Prince Edward detachment members fill void left in wake of OSPCA spat with province

 

JASON PARKS

STAFF WRITER

Like other police services in Ontario, the Prince Edward Detachment of the Ontario Provincial Police will attempt to do their best and use common sense when attending farm and livestock calls that were previously the domain of the Ontario Society of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (OSPCA).

The current state of flux concerning the investigation of animal cruelty concerns comes as a result of an early 2019 ruling by an Ontario Superior Court Justice who found the enforcement powers held by the private charity organization were unconstitutional. In a ruling issued on Jan. 3, 2019 Justice Timothy Minnema said the province was wrong to grant police powers to the OSPCA without also imposing accountability and transparency standards on the agency.

In his ruling, Minnema called the organization “opaque, insular, unaccountable, and potentially subject to external influence.” After the ruling, the province and the OSPCA came to logger heads as to how the roll out new animal protections laws and enforcement models that might be administered in a different fashion and, shortly before the contract between the two parties ended April 1, the organization informed the province it would no longer attend farms where animal cruelty and maltreatment were suspected.

A request by the province for a three month exception while the new laws were drafted and passed into legislation was declined by the OSPCA just prior to the deadline, leaving the OPP as the fail safe organization to enforce the current laws.

On May 17, the province announced it posted a regulation intended to help ensure no animals fall through the cracks during the transition to the new enforcement model.

This regulation would have provided options to ensure effective enforcement until the new model is implemented and enabled affiliates of the OSPCA, such as local humane societies, to continue enforcement should they wish to do so. “A number of OSPCA affiliates stepped forward to offer their continued assistance as we work towards a new, permanent enforcement model,” said Attorney General Sylvia Jones at the time. “Our government wants to empower these affiliates to continue protecting animals as we develop a new model. This work cannot be rushed, and animal protection is too important not to get right. This is a temporary solution to fill in the gaps while we transition to a new model.”

But that attempt to contract local OSPCA enforcement officers was blocked by the head organization who told the province they intended to be in contravention of the legislation by not having a Chief Inspector in place. The OSPCA Act expressly states the Society shall appoint an employee of the Society as the Chief Inspector.

“Last week we empowered local OSPCA affiliates who indicated a willingness to assist in the transition to continue protecting animals during the interim period,” said Jones in a subsequent press release. “Unfortunately the OSPCA has attempted to block these helpful affiliates by contravening existing legislation. This is extremely disappointing. Frankly, it puts animals in harm’s way. That’s why our government is taking decisive action to ensure animals remain protected while we design a better system.”

The legislation, if passed, would allow the province to appoint a Chief Inspector, who could in turn appoint qualified local inspectors, including willing local OSPCA affiliates.

Originally, it was expected it would take the province until 2020 to develop and fully implement a new set of animal cruelty laws and enforcement processes.

While the province hammers out legislation and figures a way forward, Prince Edward Detachment Commander Staff Sgt. John Hatch said it’s business as usual when it comes to these types of calls and that officers will be visiting farms in the absence of OSPCA staff.

“We have no expert training but we are figuring out what local resources we might be able to tap into in case we need an expert opinion,” Hatch told the Gazette. “We’ve reached out and had a meeting with local members of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture and spoke with some farmers who offered their concerns potential solutions. Ultimately, the responsibility falls to us because there is no other option.”

Without training or an expert opinion at the ready, Hatch said his officers will be required to make a judgement call on scene as to if livestock have access to fresh water, feed and shelter if required.

“I know if I was called, as an attending officer I would be looking to see if animals were in distress, sick and or emaciated and then proceed from there,” Hatch said. “Access to fresh water, food and shelter are other vital points.”

Further, depending on the length of time enforcement falls on the shoulders of the local constabulary, Hatch added the Prince Edward Police Services Board would be informally discussing what resources might be available on an interim basis.

“As a Board, I know we are going to speak as a group about this new role and how we might be able to gain some expert opinion if it was needed. But it’s difficult to gauge at this time. If we were able to get a local veterinarian to come out to an animal welfare check, who would pay the expenses of the their time? There’s some questions we need to get clarification on,” Hatch said.

The matter of the OPP taking over OSPCA farm and equine calls on reports of animal cruelty came forward in the May 16, 2019 edition of the Picton Gazette.

In relation to a reported visit paid by the OSPCA to Cedar E Lane Farms in 2017, Melissa Kosowan Associate Director, Communications of the OSPCA wouldn’t confirm that inspectors visited the farm or what the result of the visit might have been had there been a visit.

Kosowan, who has emailed the Gazette newsroom in the past regarding convictions delivered in local provincial offences court regarding animal cruelty cases, told the Gazette via email the organization does not release details of investigations unless information regarding such matters has first been released in court.

“We do not release the details of investigations unless the information has been released in court,” Kosowan said. “If information from an investigation is presented in court, it becomes a matter of public record,” she explained.

Further inquiries by the Gazette went unanswered.