By Emma Grégory
For 126 years, the BC Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has worked to protect the province’s creatures, from pets and wildlife to farm animals.
Now, feeling caught between the unwanted attention of animal rights vigilantes and its own suspicion that some farmers are ignoring animal welfare rules, the BC SPCA wants the provincial government to take responsibility for ensuring that animal welfare laws are observed on farmland.
In this three-part special series for Black Press Media, we’ll talk to the players involved, including farmers, animal rights activists and the BC SPCA, to present the various animal welfare interests and discuss the plans. different stakeholders..
British Columbia has some of the toughest penalties for animal abuse in the country; however, the SPCA will only investigate if a complaint is filed. Following accusations by activists that the BC SPCA does not protect farm animals, BC SPCA CEO Craig Daniell wrote a letter to the BC Ministry of Agriculture last fall. , calling for change.
“The BC SPCA, as a donor-funded organization, does not have the capacity to regulate the over 6,000 commercial farms in British Columbia, nor does it wish to be involved in such an endeavor … Daniell wrote in the November 5, 2020 letter, obtained through an access to information request.
Daniell notes that in addition to the SPCA’s skepticism about complying with farm animal protection laws, it is beyond the ability of the 37 BC SPCA officers to enforce these laws. Plus, he writes, enforcement alone is not how an industry should be regulated.
It refers to a specific and high-profile complaint filed in 2019 by an animal rights organization. It was submitted with video footage “appearing to portray the unacceptable treatment of animals” obtained through a series of unauthorized shipments to a pig farm in Abbotsford by animal rights activists. The hour-long video shows a lot of things, including a worker and a child encouraging piglets to move by kicking them, electric cattle pushing in the face, and a teenage castrating piglets and cutting off their tails, without any apparent pain relief.
(Farms are required by law to provide pain relievers or pain relievers to piglets when they are neutered).
The BC SPCA investigated the complaint by making an appointment after receiving the owner’s consent. SPCA investigators observed no violations of the code.
When asked if planned inspections provide an accurate account of what happens in situations of alleged abuse, Marcie Moriarty, BC SPCA’s Prevention and Enforcement Manager, responded. : ” Absolutely not. Clearly, a planned visit is not ideal. So there are situations where we are able to make an unscheduled visit, but it depends on the particular circumstances. “
When deciding whether or not to prosecute an alleged offense, the Crown must consider a number of factors, including the admissibility of the evidence. In the Abbotsford incident, no charges were laid against the farmers, but four members of the militant group Meat the Victims were charged with breaking and entering and mischief.
As a result, Daniell wrote, two SPCA locations were picketed by activist supporters, and its employees were “subjected to unacceptable personal attacks on social media …”
Daniell also noted that the nonprofit subsequently “lost the financial support of a number of long-standing donors, who now believe the Society is not doing enough for farm animals.” .
Despite the loss of some donors, the BC SPCA received $ 21,369,000 in donations for its last fiscal year (October 1, 2019 to September 30, 2020) – nearly double the previous year, according to the SPCA website – in addition to approximately $ 3.4 million in government funding for pandemic-related expenses. The SPCA spent $ 38.5 million in 2020, with a net surplus of $ 2.4 million.
“While we cannot confirm the veracity of the claims made on the (Abbotsford) video,” Daniell writes, “we are extremely concerned about a trend that we are seeing developing, which is that verification programs run by the industry fail to achieve a level of public accountability and trust, and that what is needed is government-mandated regulation and oversight, perhaps through a third-party verification program that provides the necessary assurance to British Columbians that farm animals raised for commercial purposes are raised in accordance with industry-supported codes of practice.
While the BC SPCA supports its choice not to prosecute the allegations against the farm, Moriarty said there was an increased need for transparency and reporting.
“If these videos keep showing up, whether taken illegally or not, or if you can go to court, that’s one thing. It should give people in government and people responsible in the industry pause to say that there is a problem here. “
Asked about the SPCA’s concern that animal welfare laws are not being enforced on farms, Agriculture Minister Lana Popham declined an interview. The ministry’s communications department responded, “The vast majority of British Columbians and BC farmers are dedicated to treating their animals well and ensuring they are kept healthy and in good condition.
In addition to its government mandate to enforce animal cruelty laws, the BC SPCA has other roles. Since 2009, in collaboration with the livestock industries, individually managed SPCAs across the country have contributed to the development of the National Farm Animal Care Council codes of practice. They describe the appropriate welfare standards for the management of farm animals and are confirmed by the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act of British Columbia.
Asked about his experience working with the SPCA, BC Pork Producers Association President Jack DeWit said, “I think in general they haven’t run across the country criticizing producers. I think they expect us to be part of the code, and if they are involved in the development of the code and it is approved, then they have to support it.
The industry has come a long way towards implementing codes of practice, DeWit said.
“… In the areas where the pigs are castrated, we use anesthetics… There has just been a lot of animal welfare things that are done in a more humane way, maybe than in the past, to control the pain.
DeWit says the back-lot producers – those who are not members of the trade association – “generally create problems for the pork industry.”
“Animal abuse is bad, I think. As a producer it’s horrible, and I think audiences hearing about it is not good. And… activism is inappropriate, I think. Just because someone has an opinion. We all have the right to protest, but some of their actions go way too far and the courts will decide. “
PART 2: We take a look at the different legal protections for pets versus farm animals, and an egg farmer and vets discuss changes to animal welfare.
Emma Gregory is a graduate of the Langara Journalism Program, which partners with Black Press Media to create special project opportunities for new journalists.
Would you like to support local journalism? Make a donation here.