Finally an animal protection act that appears to have some bite to it.
The Progressive Conservative government headed by Doug Ford has endured a lot of criticism for some of the moves it has made in its short tenure, but I think, with a couple of tweaks I will mention later, it has struck gold with its proposed Provincial Animal Welfare Services (PAWS) Act .
Announced on Oct. 29 by Solicitor General Sylvia Jones, whose ministry now will be responsible for animal safety, it is touted as being the toughest such act in the country, the toughness being something a lot of us have been seeking for years.
Now the job is to ensure it is passed without the pulling of any of its teeth.
Under the new act it is an offence to: Cause or permit distress to an animal; cause harm to a law enforcement animal; train or permit animals to fight other animals; own or possess equipment or structures used in animal fighting; fail to comply with standards of care applicable to most animals; obstruct an inspector or agent
Ontario has basic standards of care that apply to all animals covered under the act, including requirements for food, water, medical attention and care; ventilation, light and protection from the elements, including harmful temperatures; sanitary conditions and space to enable natural movement and exercise pens or enclosed structures; humane euthanization to minimize pain and distress to animals.
Violating these laws, according to information on the ministry’s website, can result in sentences that may include up to two years in jail, and/or fines of up to $60,000, and a lifetime ban on animal ownership, as well as other penalties.
There are also increased penalties for repeat corporate offenders, starting at $250,000 and rising to $1 million
But it is not all one-sided.
There is an Animal Care Review Board that hears appeals from individuals whose animals have been seized or who have been issued orders.
The Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (OSPCA) had been enforcing animal protection laws in Ontario since 1919 but it withdrew from the arrangement in June because of inadequate funding.
As far as I am concerned, this was a fortuitous move since as the OSPCA is a civilian agency, it did not have the power of enforcement the province can exercise.
The province is even going so far as to increase the number of inspectors from 60 to 100 and provide extra training for Crown attorneys prosecuting cases of neglect and mistreatment.
“Hopefully we will have a higher conviction rate,” Jones said prior to tabling the new act.
The extra training for Crowns was hailed as a “breakthrough in Ontario for animal welfare” by Barbara Cartwright, chief executive of Humane Canada, representing humane societies and societies for the protection of cruelty to animals.
Former Ward 3 Coun. Judy Hupponen, who pushed unsuccessfully for a total ban on zoos in Sault Ste. Marie and also supported the city’s new Animal Care and Control Bylaw, said she “was pleased to see the Ontario Government finally introduce legislation which could lead to improved protection for our family pets as well as animals in zoos and aquariums.
“Up to now, there has been no animal welfare protection under provincial statute. It was up to the municipalities to implement animals care and control by-laws under the umbrella of the OSPCA.”
She said it was her hope that other municipalities would use the Sault’s by-law as a template for their own.
“However, the new PAWS Act will provide a uniform and consistent coverage across Ontario,” she said.
Now for my take and the tweaks I mentioned up top.
Where the Act says it is an offence “to train or permit animals to fight other animals; to own or possess equipment or structures used in animal fighting,” I would include fowl. I have not heard of cockfighting in this country but I think it might as well be addressed now as a preventive measure.
In regard to the penalties for training or permitting animals or fowl to fight others of their species, I would increase the two-year maximum jail sentence proposed in the Act to five years.
After all, there is a distinct possibility anyone receiving the maximum sentence can be back on the street in eight months. That is not near enough.
I hark back to the 23-month sentence, part of it for lying to the court, National Football League star Michael Vick received in 2007 for his role in running a dog-fighting ring. It definitely was not near enough.
Beyond the fighting forced on the dogs, he was directly involved in the torture of them outside the ring. He participated in the hanging of some dogs who didn’t perform well in the ring and the drowning of others, holding their heads down in a bucket of water.
When he was caught and the dogs were freed, it was years before some of the distressed animals could accept freely the kindness being offered by their new caring owners.
They didn’t know what a toy was. They didn’t know what a treat was. They didn’t know what kindness was. They had to be taught about all these things and slowly convinced that when a person came into their kennel bad things weren’t going to happen.
I think you can see why I want a heavier maximum penalty of at least five years contained in the Act..
But the proposed legislation certainly is welcomed as it is much better than what we have had.