Ontario brings in sweeping changes to protect animals
Ospca gets more power and money, zoos and aquariums will get inspected twice a year
By: Linda Diebel Canada, Politics Liam Casey, Published on Fri Oct 25 2013
The province has introduced sweeping reforms to protect animal welfare in Ontario.
Changes, revealed Friday morning by the Star, include more power and money for the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, twice-a-year inspections of all zoos and aquariums in the province and specific standards of care for the well-being of marine mammals.
The changes, more than a year in the making, were announced Friday by Community Safety Minister Madeleine Meilleur. Her ministry is responsible for the OSPCA.
“It’s just the start,” said Meilleur, at times drowned out by the geese at a morning press conference at the High Park Zoo.
Meilleur began a review of animal laws in Ontario in the wake of a Star series in which former trainers blamed health problems at Marineland on sporadically poor water and insufficient staffing. John Holer, owner of the Niagara Falls animal park, has always denied any problems or staffing shortages. He told the Star last year that bwe take care of the animals better than I would take care of myself.
The changes, including more power and money for the OSPCA, have been more than a year in the making.
Meilleur said of the Star investigation: “If it weren’t for their work, we wouldn’t be here today.”
Meilleur told the Star she quickly realized the OSPCA lacked the power and ability to deal with the kind of large, complex investigations the province now requires.
Ontario will give the OSPCA $5.5 million annually to bcreate a team of specially trained investigators’ to inspect the province’ 60 zoos and aquariums, which in future will be registered. The team will also deal with bpuppy and kitten mills,b and the OSPCA will bprovide regular progress reports to the government.
The marine mammal standards are being drafted by a team of experts, with a deadline of June 2014. In the meantime, inspections of marine parks will be carried out under the existing animal laws of Ontario.
“Our government cares very deeply for the well-being of animals wherever they live in this province,” said Meilleur. The money will help enforce animal welfare laws in under-served areas such as rural and northern communities.
Official inspections are a big change for Ontario.
Currently, the OSPCA goes in only when a problem is reported. Inspections are done every five years by Canadabs Accredited Zoos and Aquariums, the industry’s self-governing association. But it has only eight member facilities in the province.
The government’s goal is bensuring animals live free from abuse and neglect,b said a ministry statement obtained by the Star.
The OSPCA will implement a 911-style phone dispatch service to provide around-the-clock response to reports of animal abuse throughout the province.
Revamping the rules was a massive task for Meilleur, who consulted cabinet colleagues, travelled across the province talking to industry officials, animal welfare activists and whistleblowers, and dealt with a labyrinth of competing interests and legal problems.
The ministry looked hard at licensing zoos and aquariums b her first choice b but it would have required legislation. That would have been time-consuming and might have failed in a minority Liberal government.
Instead, Meilleurbs team decided to set up a registry immediately with twice yearly inspections, which a ministry aide described as breal surprise visits.b That route doesn’t require a new law.
bItbs a registry b for now,b said the aide, bWebll be closely examining it and, if it’s not working, webll move forward with a bill. In practice, it’s the same as a licensing regime.b
The aide was unclear about how or if results of inspections would be released to the public. The source said one idea bandied about was Toronto’s DineSafe’ program, with restaurants given passes, conditional passes or being closed.
Another major problem was that the OSPCA lacked expertise when dealing with marine mammals, agricultural livestock and exotic animals. The inspectors will get special training.
The OSPCA is a registered private charity that currently receives about $500,000 annually in government funding. The society investigates reports of abuse and neglect and can order changes in animal care or lay charges under both the OSPCA Act and the criminal code.
The aide said the OSPCA signed a contract with the government to cover its new authority and funding, but wouldn’t reveal details. A contract is also being completed with a specialist who will head the marine mammal team.