Bureaucrat who helped write animal welfare laws hired to investigate Ontario SPCA
Civil servant Mike Zimmerman helped to write animal welfare laws in Ontario
A longtime bureaucrat who helped write animal welfare laws in Ontario has been hired by two non-profit organizations to perform a deep dive into the agency charged with enforcing those laws.
Zoocheck Canada and Animal Alliance Canada have hired Mike Zimmerman, who worked with the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services for decades before retiring last month, to lead an investigation into the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
"I think we have a very good animal welfare law, the OSPCA Act," said Zimmerman, who led a team that revised the act in 2009.
"But my concern is it might not be enforced effectively, equitably or with accountability."
OSPCA lacks transparency: bureaucrat
The OSPCA is a registered charity that enforces animal cruelty laws across the province and has police powers under the act. It receives $5.5 million annually from the ministry to help cover its enforcement costs.
"Animal welfare and animal protection is such an important service that it should be done in a more open and accountable way than it seems to be right now," Zimmerman said.
Zimmerman cites the fact the OSPCA is not subject to freedom-of-information legislation as an example of the society's lack of transparency.
Zoocheck director Rob Laidlaw said Zimmerman was a natural choice.
"He was on the inside and understands the processes and understands the different perspectives and was actually involved in dealing with them in one way or another," Laidlaw said.
"There is nobody better positioned at this time to conduct a review of this nature."
Animal Alliance said they have concerns that animal protection legislation is not consistently applied throughout Ontario.
"We believe our report will help the government fully understand that there are deficiencies in the system and take action to better protect animals in the province," Animal Alliance director Liz White said in a statement.
In Premier Kathleen Wynne's mandate letters sent to ministers in late September, she asked for Community Safety Minister David Orazietti to review "the current animal welfare framework" in the province.
"I know that issues around animal welfare continue to evolve and are now more complex than ever before," Orazietti said in an email.
"I am moving forward with reviewing the current model to ensure we continue improving and protecting animals from abuse and mistreatment."
How Marineland fits in
The OSPCA said it works with various organizations and special-interest groups routinely and didn't dismiss the upcoming investigation.
"As Ontario's animal welfare charity, we continually seek opportunities to improve protection of and conditions for animals," said OSPCA spokeswoman Melissa Kosowan.
Zimmerman said he'll look into specific cases, including how the OSPCA handled a massive investigation into reports of animal cruelty at Marineland, a tourist attraction in Niagara Falls, Ont., with both marine and land animals. The OSPCA didn't lay charges in that case and Marineland has maintained it treats its animals properly and with love and care.
Zoo inspection agents to be looked at
He said he'll also examine the OSPCA's relatively new team of zoo inspection agents, which came into being a few years ago.
Zimmerman will return with a number of recommendations when he produces his report, which will be made public, next March. He and Zoocheck hope the government and the OSPCA participate in the investigation.
"Then maybe we can make some decent changes to protect animals because we certainly need them in Ontario," Laidlaw said.