OFA Commentary #1109
Implications of changes to SPCA Act
By Wendy Omvlee, Ontario Federation of Agriculture Executive Member
March 13, 2009 - Recent changes to the Ontario legislation that governs animal rights and people responsible for caring for animals, including farm animals, could complicate the lives of farmers.
The most troublesome change to the act allows for inspectors with the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) to inspect a farm property without a warrant. In the past, a report by someone that animals were not being treated properly on a property was needed to trigger an inspection. Not any more. Inspectors do not require a search warrant today.
The Ontario Federation of Agriculture identified a number of dangers to farmers within the legislation that was being proposed. We attended government committee hearings which lasted several days during the past summer and pointed out possible consequences of the changes. Other farm organizations such as the Ontario Farm Animal Council voiced similar concerns, but the provincial government moved forward with its changes.
Under the legislation, a person charged by an SPCA official has only a few days to appeal the charge or order. Anyone finding themselves charged under the Act is urged to seek advice from the Ontario Farm Animal Council. The people there are professionals at dealing with SPCA officials.
Farmers should co-operate with an SPCA official. While they will not have a warrant to justify their visit and demands to see inside a farm building, refusing entry will likely lead to a return visit with a police official at their side.
Any legitimate inspector, however, will be able to display photo identification, and a farmer has the right to demand to see that identification and make note of the inspector’s name.
When the province set out to re-write the legislation, it wanted to ensure it came up with the ‘gold standard’ for protecting animals. Some say it went overboard in that regard, and now farmers have no protection from frivolous complaints that prompt an inspection.
Another aspect of the new legislation that concerns OFA and all farmers is the absence of accountability for the SPCA. The revised legislation contains nothing to hold the SPCA and its inspectors accountable to any recognized standard.
As the changes were being considered, the Federal Criminal Code underwent amendments, and as a result an individual can face a criminal record for certain offences related to animal handling.
The revised legislation introduced other problems for farmers. In an effort to deal with dog and cock fighting situations, the government’s new regulations could make it a crime for a sheep farmer to protect the flock with guard dogs because technically the guard dogs cannot attack another animal threatening the sheep.
OFA will continue to work with provincial officials to protect legitimate and normal farming practices from getting caught up in the technicalities of the amended legislation.