Ontario passes new animal welfare legislation with stiffer penalties

The provincial government's new animal welfare legislation will be enforced by a specialized team of provincial inspectors, but it remains unclear how much the initiative will cost.

Big animal cruelty fines for corporations, specialized inspectors across the province

Ontario has overhauled the animal welfare system, after the OSPCA told the province it would stop enforcing animal cruelty laws. (Timothy Clary/AFP/Getty Images)

Ontario has passed new animal welfare legislation that will be enforced by a specialized team of provincial inspectors.

The new law, named the Provincial Animal Welfare Services Act, comes into effect on Jan. 1 and includes stiffer penalties for cruelty offences.

There will be about 100 inspectors across the province, but it remains unclear how much the initiative will cost.

Solicitor General Sylvia Jones said Thursday that the new law makes Ontario a national leader in protecting animals.

The new team will include specialists who will inspect zoos, aquariums, livestock and horses, and Crown attorneys will receive specialized training.

OSPCA no longer enforcing animal cruelty laws

In March, the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which has enforced animal cruelty laws for 100 years, told the province it would no longer do so.

The OSPCA said it would instead focus on its shelter operations and other initiatives.

The agency's abdication followed a court decision last January that declared the OSPCA's enforcement powers unconstitutional. The judge said the province erred when it gave police powers to the charity without imposing reasonable standards of transparency and accountability.

The Court of Appeal eventually overturned that ruling, but in the meantime the province overhauled the animal welfare system.

"I am proud to say we have followed through on our commitment to deliver a modern animal welfare system," Jones said.

Up to $1M fines

There are big fines for corporations found guilty of animal cruelty — up to $1 million for repeat offenders. The new law will also allow inspectors to save pets left in cars in extreme weather conditions.

The ministry said it will also implement a complaint mechanism for inspector conduct as part of new accountability measures.

To address transparency, the ministry said oversight of the new regime will be provided by the auditor general, the ombudsman, the privacy commissioner and provincial freedom of information laws.