There are 100 inspectors and many are former OSPCA officers
ONTARIO — When the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals got out of the business of enforcing animal welfare laws in 2019, the Ford government replaced that sometimes controversial private organization with a new provincial entity. The provincial Animal Welfare Services (PAWS) officially took over the task on Jan. 1, 2020, and hired on many of the former OSPCA officers.
The new outfit has had few run-ins with real agricultural operations. One exception is Peterborough beef farmer Walter Ray’s recent appeal to the Animal Care Review Board after the animal police removed half of his herd — without alleging animal neglect — causing the death of two cows in the process. Ray’s predicament is understood to be the first PAWS action on a beef farm.
The new animal police service comprises a force of 100 unarmed inspectors recognized as peace officers for purposes of enforcing the provisions of the Act.
Tom Black, past president of the Ontario Landowners’ Association with long experience on the OSPCA file, said he understands most inspectors come from the OSPCA. “That’s what we were told, and we actually recognize their names,” Black said. An inspector testifying in the recent Peterborough case said he was previously employed by the OSPCA.
“They ended up going on the payroll with the government,” Black said, adding, “but now they have oversight.”
Black said that PAWS needs a few years of operation before its performance can be assessed. But “it seems to be smoother,” he offered. “We don’t get the calls on it that we used to.”
Each PAWS inspector undergoes “approximately 290 hours of baseline training that includes extensive job shadowing to provide hands-on learning prior to appointment,” said Brent Ross, spokesperson for the Ministry of the Solicitor General, the cabinet portfolio responsible for Ontario police forces. “Training related to agriculture occurs throughout,” Ross added in email correspondence with Farmers Forum.
Inspectors are “educated on livestock health, welfare, and industry standards,” he said. “(PAWS) uses National Farm Animal Care Council codes of practice as a guideline for animal welfare enforcement relating to agricultural animals. Where appropriate or necessary, animal welfare inspectors work directly with commodity groups and conduct outreach and education on animal care best practices.”
Some inspectors do specialize in agricultural cases as well, he said.
Under their “inspectorate powers,” PAWS officials may enter a property to conduct an inspection without a warrant, according to Ross. However, they must apply for search warrants to access dwellings, unless allowed in by the owner.
The power of warrantless entry is subject to a 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. time limit during a business day or at any other time the place is open to the public.
During inspection, an inspector may enter any place to determine compliance with standards of care for animals. The inspector may be accompanied by a veterinarian or anyone else the inspector considers advisable.
Ross pointed out that an inspection will typically include a representative from a farm commodity group who represents the farmer’s interests.
“Inspectors learn and train continuously to stay on top of emerging issues, trends and priorities. Examples include preparedness for emerging concerns (e.g., African Swine Fever) and mandatory training on Indigenous cultural considerations, anti-racism, diversity and inclusion,” he said.
Ross declined to say how many PAWS inspectors are former Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animal inspectors.
The OSPCA, a private charity, bowed out of its previous role after a judge struck down its enforcement powers as a violation of the Charter early in 2019 — although that decision was overturned on appeal later the same year.
The PAWS Act has the stiffest penalties in Canada for offenders, reported Horse Sport magazine. Fines can be up to $130,000 for a first-time offender, up to $500,000 for a first-time offending corporation and a possible lifetime ban on animal ownership.