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Victory for Ontario animal access to justice | Victoria Shroff

Wednesday, November 18, 2020 @ 1:33 PM | By Victoria Shroff


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Victoria Shroff
We had great access to justice news in B.C. in October 2020 with the launch of the groundbreaking new student run animal law pro bono clinic (ALPC) in Vancouver. (Please see: New student-run pro bono animal law clinic victory for access to justice.)

Now in Ontario, access to justice for animals just got a boost. In a press release dated Nov. 16, 2020, Sylvia Jones, solicitor general of Ontario, announced that the Ontario government has put together an advisory table to improve animal welfare throughout the province. A coalition of veterinarians, law enforcement officials, animal protection and animal advocates are taking aim at developing new regulations to accompany the Provincial Animal Welfare Services Act, (Provincial Animal Welfare Services Act, 2019, S.O. 2019, c. 13) aptly shortened to PAWS, which came into force in January 2020.

The newly announced PAWS advisory panel working on the animal welfare regulations includes a wide range of Ontario-based animal experts including Humane Canada, World Animal Protection, professor Kendra Coulter, equine expert Gayle Ecker and non-profit Animal Alliance of Canada. There will also be representation from the College of Veterinarians of Ontario, the Ontario Veterinary Medical Association animal shelter organizations, zoo and aquarium groups, the Ontario Federation of Agriculture and the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police.

A year ago when I wrote about PAWS, the provincially funded animal enforcement model statute was awaiting new regulations. (Please see: Sharper teeth for Ontario animal bill.) PAWS replaced the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, and has brought forward a more modern, uniform approach to animal welfare enforcement in Ontario. PAWS implemented a new breed of provincially funded animal protection with a revamped enforcement system. A chief animal welfare inspector is at the helm with trained animal welfare inspectors, employees of the province. As a publicly funded animal welfare enforcement model, this revamped system provides increased accountability, transparency and oversight by the government on animal welfare in Ontario.

PAWS legislation, I believe, largely arose because of a 2019 lawsuit brought Jeff Bogaerts against the OSPCA, as it then was structured. Bogaerts challenged the OSPCA’s powers of investigation and its laying of charges. Animal enforcement in Ontario is now no longer carried out by a private charity. I wrote an article about the Superior Court in Ontario reining in the Ontario SPCA’s police-type powers in Bogaerts v. Attorney General of Ontario 2019 ONSC 41. (Please see: Superior court reins in OSPCA’s police-type powers.)

Jones is rightly proud of the new Act and this initiative stating in her Nov. 16, 2020 press release: “Having launched Canada’s first provincial government-based enforcement model, recruited inspectors and introduced the toughest penalties and fines for animal abuse in the country, we will continue to work with our partners to ensure the best protection and support for animals.” 

I applaud the PAWS Act for strengthening accountability and transparency of process and enforcement.

Offences, penalties under PAWS

Penalties for breaking Ontario animal welfare laws are high. Part VIII of the Act sets out the Offences and Penalties. A fine of “not more than $75,000, to imprisonment for a term of not more than six months, or to both” for an individual, first instance minor offence, to “a fine of not more than $260,000, to imprisonment for a term of not more than two years, or to both” for an individual, second or subsequent, major offence. And, corporations, directors and officers can also be held liable for minor and major offences with fines of “not more than $100,000” for a first case minor offence up to “a fine of not more than $1,000,000” for a second, or subsequent, major offence.

Distress

The PAWS Act includes some strong penalties against those who would harm animals, including psychologically and not just physically.

The Act contains some strong animal-welfare friendly wording. Sections 1, 15, 20 for example states:

Section 1 of the Act definitions, “distress” means the state of being,

(a) in need of proper care, water, food or shelter,

(b) injured, sick, in pain or suffering, or

(c) abused or subject to undue physical or psychological hardship, privation or neglect; (“détresse”)

Causing distress

15(1) No person shall cause an animal to be in distress.

Permitting distress

(2) No owner or custodian of an animal shall permit the animal to be in distress.

Exposure to undue risk of distress

(3) No person shall knowingly or recklessly cause an animal to be exposed to an undue risk of distress.

Restricted animal possession or breeding

20(1) No person shall possess or breed a restricted animal in Ontario unless the person is authorized to do so in accordance with the regulations made by the lieutenant-governor-in-council and complies with any conditions of the authorization.

It would be very helpful if the new group would perhaps take a look at including more stringent governmental rules and prohibitions around zoos, exotic animal ownership, breeding, animals in laboratories and farmed animals for the sake of all animals’ well-being and safety.

I’m pleased to see this group of PAWS Act stakeholders from a wide array of disciplines coming together for a collective goal: improving animal welfare. It is my belief that working together on these regulations as a coalition rather than combatively will likely yield better results for animal protection. Many issues involving animals are non-partisan and require the co-operation of many different groups taking a multidisciplinary approach. I look forward to seeing the new regulations.

This is another Canadian access to justice animal law win. #A2JForAll

Victoria Shroff is one of the first and longest serving animal law practitioners in Canada. She has been practising animal law civil litigation for over 20 years in Vancouver at Shroff and Associates and she is erstwhile adjunct professor of animal law at UBC’s Allard Hall Law School. She is recognized internationally as an animal law expert and is frequently interviewed by media. Reach her at shroff@telus.net@shroffanimallaw or LinkedIn.

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