The Ontario Government is currently considering Bill 136: An Act to enact the Provincial Animal Welfare Services Act, 2019 and make consequential amendments with respect to animal protection (the “Bill”).
Early in 2019, a Superior Court Judge found that the previous animal welfare legislation, the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. O.36 (the “Act”), violated the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, because it effectively deputized the OSPCA, a private not for profit organization, into a policing role. While the decision was being appealed, the OSPCA announced that it would no longer enforce the Act, citing concerns over lack of support and the safety of its officers attending properties alone as part of its investigations.
After passing a temporary measure this past summer, the Ontario Government now needs to pass a bill that offers a longer-term solution.
Bill 136 is the government’s proposed solution. It would take the investigative powers previously given to the OSPCA and give them to the Chief Animal Welfare Inspector, who may appoint deputy animal welfare inspectors.
While Bill 136 adds some new offences and tougher penalties, there is a risk that it suffers from some weaknesses. For example, while there are penalties for violating the standards of care or causing an animal to be in distress, there are exceptions made for animals involved in agriculture and husbandry. Rather than creating standards of care specifically for agricultural animals, Bill 136 (like the Act) effectively leaves it up to the various industries to set their own standards of care by saying the activities must be “carried on in accordance with the reasonable and generally accepted practices of agricultural animal care, management or husbandry, unless the standards of care or administrative requirements expressly provide that they apply to that activity” [emphasis added]. It is possible that the standards of care could be improved to explicitly include these animals in future.
The Ontario Government website touts the Bill as introducing “the strongest penalties in Canada for offenders” If this Bill passes as is, the hope is that dedicated animal welfare officers with adequate support and resources will be in a position to effectively police animal cruelty complaints and that the crown prosecutors will effectively enforce the law by prosecuting the offences, including the new offences in the Bill. However, the language around agriculture could impact their ability to do so in some cases.