Sunny Reuter’s Story
I became interested in provincial animal legislation after the OSPCA seized and killed our dog Arko while my daughter and I were on vacation in August 2003. I’m here today to share my hope for an accountable, transparent and sustainable animal welfare system in Ontario, one in which the Ontario SPCA, government, industry and animal owners all work together. In order to get there, some difficult truths must be acknowledged.
The issue of OSPCA accountability and transparency: The OSPCA was founded 135 years ago, on July 4, 1873. Fourteen years later, in 1887, the Ontario Board of Police Commissioners appointed a full-time police officer to deal with the issue of animal cruelty. In 1919, legislation granted the OSPCA the right to investigate cases of animal cruelty. No provision for accountability or transparency was made.
In 1955, legislation gave the OSPCA the power to enter property, carry out investigations and remove animals. Again, no provision for accountability or transparency was made. And in spite of much greater expense to the OSPCA, no provision by the government for long-term stable funding was made. The Ontario SPCA was left with the responsibility to solicit donations to exercise their provincial mandate.
That this model was flawed became apparent in the late 1980s. Ontario Federation of Agriculture President Brigid Pyke approached David Ramsay, the agriculture minister, in 1989, asking that police powers be removed from the Ontario SPCA. Since then, confrontations between the OSPCA and animal owners have been numerous and bitter.
Legal action naming the Ontario SPCA is increasing in number and severity. In several recent cases, the Ontario SPCA has negotiated confidential settlements. The province has given 7.5 million taxpayer dollars to the OSPCA within the last two years. This is a private charity that is not subject to freedom of information.
In spring of 2006, 29 out of 36 OSPCA directors publicly resigned, asking the Premier to remove police powers and investigate spending. Terry Whiting from the Office of the Chief Veterinarian, Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives, writes in the Canadian Veterinary Medical Journal, November 2006, “Private funding of policing activities poses challenges to credibility and maintenance of a just and transparent enforcement process. Animal welfare policing services should be provided as a professional public service and not linked with self-funding initiatives.” In a publicly funded enforcement model such as that in place in Manitoba, animal protection officers have similar powers. However, appeals of actions of officers are made directly to an elected official, the Minister of Agriculture.
Bill 50 more than blatantly ignores significant repeated requests for OSPCA accountability and transparency; it seeks to grant even greater police powers, including the right to warrantless entry. The Ontario SPCA is officially recognized, mandated, empowered, and recently significantly funded by the province. It has all the characteristics of a provincial governmental organization. I’m asking the committee today to consider recommending reclassification of the Ontario SPCA from a charity to a provincial governmental organization. That would then ensure it falls under the jurisdiction of the Ontario Ombudsman and make it subject to freedom of information, which would begin to address accountability and transparency issues.
The issue of advocacy and enforcement in the same hands: The OSPCA website states that the society’s programs and services include “cruelty investigations” and “government and industry advocacy.” The question is, should advocates be enforcing legislation? Who decides “adequate” food and water, “adequate” shelter? Who is the ultimate authority? Ontario SPCA inspectors, most of whom are not familiar with animal husbandry standards and practices, are legislated as the ultimate authority.
The Ontario SPCA considers itself to be at the forefront of animal welfare. It openly advocates the abolishment of certain farming practices. It also is openly associated with animal rights/anti-captivity organizations. Should the Ontario SPCA be the ultimate authority to interpret and enforce Ontario’s animal welfare legislation?
I’m asking the committee to recommend that detailed standards of animal care be put in place before Bill 50 becomes law. Not doing so would be like mandating Mothers Against Drunk Driving to autonomously enforce the Highway Traffic Act with all the speed limit signs removed. Citizens of Ontario have the right to know exactly what is expected of them.
Nowhere to turn: In 2003, OSPCA Chief Inspector Mike Draper stated, “You are guilty until proven innocent.” I asked the Ontario SPCA vet for permission to see my dog one last time and take home his collar. I was told, “He is evidence, and you are a suspect in a criminal investigation.” I was repeatedly threatened with criminal charges. None were laid. The OSPCA did lay 10 charges against the kennel owner, all of which were dropped mid-trial without explanation, apology or compensation. I felt I was in a nightmare. “Who is this OSPCA and where did they get their power? To whom are they accountable?” I was determined to understand. I wrote to Minister Kwinter. His office advised that the day-to-day dealings of the Ontario SPCA were not under the care of the ministry. The Ombudsman said he had no jurisdiction. I had been made clearly aware of the OSPCA’s mindset and power, and the media only sang the OSPCA’s praises. Where to turn?
In November 2003, I stumbled across a story in Better Farming magazine, “The Limping Pig.” Jack, a large black boar born with a limp, was shot in his pen because the OSPCA assumed he had been abused. The farmer was criminally charged. Those charges were dropped pre-trial. Since that time, I have come across court documents and stories like this proving that accountability is a serious issue.
A Dutch warmblood horse, born with short tendons and a stiff gait, was also killed for the same reason. After the Ontario SPCA left, the farmer mounted a video camera on a ladder and filmed himself cutting the legs off the dead horse. He wrapped them and placed them in his freezer for analysis by the Ontario Veterinary College. The farmer knew this was the only way he could hope to prove his innocence. Charges were laid and later dropped without explanation, apology or restitution.
Another family had 87 animals seized on a first visit. The father suffered a heart attack immediately thereafter. The animals were ordered returned to the farm by the Animal Care Review Board. The family could not afford to pay OSPCA seizure costs. Criminal charges were laid. The farmer states he pled guilty to a single charge of a dirty budgie cage. The Ontario SPCA is currently suing this family civilly.
Recently the OSPCA seized horses near Minister Bartolucci’s home riding. The farmer attempted suicide. An old sheep farmer came home from shopping to find notices of abandonment on his property. He was intimidated into surrendering his sheep the next day.
There are court rulings with significant charter violations by OSPCA inspectors. Two successfully moved forward. These painful stories must no longer be ignored by the OSPCA or the government. Only transparency and accountability will ensure Ontario’s animal welfare system flourishes under Bill 50.
In closing, I have had the privilege of meeting with the OSPCA recently and sincerely hope my speaking here today does not close this door. Ontario SPCA CEO Kate MacDonald and chief inspector Hugh Coghill exhibited great trust and candour. The province has chosen a private charity, the Ontario SPCA, to be the cornerstone of Ontario’s animal welfare system.
I have also had the privilege of meeting with both Minister Kwinter and Minister Bartolucci and his staff to discuss the need for legislatively enshrined accountability for the Ontario SPCA. I would like to acknowledge respectfully the amount of work and good intentions that went into drafting Bill 50. Animal welfare is a political minefield, with differing opinions and strong-willed participants at every turn. I commend the minister and his staff.
Five years ago, I resolved to one day stand in the Legislature and tell my story. I resolved to put my efforts towards changing the provincial animal act to legislatively enshrine OSPCA accountability and transparency. I thank you for this opportunity.