Ontario SPCA also quits investigating cockfighting, farmed animal, & horse-related cases
TORONTO, Ontario––Paid $5.75 million per year by the Ontario government to enforce animal-related legislation, the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has unilaterally––and without public announcement or prior disclosure to the government––opted out of enforcing laws including the 2006 provincial ban on possession of pit bulls, laws prohibiting animal fighting, and cruelty cases involving horses and livestock.
At issue, in part, is that impounding contraband pit bulls in alleged connection with dogfighting, and impounding gamecocks in alleged connection with cockfighting, could lead to the Ontario SPCA being legally obliged to euthanize some or all of the animals.
“Euthanizing dogs would violate mission”
The Ontario SPCA, formed in 1873, has had the leading role in animal-related law enforcement in Ontario for 145 years.
The unilateral Ontario SPCA decision to selectively opt out of enforcing laws it disagrees with, or simply finds economically inconvenient to enforce, illustrates many of the reasons why cities, counties, states, and provinces are moving away from the traditional reliance upon nonprofit animal advocacy organizations to do animal-related law enforcement.
An internal memo obtained by Canadian Press, dated October 9, 2018, “says euthanizing dogs would violate the agency’s mission, which is to provide ‘province-wide leadership on matters relating to the prevention of cruelty to animals and the promotion of animal welfare,” CP reported.
“News to the provincial government”
“Where legislation conflicts with the mission of the charity,” the memo continued, “the Ontario SPCA declines to enforce such legislation.”
Elaborated Ontario SPCA senior director for marketing and communications Alison Cross, “If it conflicts with our mission, we’ll hand it to another agency to address.”
“Those changes were news to the provincial government,” Canadian Press continued, in a December 4, 2018 exposé.
Responded Ministry of Community Safety & Correctional Services spokesperson Brent Ross, “The laws of Ontario and Canada provide that in certain circumstances a court may order that an animal be euthanized.”
Ontario expects Ontario SPCA to observe court orders
Ross told Canadian Press that the Ministry of Community Safety & Correctional Services, which oversees the provincial contract with Ontario SPCA, “expects the Ontario SPCA to comply with a court order that requires an animal be euthanized,” CP summarized.
But Ross acknowledged that the Ontario SPCA has the right, under the contract, to defer to police in investigating potentially criminal matters.
The Ontario SPCA memo, which Canadian Press said “was handed over to [Ontario SPCA] enforcement officers at two meetings held in late October 2018 at the agency’s headquarters in Stouffville, Ontario, informed the officers that they could take action leading to euthanasia only in cases where euthanasia ordered by a veterinarian is “the most humane course of action for the animal.”
Gamecocks, livestock & horses
Impounded pit bulls, Canadian Press summarized, “will be moved out of province where it is legal to own them, rather than being destroyed.”
The Ontario SPCA “has also ordered its officers to defy a Criminal Code law that states birds found in a cockfighting ring shall be destroyed on order from a judge,” Canadian Press said.
The changes, “including the decision to pull back from investigating cruelty cases involving livestock and horses,” Canadian Press explained, “are part of what the Ontario SPCA calls a restructuring effort to deal with a years-long funding shortage.”
Bad publicity for 2015 dogfighting bust
Ontario SPCA law enforcement personnel and other “insiders” interviewed but not identified by Canadian Press said the withdrawal from responding to animal fighting cases was partly in response to “bad publicity the agency received” in connection with an October 2015 raid on an alleged dogfighting compound in Tilbury, Ontario, in which Ontario SPCA personnel accompanied Chatham-Kent police officers.
The raid seized alleged dogfighting paraphernalia, illegal drugs, documentation of dogfighting activity, and 31 pit bulls.
The Ontario SPCA “applied to the courts, as required by law, to euthanize 21 of the seized pit bulls, who were deemed a menace to society and could not be rehabilitated,” Canadian Press summarized. “The case fell apart because it took too long to get to trial, with the judge staying charges against the accused,” while saving the pit bulls became an international cause celebré.
An organization called Dog Tales eventually transported 18 of the 21 pit bulls to a Florida facility called Dogs Playing for Life.
Only one person, Robert Tomlin, then 33, is known to have been convicted in connection with the case. Tomlin in August 2017 plea-bargained a sentence of four months under house arrest, 24 months on probation, and a lifetime ban on owning animals, plus a $200 victim fine surcharge, according to Liam Casey of Canadian Press.
Failed dairy farmer prosecution
The Ontario SPCA ran into an even more prolonged fiasco in a 2011 attempt to prosecute former dairy farmers David and Marilyn Robinson, of Chesterville, Ontario, for alleged neglect.
“The charges against [David] Robinson arose in 2011 because he had older cows in his yard, including a 17-year-old,” wrote Patrick Meagher for Farmers Forum in 2016, three years after the Ontario SPCA dropped all 13 counts filed against him.
Fighting the case, however, nearly bankrupted the Robinsons, who were not successful in attempts to counter-sue.
A Perth, Ontario dairy farmer named Kenneth Hunter had a similar experience in 2014, Meagher recounted.
“Visit from Ontario SPCA is nuisance tax”
“In that case,” Meagher wrote, “Justice L. Ratushny dropped the charges because of too many delays. But the justice ruled that Hunter could not sue the Ontario SPCA to cover his legal fees of almost $12,000. The justice argued that the Crown needed to be ‘unfettered by the fear of future liability,’ particularly when there is ‘no finding of an abuse of power and no finding of bad faith or other severe misconduct by the OSPCA.’
