TORONTO––A Divisional Court ruling by Justice Edward Saunders is expected soon as to whether the Toronto Humane Society must release to the public copies of the pound contract it holds with the City of Toronto.
Claiming a need to protect the security of animals and staff, THS has appealed a December 29, 1995 order from Tom Mitchinson, assistant commissioner of the Information and Privacy Commission of Ontario, to release both the current contract, signed in 1995, and the contract that preceded it, signed in 1985, with an automatic annual renewal clause that will expire on July 31.
The Toronto City Council on March 5 authorized the negotiation of another one-year renewal, over the objection of Councillor Pamela McConnell, who held the THS board seat reserved for the City Council from November 30, 1994 to February 7 of this year.
“I cannot continue to serve a board that operates under a veil of secrecy,” McConnell said in her resignation statement. “All documents pertaining to the society, of whatever significance, are marked confidential.”
McConnell alleged specifically that, “In requesting information about a law suit in which the society was engaged,” against former staffer Holly Penfound, now on the staff of fellow Toronto councillor John Tabuns, “my questions were met with hostility and the closure of discussion.”
Further, McConnell charged, “My items have failed to appear on agendas; minutes I corrected never appeared in corrected form; letters I have tabled were not circulated to board members, and my request in December for a list of the addresses of my fellow board members was not provided. Perhaps of most consequence,” McConnell concluded, “Financial reports have been vague. When I have requested more financial detail, I was refused the information and was censured for requesting the information at all.”
McConnell also received two letters dated September 15, 1995, from attorney Howard Levitt on behalf of THS. According to Levitt, “various of your fellow board members were extremely disturbed that McConnell in their view appeared to threaten them to the effect that if they did not withdraw the society’s lawsuit against Penfound, they would lose the support of Councillor Tabuns and other Councillors both at the next round of contract negotiations,” and in other dealings between the society and Toronto city council.
Added Levitt, “We trust you will raise Councillor Tabuns apparent conflict of interest in the event that he attempts to participate in future debates or voting regarding the Toronto Humane Society.”
The suit against Penfound was filed two weeks after the Toronto city council defeated Tabuns July 24 motion, “That the City establish a process to ensure that the Toronto Humane Society is publicly accountable to City residents who use their services, and to establish a complaint process as a mechanism to address those concerns as they arise.”
Counsellor Tom Jacobek was appointed to the THS board to replace McConnell.
“In arguing before the privacy commission against the release of its city contract,” Toronto Globe and Mail columnist John Barber reported February 1. “THS invoked no less an authority than John Thompson, director of the Mackenzie Institute, an antiterrorism think tank located in Toronto. ‘The threat to the Toronto Humane Society is real,'” Mr. Thompson wrote in a letter to the society. “Animal welfare facilities in Europe have been attacked, and there is no reason to believe that Canadian shelters are immune.”
Added Barber, “If a reporter phones THS spokesman Jack Slibar to ask what’s happening, the prime information they receive is a fax entitled Mackenzie Intelligence Advisory: The Animal Rights Movement in Canada. Mr. Slibar is a research fellow of the Mackenzie Institute, begun in 1986 by 1978 British immigrant Maurice Tugwell.
“In most every other city,” wrote Barber on February 22, “the pound is pretty basic stuff. In Toronto, it’s as political as the Irish Republican Army,” a startling charge in a city so quiet as to be nicknamed “Toronto the Good.”
Tugwell, after a stint training security forces for the late Shah of Iran, “was an active propagandist of considerable notoriety during his stint with the British army in Ireland,” reported Edward S. Herman and Gerry O Sullivan in their 1989 volume The Terrorism Industry, subtitled “The Experts and Institutions That Shape Our View of Terror.” Herman and O Sullivan cite media accounts crediting Tugwell with concocting a 1972 tabloid story about IRA members using dogs for target practice. The story covered for British troops in Belfast who killed barking dogs to facilitate quiet patrols of Catholic neighborhoods.
The Mackenzie Institute “intelligence advisory” purports to identify “hard leftists” and “a large anarchist faction” within animal rights groups. Few purported anarchists and hard leftists are named; those who are have little or no association with the named groups. Copies obtained by ANIMAL PEOPLE, dated October 1991 and January 1993, faxed from THS, differ little from one another. Their most remarkable aspect is that THS is distributing them.
The political history of THS may explain that. Four supporters of a more aggressive approach to animal protection won election to the 16-member THS board in June 1986, enabling president Vicki Miller and newly named vice president Steve Best to proceed with majority support. A month later, headlines in the Toronto Star announced their alleged radical coup.
Miller, already on the THS board for some time, was also national coordinator of Ark II, an animal rights advocacy group she founded in 1984. Later that year she made headlines with a 30-day hunger strike against Heart and Stroke Foundation funding of animal research. The strike ended with her collapse.
Best was an architect of International Fund for Animal Welfare and International Wildlife Coalition opposition to sealing.
“The fundamental change is that we no longer see ourselves as a pest control agency,” Miller told the Star. “We have the beginnings, the seed, of what could be an incredibly effective animal protection organization.”
The Miller and Best team included Toronto Star nature columnist Barry Kent MacKay, now program director for the Animal Protection Institute, and many other noted Ontario animal advocates. They fought greyhound racing, factory farming, the proposed opening of a dolphinarium in Toronto, sealing, and the fur trade. They also tried to secure themselves against a counter-takeover by reducing the board from 16 members to five.
