By Brandy Harrison
PERTH — A bid to curtail the authority of the animal welfare police faces another hurdle: The Attorney General of Ontario wants to have the case tossed out.
In October 2013, Ottawa-based agricultural lawyer Kurtis Andrews filed a standalone constitutional challenge of the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (OSPCA) Act.
Charging that the act violates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the challenge alleges the act’s definition of distress is too vague and that it grants the OSPCA police-like authority, including overreaching search and seizure powers. None of these allegations have been tested in court.
In front of a Perth courtroom packed with about 30 spectators on Jan. 29, Hart Schwartz, counsel for the attorney general, appealed to Superior Court Justice John Johnston to either dismiss the case, strike out all or part of the supporting affidavits, or allow for cross-examination of the affidavits’ authors.
Schwartz argued that the applicant, Jeffrey Bogaerts, doesn’t have a personal or broader public interest to challenge the OSPCA Act and that the eight affidavits contain both hearsay and irrelevant, scandalous, and vexatious material.
“They’re trying to have the whole thing thrown out before it can be judged on its merits,” said Andrews, adding that the decision could take some time. “He said we shouldn’t expect it too quickly.”
The hearing was originally scheduled for Oct. 29, but the justice assigned to the case stepped aside due to a conflict of interest.
In his affidavit, former Winchester veterinarian Lawrence Gray noted a marked change in the way the OSPCA handled cases, with the agency abandoning its education role and taking on an aggressive, ‘dictatorial’ approach. A subjective interpretation of distress was used to deliberately target people for OSPCA scrutiny and care standards often weren’t practical, feasible, or consistent with normal farm practices, Gray said.