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Animal Cruelty Laws Need More Work

(Queen's Park Report -- August 18, 2008) Even though the Legislature does not meet in the summer -- leaving the daily excitement of Question Period off television and out of the newspapers -- there is still a lot of work that MPPs undertake in this season through the nine Standing Committees that meet year-round to review government legislation.  One of those Committees is the Justice Committee, which just held public hearings on Bill 50, the Provincial Animal Welfare Act.

Given that Ontario’s animal protection laws are 90 years old and are currently the weakest in the country, I had been calling for years for tougher penalties for those who cruelly abuse animals.

If you are like me and you were disgusted to learn about the former NFL quarterback Michael Vick’s brutal dog-fighting ring, or the German Shepard Rottweiller puppy who had his ears cut off by his owner, and then there was the dog who was rescued from the Niagara River after her owner threw her into the river with weights tied around her neck.  These kinds of acts are reprehensible; yet shockingly there is very little punishment for such disgusting acts under current Ontario laws.

Thankfully, the Provincial Animal Welfare Act will establish standards of care for animals and provide tougher penalties, which mirrors a proposal my party made setting out jail time and fines of up to $60,000 for offenders.  Despite this positive step, the legislation is still raising some questions, particularly for those in rural Ontario.

One area of concern is that this new legislation may compromise the right to hunt, fish, and engage in normal farm and animal husbandry practices.

Several of those who made deputations at the public hearings on this Bill said that this legislation must not apply to wildlife and activities that include fishing and hunting -- including hunting with dogs. These activities and animals are under the purview of the Ministry of Natural Resources and many felt that the Ontario Society for the Prevention to the Cruelty to Animals - if it is to be the government-sanctioned agency for enforcement of this Act - should not be involved in, have control over, or interfere in any way with these activities.

As well, it was felt that vague wording in the proposed legislation, and a lack of farm practice understanding, could lead to impractical expectations and orders on farmers.

Case in point is the definition proposed for ‘distress’ -- the state of being in need of proper care, water, food or shelter, or being sick, injured or in pain or suffering or being abused or subject to undue or unnecessary hardship, privation or neglect.”

The proposed definition to some is highly subjective and of concern if the legislation applies to all animals in Ontario -- domestic pets, zoo animals, wildlife and farm animals. Today’s farms host a wide range of farm animals. Their requirements and needs for water, food or shelter differ greatly. Appearances can be deceiving. Also, some veterinary procedures or treatments may cause distress.

One section of the Bill states that “No person shall train an animal to fight with another animal or permit an animal that the person owns or has custody or care of to fight another animal.”  Sounds logical but it could be troubling for farmers with livestock on pasture, particularly sheep, who often use one or more dogs to guard their sheep from predator attacks; coyotes, wolves, bears or even other domestic dogs.

While I support this Bill in principle, it is incumbent upon the government to ensure that those concerns, along with the many others raised at Committee are addressed, because if there is a job worth doing, it’s worth doing right.  If you would like further information please visit my website at www.jimwilsonmpp.com.


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