While the Canadian Parliament dithers over Senator Bryden’s do-little Animal Cruelty Bill S-203, Ontario is stepping up to a much-needed and long-overdue overhaul of its 90-year old provincial legislation.
Long-time animal protector, Hugh Coghill, the Chief Inspector with the Ontario SPCA, struggled to compose himself as he spoke to reporters.
“It’s a great day for the animals in Ontario, and that’s what we’re focused on,” he said, then took a deep breath. “Sorry. Been waiting a long time for it.”
The province’s Animal Protection Act is considered by many to be a point of shame for the province. Animal advocates claim it currently does little to ensure creatures receive the proper care and the people who mistreat them get punishments they deserve.
But today, the government introduced legislation that will strengthen the Act with new measures, including new rules on the province’s 50 roadside zoos that will impose higher standards for owners and allow the Ontario SPCA to inspect them and making animal cruelty a provincial offence carrying stiffer penalties.
“It’s going to be good news for all people who love animals,” Community Safety and Correctional Services Minister Rick Bartolucci said. “I would hope that those people who have stewardship of animal care will say we’ve gone from worst to first with this legislation.”
“We always try to get people to look after their animals in a proper and humane way. And if they don’t, this legislation gives us the tools to be able to deal with it in a far more effective manner,” says Coghill.
For many, this overhaul is long overdue as Ontario has some of the most lax animal protection laws in the country. Currently, the province’s small zoos aren’t held to any standards, with many animals forced to live in filthy and flimsy pens without clean drinking water. Animal cruelty is only considered a provincial offence if the creature is involved in a commercial breeding operation.
The standard of care for animals in a commercial operation includes adequate food, water and space. However, these guidelines don’t apply to pets, who are considered possessions.
While opposition parties are pleased to see a proposed change to this legislation, they’re still waiting to see if the Liberal overhaul has any real teeth and adequate funding.
“Right now, they don’t have the budget to do the work that they’re supposed to be doing,” Ontario NDP Leader Howard Hampton said.
“If we’re going to take this issue seriously, the Ontario SPCA has to have a consistent level of funding that will allow them to do the work — something that isn’t there now.”
The proposed legislation has several aims, including:
- making it a provincial offence to cause distress to an animal
- stiffer penalties, which include jail terms, fines and lifetime bans on animal ownership
- inspection rights at facilities where animals are kept for sale or exhibit
- banning animal fighting
- and protecting veterinarians from liability when reporting allegations of cruelty.