Who are Ontario’s new animal welfare officers?

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There are 100 inspectors and many are former OSPCA officers

Nelson Zandbergen
Farmers Forum

ONTARIO — When the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals pulled out of animal welfare law enforcement in 2019, the Ford government replaced the sometimes controversial private organization with a new provincial entity. The Provincial Animal Welfare Services (PAWS) officially took over the task on January 1, 2020 and hired many former OSPCA officers.

The new team had few run-ins with real farms. One exception is Peterborough cattle farmer Walter Ray’s recent appeal to the Animal Care Review Board after animal police removed half of his herd – without alleging animal neglect – causing the death of two cows in the process. Ray’s predicament is considered PAWS’ first action on a beef farm.

The new wildlife police service includes a force of 100 unarmed inspectors recognized as peace officers for the purposes of law enforcement.

Tom Black, former president of the Ontario Landowners Association with a long OSPCA background, said he understands most inspectors come from OSPCA. “We were told that, and we actually recognize their names,” Black said. An inspector giving evidence in the recent Peterborough case said he was previously employed by the OSPCA.

“They ended up getting paid by the government,” Black said, adding, “but now they have control.”
Black said PAWS needs a few years of operation before its performance can be assessed. But “it seems to be more fluid,” he offered. “We don’t get calls like we used to.”

Each PAWS inspector completes “approximately 290 hours of basic training which includes extensive job shadowing to provide hands-on learning prior to appointment,” said Brent Ross, spokesman for the Department of the Solicitor General, the Cabinet Portfolio responsible. police force in Ontario. “Farming-related training happens throughout,” Ross added in email correspondence with Farmers Forum.

Inspectors are “trained in livestock health and welfare and industry standards,” he said. “(PAWS) uses the National Farm Animal Care Council Codes of Practice as a guideline for animal welfare enforcement relating to farm animals. Where appropriate or necessary, animal welfare inspectors work directly with commodity groups and conduct outreach and education on best practices in animal care.

Some inspectors also specialize in agricultural affairs, he said.

Under their “inspection powers,” PAWS officials can enter a property to conduct an inspection without a warrant, according to Ross. However, they must apply for search warrants to gain access to the units, unless authorized by the landlord.

Warrantless entry authority is subject to a time limit of 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on a business day or any other time the place is open to the public.

During the inspection, an inspector may enter any location to determine compliance with animal care standards. The inspector may be accompanied by a veterinarian or any other person the inspector deems advisable.

Ross pointed out that an inspection will typically include a representative from a commodity group that represents the interests of the farmer.

“Inspectors are continually learning and training to keep abreast of new issues, trends and priorities. Examples include preparing for emerging concerns (e.g. African swine fever) and mandatory training on Indigenous cultural considerations, anti-racism, diversity and inclusion,” he said.

Ross declined to say how many PAWS inspectors are former inspectors from the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

The OSPCA, a private charity, relinquished its previous role after a judge struck down its enforcement powers as a Charter violation in early 2019 – although that decision was overturned on appeal more later the same year.

The PAWS Act provides the toughest penalties in Canada for offenders, Horse Sport magazine reported. Fines can range up to $130,000 for a first-time offender, up to $500,000 for a first-time corporate offender, and a possible lifetime ban on owning animals.

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