Objected Jake McLoughlin, Miller s predecessor as president, “I don’t believe it was ever the intention of the people who founded the society to fund the more radical animal protectionists and to get involved in concerns, however legitimate, such as the fur trade or the seal hunt.”
McLoughlin and Bob Hambley, Best’s predecessor as vice president, successfully challenged the board reduction in court. They held in part that activists had packed the THS voting membership with nonresidents of the Toronto area.
Miller, meanwhile, was handicapped by chronic fatigue syndrome and the Toronto animal sheltering contract, signed by the McLoughlin/Hambley administration, which took effect on November 30, 1985. Underbidding to avoid losing the contract to laboratory animal suppliers, THS has received $726,000 per year since 1985 to handle animals impounded by Toronto Animal Control, but has operated at a cumulative loss through 1994 of $9.2 million.
Miller hoped to avoid the losses by introducing a vigorous low-cost neutering campaign. Indeed, Toronto Animal Control impoundments, counting dogs, cats, and wildlife, fell from 13,757 in 1986 to 8,210 in 1992. But the reductions were not enough to offset rising costs. THS expenditure per animal jumped from $53 in 1986 to $83 a year later, leveled off during the rest of Miller’s administration, and after her departure due to failing health, averaged $105 in 1991-1992.
The Toronto Massacre
The new programs were supposed to become self-sustaining, but start-up costs contributed to a 1987 THS deficit of $2 million, triple the 1986 deficit, followed by a deficit of $1.5 million in 1988. For 1989, the deficit was below the 1986 level but the balance of power shifted at the June 1990 board meeting, at which one heated topic of discussion was apparently a program staff effort to unionize, motivated in part by friction with executive director Kathleen Hunter, the sole management survivor of the Miller era.
Penfound, MacKay, Liz White, and Tita Zeirer were dismissed the next day. Fellow staffers Bonnie Walker and Anne Livingston resigned in protest. Miriam Hawkins was fired the next week. Cruelty investigators Rob Laidlaw and Donna Wilson and program staffer Joan Henry were dismissed in July. Antifur campaign coordinator Ainslee Willock resigned.
Losing program people cut the 1990 THS deficit to $251,215, less than half the next lowest deficit of the past 10 years.
White, Zeirer, and many of the others promptly formed the Animal Alliance of Canada, now the leading animal rights advocacy organization in Canada. Willock organized the Canadian Alliance for Furbearing Animals under the Animal Alliance umbrella. Penfound and Laidlaw founded ZooCheck Canada and Penfound sued THS for wrongful dismissal. Her case was settled out of court in May 1994, but essentially the same allegations THS made against her in 1990 were apparently raised again in the case THS filed last summer. The central issue seems to be alleged unauthorized disclosure of information about THS. Pending is Penfound’s motion for dismissal of the current case, on grounds the substance of it was already decided.
The 1990 Toronto Massacre, as it came to be known, did not in itself change the THS philosophy. In 1987 THS barred from board membership anyone working in the fur, animal research, meat, pet, and animal entertainment industries, along with people who hunt, trap, or fish, and also barred their spouses. In March 1991, with Hambley’s support, THS extended the bar to exclude such persons and their spouses from general membership and excluded, too, anyone living more than 37 miles from Toronto.
“If you want to be involved in the humane movement,” said Hambley, “you have to take a stand.”
Indigenous Survival International, formed with Canadian government support to defend the fur trade, immediately protested to the Toronto mayor’s committee on community and race relations.
“Members of the native trapping community will be ineligble to become members of THS,” charged ISI executive director David Monture, backed by briefs from the Fur Institute of Canada and the Fur Trade Association of Canada.
The mayor’s committee found in ISI’s favor, recommending revocation of the Toronto pound contract if THS failed to recant the restrictions.
Information on THS board proceedings has been scarce ever since, loosely coinciding with Slibar’s arrival. What is known is that the THS annual deficit doubled to $513,137 in 1991, rose to $1.6 million by 1993, and tapered off in 1994 at nearly $1.4 million. Animal intakes rose by nearly 2,000 from the 1991 low through 1994, but the average cost per animal fell from $110 to $85 about the same level as in 1987, despite a marked decrease in the buying power of the Canadian dollar.
Meanwhile, in June 1992, Slibar persuaded the Toronto city council to abandon an effort to enforce a virtual ban on the use of leghold traps within city limits. Slibar argued, against the view of the Animal Alliance of Canada, that new Ontario provincial regulations were sufficiently strong to deal with the matter.
THS has subsequently opposed most other proposed measures to strengthen Ontario and Canadian animal protective legislation, and is accused of circulating rumors that AAC and ZooCheck are attempting a takeover of the Ontario Humane Society, whose antifur activism was target of a 1990 analysis and counter communications strategy prepared by the Fur Institute of Canada.
Calling for an approach to silencing OHS similar to the approach taken against THS, the FIC strategy document boasted in conclusion, Negative publicity surrounding THS is now self-sustaining…This achievement has resulted from the cooperation and actions of FIC, the Aboriginal Trappers Federation of Canada, the Nishnawbe-Aski Nation, the Fur Trade Association of Ontario, Project North, Indigenous Survival International, the Canadian Wildlife Federation, the Ontario Trappers Association, the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters, Trappers International Marketing Service, the Chiefs of Ontario, the University of Toronto, and Citizens for Medical Research along with many other individuals and organizations.
(Originally published in ANIMAL PEOPLE, April 1996.)