Ontario reforms provincial animal cruelty laws

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Stricter enforcement of animal cruelty laws has been a long time coming in Ontario.

On March 1 the new Provincial Animal Welfare Act took effect, bringing Ontario to a standard of animal cruelty laws recognized across Canada, explained Kristin Williams, public relations manager for the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

“[The former Act] was in dire need of being amended,” she added.

Mike Zimmerman, program manager for animal welfare with the Ontario Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services, agreed.

“There hadn’t been a comprehensive set of revisions since 1919 when the PAW Act was first created,” he said.

One of the key amendments to the Act makes causing distress to all animals a provincial offence.

“The only provincial offence under the previous Act was [animal cruelty] with respect to keeping dogs and cats for breeding or sale. It didn’t apply to all animals in all circumstances,” Williams said.

Under the old standard, there was significant opportunity for violators to escape legal action, added Judy Foster, executive director of the London Humane Society.

“One of the challenges with the former Act was it was based on encouraging compliance or correction of behaviour,” she said.

“Obviously, in some of these situations we were fighting an uphill battle, investing [large] amounts of time encouraging compliance yet many animals were harmed and some lost their lives.”

Under the new PAW Act, anyone who causes distress to animals or fails to provide what is necessary for life can face a fine of up to $60,000 and up to two years in jail, Williams said.

Foster is hopeful the amendments will benefit animals.

“We are hoping [the new Act] is going to have a significant impact,” she said.

The revised PAW Act puts Ontario at least on par with all other provinces, if not surpassing them, Zimmerman explained.

“There are some areas in which we are ahead of the pack. We are the only province that has a separate offence for harming law enforcement animals,” he said.

“We also have a very comprehensive anti-animal fighting offence where it is illegal to train animals to fight or to own any animal fighting equipment.”

Over the next few months enforcement officers will be trained and familiarized with new protocols, Williams said.

She also noted this is a good opportunity to educate the public about the new standards.

“Any animal owner should become aware of these new rules,” Zimmerman said.

He explained there are some exceptions to the new, more strictly enforced laws, with rules being different for animals used for agriculture, hunting/fishing and veterinary practices.

“These are specific activities that are the exceptions, not the animals.”

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