Animal cruelty investigations in limbo with OSPCA's withdrawal

The question of who will investigate reports of animal abuse and neglect in Ottawa come April 1 remains unanswered following Monday's surprise announcement by the province's animal welfare agency.

Ottawa Humane Society suspended investigations in 2016

This four-month-old kitten, named Hope by workers at the Ottawa Humane Society, was found injured inside a sealed garbage bag. (Ottawa Humane Society)

The question of who will investigate reports of animal abuse and neglect in Ottawa come April 1 remains unanswered following Monday's surprise announcement by the province's animal welfare agency.

On Monday, the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (OSPCA) informed the province that it would stop enforcing animal cruelty laws once its current contract with the government expires on March 31.

We have to make sure there is no void for these animals.- Sharon Miko, Ottawa Humane Society

The announcement is causing concern at the Ottawa Humane Society (OHS) that no one in Ottawa will be mandated or equipped to respond to calls from the public.

"We were completely surprised," said OHS director of operations Sharon Miko. "Certainly, the timeline that's proposed is somewhat alarming. It really doesn't allow sufficient time to put any effective plan in place for services to make sure that our community's animals are protected."

In its statement released Monday, the OSPCA cited a January court case in which a judge ruled the agency's enforcement powers are unconstitutional, and gave the government one year to establish a new enforcement model. The Ontario government is appealing the court's decision.

The OSPCA is offering to extend the contract until June 28 for what it calls a "transition phase," and recommends an enforcement model similar to what's used by the American SPCA.

OHS disbanded investigations unit in 2016

Until 2016, the OHS enforced animal cruelty laws in Ottawa through delegated authority issued by the OSPCA, but following a governance dispute between the two agencies the OSPCA stripped the OHS of its investigative powers.

Miko said the two agencies have managed to work together since then for the benefit of animals in Ottawa, but the OHS can't suddenly resume investigations.

"We disbanded our investigations unit completely, and certainly at this point we don't have resources to be able to fulfil that role," Miko said.

Asked if her agency is interested in conducting investigations in the future, Miko said it's too early to say. She said the OHS is talking to other humane societies in Ontario, and expects to provide recommendations to the province.

"This timeline is going to move that up for us, because we have to make sure there is no void for these animals," she added.

Ottawa lawyer Kurtis Andrews says his client is happy that a court ruled sections of Ontario's SPCA law dealing with enforcement violates the Charter of Rights. (Laurie Fagan/CBC)

OSPCA can't just 'drop their duties': lawyer

Kurtis Andrews, the Ottawa-based farm and animal welfare lawyer who took the OSPCA to court, said he's both pleased and concerned by the development.

"I'm glad to see that finally the OSPCA is going to be relinquishing its police powers, because this is something that has been a troubling issue for many many years," Andrews said.

But like Miko, Andrews is concerned the government isn't being given enough notice to remedy the situation, even if it accepts the OSPCA's offer to extend the contract by the months.

"The government should be able to decide what's best for Ontario, and not simply have the OSPCA drop their duties with almost no notice and say, 'Here, this is how you should do it,' and just expect the government to pick it up and take their recommendations and go with it."

The OSPCA did not respond Tuesday to the CBC's request for comment.


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