By Brandy Harrison
OTTAWA In recent decades, the provincial animal welfare agency has morphed from helper and educator to an aggressive, punishing dictator that deliberately targets some people, seizes animals unnecessarily, and imposes impractical standards of care for farm animals, said a former Winchester veterinarian in a sworn affidavit to support a constitutional challenge of the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (OSPCA) Act.
“Over the past approximately 25 years, instead of using resources to help people, the OSPCA have practised a more dictatorial approach,” said Lawrence Gray.
Grays affidavit is one of six filed with the Superior Court of Justice in August to support a constitutional challenge to the OSPCA Act. The legal challenge argues that the acts definition of distress is too vague, the OSPCA has police-like authority without accountability, and its search and seizure powers violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. None of these allegations have been tested in court.
Gray, who had numerous interactions with the agency during his 58-year practice in Winchester, noted a marked change in the way cases were handled.
Until the mid-1980s, the focus was to help or educate individuals that had difficulty caring for their animals. That gave way to a “much more aggressive approach,” including orders requiring exceptionally high standards of care, unnecessary seizures, and large bills for an animals return, said Gray.
OSPCA standards often arent practical, feasible, or consistent with normal farm practices, he said.
“I have witnessed the OSPCA issue orders that would be nearly impossible to comply with, despite my advice to the contrary, such as providing three inches of bedding for dairy cattle where rubber mats already existed,” said Gray, noting that some orders didnt benefit animals, had incredibly short timelines, or included “highly subjective interpretations of distress.”
On more than one occasion, he said he refused to recommend removal and the OSPCA brought in their own veterinarian to seize the animals, sometimes causing greater distress.
Gray said he believes some people are deliberately and unnecessarily targeted, repeatedly subjected to orders, inspections, and seizures.
“Such conduct by the OSPCA would qualify as harassment in my opinion and, in at least some cases, I believe the purpose was to frustrate the individual to a degree where he or she gives up owning animals,” said Gray.
Ralph Hunter is a standout case, he said. Over 25 years, Hunter endured numerous OSPCA visits to his Iroquois farm and animals were seized against Grays advice. More than once, there was an offer to return seized horses for a substantial sum, he stated.
“I never understood how the OSPCA could conclude that the conditions warranted removal one day, and then offer to return the animals a few days later,” said Gray.
With policies that he said dont serve animals best interests and an unpredictable and subjective interpretation of distress used to deliberately target people for OSPCA scrutiny, Gray concluded that the OSPCAs resources would be better used helping people take care of their animals.
“I believe that the OSPCA has failed terribly in considering peoples circumstances before aggressively pursuing punitive measures.”