The Provincial Animal Welfare Services Act is now law

By MPP Toby Barrett

Last spring the Ontario Government introduced temporary measures to ensure the welfare of animals, after the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals announced it was withdrawing enforcement. Temporary measures were necessary while the province worked with animal welfare stakeholders to develop a new provincial enforcement model.

We have now passed the Provincial Animal Welfare Services Act – also known as PAWS.

Ontario is the first province in Canada to introduce a provincially-operated enforcement system that will include locally deployed provincial inspectors, and specialized inspectors for zoos, aquariums, horses and other livestock.

The public demands tough enforcement to ensure the welfare of our animals. This new oversight framework will be accountable and transparent and will introduce the strongest penalties in Canada for offenders.

Under this made-in-Ontario model, the province will have: the highest degree of direct provincial oversight and direct accountability and transparency for animal welfare enforcement and investigation; it will have flexibility to rapidly respond to operational uncertainties, such as a surge in call volume; and it will have stable funding set by the province.

Provincial inspectors will have the authority to conduct investigations and perform enforcement activities related farm livestock. Inspectors will have the expertise required to perform this work through extensive training, while also having the option to consult veterinarians and industry experts, if required. As a further measure of oversight, we will be keeping the Animal Care Review Board in place and there will be on-going consultation with the agriculture sector to develop and maintain agriculture-specific standards of care.

Our new law will provide inspectors with the specific powers they need to carry out their duties rather than the broad, police-like powers that were provided under the OSPCA Act. A mandatory code of conduct for the chief animal welfare inspector and animal welfare inspectors will be established. Under the Provincial Animal Welfare Act, a one-window public complaints process to review any complaints submitted by the public on an animal welfare inspector’s conduct will be developed.

We have also strengthened provisions related to harming an animal that works with a peace office, or service animal.

To date I have received favourable feedback on the PAWS approach to be desirable. During committee hearings, Keith Currie from the Ontario Federation of Agriculture said, “This bill is a step in the right direction.” Mike Zimmerman from Animal Welfare Watch Ontario said, “This bill is the best law in Canada, possibly North America, and maybe the best in the world.”

Earlier this year, our government set up a call centre. It is a toll-free line for the public to report an animal in distress or animal abuse. Call 1-833-9ANIMAL.

Enforcement is now the responsibility of the province. As stakeholders indicated, vigorous training and oversight is imperative for the efficacy of inspectors. The chief animal welfare inspector – appointed by Ontario’s Solicitor General – and the provincial inspectors are subject to oversight by the Auditor General, the Ombudsman, and the Information and Privacy Commissioner.

PAWS is the first step to a permanent enforcement model, a detailed oversight framework, and a modernized legislative framework. For development of future long-term regulations, the Ontario government will be setting up a multidisciplinary advisory table made up of a wide range of experts including veterinarians, agricultural representatives, academics, animal advocates and others to provide ongoing advice to the ministry.

Toby Barrett is MPP for Haldimand-Norfolk