“Other farms have been visited by the Ontario SPCA and many quietly agreed to the least expensive option,” charged Meagher. “They settled out of court, agreed to plead guilty to one charge, and paid the fine to avoid a litany of charges, a court case, expensive legal fees, a mountain of anxiety, and possibly public humiliation. For some farmers, a visit from the OSPCA has just become another nuisance tax.”
True or not, the position of the Ontario SPCA as an animal advocacy organization, reliant on public donations, with pro-vegan programs and policies, has eroded confidence within the animal use sector that it is capable of fairly and impartially enforcing humane laws.
Failed Marineland prosecution
The Ontario SPCA appears to have lost the confidence of at least some of the judiciary, too. In November 2016 and January 2017, for instance, the Ontario SPCA filed 11 cruelty charges against Marineland of Niagara, Ontario, a longtime target of activist protest.
“The charges the Ontario SPCA filed stemmed from a complaint submitted to them by the Los Angeles-based group Last Chance For Animals, which in 2015 obtained hidden-camera footage of the park by a group member hired as a summer employee,” wrote Niagara Falls Review reporter John Law.
That meant the documentation was already close to 18 months old before the first charges were laid.
All 11 of the well-publicized charges had been dropped by mid-August 2017, while Marineland countersued, claiming “reputational damage at the hands of the OSPCA’s publicity and fundraising machine.”
Clashes with Ottawa & Toronto humane societies
The Ontario SPCA has also had prominent conflicts with other major Ontario humane societies, having stripped the Ottawa Humane Society of law enforcement jurisdiction for a time in 2016, after waging a multi-year court battle with the Toronto Humane Society in 2009-2010 over alleged criminal neglect of animals in the THS shelter.
All charges against former Toronto Humane Society president Tim Trow and seven other former Toronto Humane Society personnel were dropped in August 2010 due to what Ontario crown attorney Christine McGoey “several serious breaches” of the Canadian Charter of Rights & Freedoms in obtaining and using search warrants, sufficient to render inadmissible all evidence collected.
SPCA resistance to Quebec pit bull bans
The Ontario SPCA resistance to enforcing the Ontario pit bull ban echoes the tactics that the SPCA Laurentides-Labelle used in 2015 to oblige the city of Ste. Adèle, Quebec to drop an 18-year-old local pit bull ban as a condition of the SPCA continuing to provide animal control kenneling service.
The Montreal SPCA in 2016 told nine Montreal boroughs and three island suburbs also located on the island of Montreal that it would stop providing animal control dog housing service if they enacted pit bull bans. The city of Montreal banned pit bulls anyway, but rescinded the ban before it took effect, after the November 2017 election of a new pro-pit bull mayor, Valerie Plante.
(Plante however, urged in November 2018 that a “rescue” pit bull who in August 2018 injured four children and two adults should be euthanized, despite activist opposition to the euthanasia.)
Pound contracts differ from doing law enforcement
The Yakima Humane Society, of Yakima, Washington, in September 2018 likewise won repeal of a pit bull ban, in effect since 1987, after threatening to cease providing animal control sheltering service to the city.
But refusing to accept public contracts for providing services that are at least potentially also available from veterinarians, boarding kennels, and other nonprofit agencies is a very different matter from accepting constabulary law enforcement authority, then refusing to enforce some of the laws an agency is sworn to uphold.
This, until recently, was practically unheard of.
Constabulary law enforcement
The constabulary model for animal-related law enforcement was introduced by American SPCA founder Henry Bergh in New York City in 1866, and was soon emulated throughout the U.S. and Canada.
Under legislation drafted and advanced by Bergh, nonprofit organizations incorporated as an “SPCA” could obtain state charters to appoint constables to enforce anti-cruelty laws within their home county, just as any legally incorporated city, county, or township could obtain a charter to appoint constables to enforce laws within the community.
From the 19th century until the mid-20th century, when the original definitions began to break down through imprecise popular useage, the term “SPCA” specifically meant an organization exercising limited law enforcement authority, as distinct from a “humane society,” whose mission centered on advancing “moral education,” including the message “be kind to animals.”
SPCAs rarely ran animal shelters
Neither SPCAs nor humane societies commonly operated animal shelters until the early 20th century. Some humane societies, already operating orphanages, took over managing public dog pounds as a way to employ the youths in their custody, teach them job skills, and help to fund their operations.
Because the mission of an SPCA was specifically to do law enforcement, not to provide animal care, sheltering animals was usually subcontracted to a humane society.
The American SPCA, for instance, did not operate a shelter until after Bergh died in 1888. Giving up the New York City animal control contract in 1994, in order to become perceived at least, as a “no-kill” organization, the ASPCA continued to investigate and prosecute cruelty and neglect cases until 2014.
Constabulary law enforcement fades out
The Massachusetts SPCA, founded in 1868 specifically to do law enforcement, voluntarily relinquished law enforcement authority in 2013.
The New Jersey SPCA, after a series of management scandals, was legislatively stripped of law enforcement authority in 2017.
Many other older SPCAs continue to do constabulary law enforcement, but their numbers are dwindling. One reason why is the reluctance of nonprofit organizations to enforce controversial laws and to be known for euthanizing animals, while trying to raise funds from the public.
Oregon Humane Society
Another reason for abandoning constabulary law enforcement is the difficulty that organizations actively engaged in advocacy have in presenting themselves in court as impartial law enforcement agents.
The Oregon Humane Society, 150 years old on November 17, 2018, may be next to give up constabulary law enforcement, depending on the outcome of an Oregon State Police investigation of OHS law enforcement procedures.
The Oregon State Police ordered the last Oregon Humane Society special agent to surrender law enforcement credentials, effective on August 31, 2018, while an investigation proceeds into allegations by three former OHS special agents that proper police protocols have not been observed in a variety of areas, including maintaining secure chains of possession of impounded evidence.