An Ontario researcher is surveying the public on the enforcement of animal welfare laws in the province, saying the results could help inform decisions on how cruelty probes are carried out in the future.
Kendra Coulter, a professor and the chair of labour studies at Brock University, has launched the online questionnaire as part of her research into different approaches to investigating animal cruelty allegations in Ontario.
The survey comes after an Ontario judge struck down the enforcement powers of the province’s animal welfare agency last week, saying they were unconstitutional.
The judge said the provincial government erred when it gave the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals police powers without imposing accountability and transparency standards on the private charity that receives taxpayer dollars.
The court has given the province a year to fix the legislation that governs the OSPCA, pending a possible appeal by the Ministry of the Attorney General.
Coulter’s survey, which does not gather identifying information, is open to Ontario residents 18 and older can be filled out at stopanimalcruelty.ca until the end of January.
Coulter said the results of the survey will be analyzed and compiled in a report that will be made public.
“It is a very significant time for consideration of the future of animal cruelty investigations,” Coulter said. “My hope is that any decision made by the government is informed by experts and evidence.”
Coulter has previously dug deep on the OSPCA with a 2016 report on labour conditions. She found that the majority of the agency’s frontline officers are poorly paid, work in the field alone often facing dangerous circumstances, and are responsible for “extremely large geographic regions.”
The OSPCA, which receives $5.5 million annually from the government, has been enforcing animal cruelty laws since 1919 when it entered into an agreement with the province through legislation that created the OSPCA Act.
The agency has unveiled plans for significant changes in recent months.
In late October, senior officials told frontline officers the OSPCA planned to pull back from investigating cruelty cases involving livestock and horses. It also said it would no longer euthanize dogs involved in attacks as required by law. It has floated the idea of handing off those responsibilities to the government and police.
The OSPCA says the changes are a direct result of what it calls a restructuring effort to deal with years-long funding shortage. It has also said it’s open to working with the government and stakeholders on the future of animal cruelty enforcement in the province.
Coulter said it was important to consider the public’s views on the matter.
“The need for a public survey has become more pressing because of the OSPCA’s decision to pull away from horse and livestock investigations and by the judge’s ruling that the government will need to act perhaps more quickly then we expected,” she said. “I expect a high response rate because people are passionate about this issue.”
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