing alarm that the Ontario SPCA chose to lay less serious provincial regulatory charges against Mr. Hackenberger, instead of the more serious Criminal Code charges that should have been laid in the face of this vicious abuse of a defenceless animal.

Letting Mr. Hackenberger off lightly is particularly concerning given that in 2014 the Bowmanville Zoo helped the Ontario SPCA raise funds during its annual “OSPCA Walk-A-Thon” fundraiser. Specifically, the Bowmanville Zoo brought a pair of baby lion cubs to various venues to help promote the Ontario SPCA’s fundraising efforts.

The fact that the Ontario SPCA has received fundraising assistance from a zoo that it must investigate for legal compliance raises serious questions over conflict of interest.

Animal Justice is also questioning why Mr. Hackenberger was charged personally, but not the Bowmanville Zoo itself. If the Zoo were charged and convicted of animal abuse, a judge could ban the Zoo from owning animals to protect them from future acts of abuse and cruelty.

“The vicious whipping the owner of the Bowmanville Zoo inflicted on Uno, an innocent tiger, is incontrovertible evidence of deliberate animal abuse, which is a criminal offence,” said Camille Labchuk, lawyer and executive director of Animal Justice. “The Ontario SPCA’s decision to go easy on the owner of a zoo that has helped it raise money raises questions about whether the SPCA is returning the favour.

“Laying charges under the Criminal Code is the strongest possible way for law enforcement to denounce socially unacceptable animal abuse, with penalties of up to five years in prison available. While we are relieved that charges of any type have finally been laid, it is hard to imagine a more suitable situation for criminal charges.”

The Ontario SPCA is a private charity that operates with minimal government oversight. It is not subject to the same accountability and transparency mechanisms that other law enforcement agencies and police forces must comply with, including legislation that prohibits conflicts of interest.

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For more information, contact:

Camille Labchuk
Executive Director
[email protected]