Court of Appeal Reverses Ruling that OSPCA Law Enforcement Powers are Unconstitutional

TORONTO—The Ontario Court of Appeal today overturned a ruling that it is unconstitutional for the province to assign police and other investigative powers to a law enforcement agency not subject to reasonable standards of transparency and accountability.

The judgment was an appeal of the January 2, 2019 ruling by Justice Minnema of the Superior Court of Justice in Bogaerts v. Attorney General of Ontario, a constitutional challenge to Ontario’s provincial animal welfare laws and the way they are enforced. Previously, animal law enforcement was done primarily by the Ontario SPCA, a private charity not subject to freedom of information laws or the Police Services Act, unlike nearly every other law enforcement body, and funded in part by public donations.

After the Superior Court decision, the Ontario SPCA chose to withdraw from enforcing animal protection laws in Ontario. In October, the provincial government introduced new legislation that would make animal welfare law enforcement a fully public function performed by public inspectors, no longer reliant on charities and funded by charitable donations.

Animal Justice, a national animal law organization, intervened at both levels of court to argue that transparency and accountability in law enforcement are constitutional requirements, and important to ensuring the protection of animals. 

The Court of Appeal also considered whether search and seizure powers afforded to animal welfare investigators were too broad, and upheld the Superior Court ruling that robust search and seizure powers are appropriate. In particular, the Court adopted Animal Justice’s argument that search and seizure powers must be robust because animals rely on humans to protect them from distress, and cannot assist themselves.

“The Bogaerts case prompted a serious public discussion about how animal welfare laws should be enforced in Ontario and beyond,” said lawyer Camille Labchuk, executive director of Animal Justice. “Animal Justice’s key concern was always ensuring that a robust, public, well-funded enforcement system be put into place, and we are pleased that the province of Ontario is moving toward such a system with Bill 136, the Provincial Animal Welfare Services Act. A strong enforcement system sends a signal that our government agrees with citizens that animals matter, and that ensuring their protection is an important public value.” 

The Court of Appeal case was argued on October 2, 2019 in Toronto. Animal Justice was represented by lawyers Arden Beddoes of Arvay Finlay LLP, and Benjamin Oliphant of Gall Legge Grant Zwack LLP. 

-30-

The Court of Appeal decision, Attorney General (Ontario) v Bogaerts 2019 ONCA 876 can be found here.

The Superior Court decision, Bogaerts v Attorney General of Ontario 2019 ONSC 41 can be found here

For more information, contact:
 
Camille Labchuk
Executive Director
[email protected]