Hamilton

Who will protect animals in Ontario now that the OSPCA won't investigate?

The Ontario Society for the Protection of Animals says it won't investigate suspected cases of animal cruelty any more. Kendra Coulter, chair of the Labour Studies department at Brock University, explains what this means for the care of abused animals in Ontario.
The Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals will no longer be investigating cases of animal cruelty. (B.C. SPCA)
The Ontario Society for the Protection of Animals says it won't investigate suspected cases of animal cruelty anymore. Kendra Coulter, chair of the Labour Studies department at Brock University, explains what this means for the care of abused animals in Ontario. 10:34
 

A mother and her son pleaded guilty in court Tuesday following the death last year in Stouffville, Ont. of 13 horses and the mistreatment of 15 more.

It all started with an investigation by the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. The OSPCA has been investigating cases of animal abuse for decades. On April 1, when their contract ends, that won't happen anymore.

They say that the current model of enforcement doesn't work. What will replace the OSPCA? Right now, no one knows. The province has less than a month to figure it out.

Kendra Coulter, chair of the Labour Studies department at Brock University in St. Catharines, spoke with the CBC's Conrad Collaco about what the OSPCA's decision might mean for how animals are treated in the province.

You can read an abridged and edited version of the interview or listen to the full audio interview by hitting the play button above. 

Dr. Kendra Coulter, Brock University  
Brock University professor Kendra Coulter says the Ontario provincial government has less than a month to figure out how cases of animal abuse will be investigated. (Brock University)

The OSPCA says that their way of doing things is not working, and there are plenty of critics who would agree with them. How does the current enforcement model work right now?

It's bake sale based. We've had charities subsidizing the province for a century by providing what is a public service — law enforcement — through donations. Are charities best equipped to enforce the law? There are many very skilled and dedicated people working in the OSPCA but the leadership of the organization has decided that as a charity they should be focusing on animal care, on supportive roles etc. and that law enforcement is best done by experts in law enforcement. The era of charity-based law enforcement is over. We will be moving to public enforcement. The question is, what will it look like? 

It's bake sale based. We've had charities subsidizing the province for a century by providing what is a public service — law enforcement — through donations. - Dr. Kendra Coulter, chair of Labour Studies at Brock University

The OSPCA has offered to assist with this transition of enforcement powers, but their contract expires at the end of this month. How ready is the province to take over?

The province is aware that there are challenges in the organization and with charity-based enforcement more broadly. What I want to see at this point is leadership and quickly. We want to see high level conversations taking place among the province, law enforcement and the OSPCA to decide how we can create a well-resourced, coordinated public enforcement model. I think it should be one underscored by responsibility sharing. Police are experts at law enforcement. They are ideally positioned to do that front line work, those initial investigations.

The key question is what is going to be the role of animal welfare charities. The OSPCA leadership has identified some of it areas of strength that it could continue. We can look to other jurisdictions. In the United States, 46 percent of the agencies enforcing animal cruelty laws are police. Newfoundland and Manitoba also have public enforcement models. We want to see thoughtful leadership and a well-coordinated plan.

What do police services need to do to become better at dealing with animal cruelty cases if the OSPCA will no longer investigate?

Animal welfare details. Police are experts in law enforcement. Some are already enforcing animal cruelty laws in parts of the province. We have examples where the OSPCA and police have worked well together on major crimes in situations that were high risk. The police need to learn more about animal welfare. OSPCA officers could play a key role in terms of training and support. When you have crimes against animals they are often seized and need care. Humane societies and the OSPCA are well positioned to provide that. The OSPCA has laudably mentioned veterinary forensics which is a key piece. When crimes are committed against animals their bodies become evidence. You can start to see the outline of what this partnership might look like. 

There is a formal partnership in New York between the NYPD and the ASPCA. It works because both organizations invest in it with human and financial resources. Front line enforcement is the responsibility of the NYPD. Most of the officers have a basic level of training. Then there's a specialized detective unit. The ASPCA staff has a 1-800 number NYPD officers can call for support. ASPCA provides a police liaison, legal support, animal care, veterinary forensics. They are busier than ever. They also do a lot of the educational preventative work. Animal cruelty exists on a very large spectrum. You have the very heinous cases which warrant provincial or criminal charges. Currently the model is that OSPCA officers can issue orders. It is a legally binding document that requires changed behaviour.
 It's also about people and public safety. It's very common for violence against women and children to occur along side animal abuse.- Dr. Kendra Coulter, chair of Labour Studies at Brock University

All complaints should be investigated by police but if they find actions that don't warrant the legal process than the OSPCA officers could play a supportive role as the secondary force that has been credibility to correct that behavior, to focus on solutions and prevention. In some cases it means educating an animal owner or caretaker. 

How important is the protection of animals for the Ford government?    

The people of Ontario are appalled by animal abuse. It's also about people and public safety. It's very common for violence against women and children to occur along side animal abuse. In larger manifestations of harm like dog fighting you often find firearms, narcotics, gambling and other kinds of crimes. This is about animals and the need for us to take crimes against animals seriously but it is also about public safety. Those are compelling and powerful reasons for the provincial government to take a leadership role and invest in thoughtful, well-coordinated enforcement.

I understand that the premier is an animal lover. What we haven't seen yet is a plan, is leadership. The Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services has indicated that her staff are actively exploring enforcement models and working on this file. We want to see high level conversations so we can get a plan in place and transparency. I would encourage everyone listening or reading to contact their MPP. Drop them an e-mail or a phone call and say 'I feel strongly about animal cruelty. I am appalled by animal cruelty. What is the plan? What is this enforcement model going to look like? Can you get me some answers?' People care about this issue. The government needs to know. We want to see action and leadership.

About the Author

Conrad Collaco is a CBC News producer for CBC Hamilton with extensive experience in online, television and radio news. Follow him on Twitter at @ConradCollaco, or email him at conrad.collaco@cbc.ca.

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