Two disturbing pieces of proposed legislation, one in Ontario, the other in B.C., appear to be aimed at reducing the powers of SPCA constables to protect animals.
In B.C., Bill 24 would see responsibility for hearing the appeals of individuals whose animals have been seized because of distress, move from the B.C. Supreme Court to the BC Farm Industry Review Board (BC FIRB). This would include both farm and companion animals. The proposal has caused widespread consternation, with the BC SPCA arguing that it would result in cases taking longer to resolve. The society has expressed “deep concerns that, based on the recorded history of BC FIRB decisions, the earliest that appeals will be heard is six months and in many cases, it may take much longer.” Consequently, the BC SPCA has called on the public to oppose the bill.
VHS agrees with the BC SPCA’s position. VHS board director Rebeka Breder, a lawyer specializing in animal law, told the Georgia Straight: “The bottom line is that this does not help animals in any way or further the protection or welfare of animals in British Columbia. If anything, I find that it impedes it.”
Meanwhile, in Ontario, Bill 47 is proposing to give the province’s agriculture ministry the power to enforce farm animal welfare instead of the OSPCA. The society says the bill “would cause Ontario to hold the worst Animal Welfare legislation in Canada.”
It is an odd coincidence that two pieces of provincial legislation are proposing to strip powers from the courts or SPCAs (whose sole purpose is to protect animals) and hand them over to provincial agriculture bodies. The current membership of the BC FIRB includes farmers but no one with specialist experience in animal welfare (let alone companion animals). The Ontario ministry of agriculture’s vision statement is for “Thriving rural Ontario, agriculture, and food sectors”, while the OSPCA’s vision highlights “making a measurable difference for animals.” It would no doubt suit the agriculture industry to have bodies whose focus is not animal welfare overseeing the treatment of livestock instead of professional animal welfare investigators.
In the United States, powerful lobbyists for the agriculture industry have succeeded in convincing legislators in Iowa to outlaw investigations of farm animal cruelty by animal advocates working undercover as employees. Several other states are considering such “Ag-gag” laws. Such proposals have yet to emerge in Canada, but it is clear that public concern over factory farms and animal welfare has alarmed the intensive agriculture industry.
Animal advocates should be vigilant and ensure that the legislative moves in B.C. and Ontario do not allow Canada’s Big Ag to keep its treatment of farm animals away from the scrutiny of animal cruelty investigators and a concerned public.