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Ont. animal cruelty laws take effect

Ontario’s new animal welfare legislation, which took effect Sunday, creates a new offence for causing animals distress and requires veterinarians to report suspected abuse or neglect.

Drafted in a way that the province says will protect generally accepted livestock production practices, the new legislation amending the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act is billed as its “most significant” change since 1919, the government said Monday.

The new legislation “establishes standards of care for all animals” and also boosts penalties for harming any animal, to include jail terms of up to two years, fines of up to $60,000 and a potential lifetime animal ownership ban, the province said.

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It also creates new provincial offences for “causing or permitting distress” to an animal, and grants the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (OSPCA) authority to inspect places where animals are kept for entertainment, exhibition, boarding, sale or hire, such as zoos, pet shops and circuses.

The new laws also confer authority to retain a seized animal where charges have been laid and where there are reasonable grounds to believe the animal may be harmed if returned to its owner.

As well, they allow the OSPCA to seize dead animal remains or take samples for an investigation.

A provincial spokesperson said when the bill was first proposed last April that the “distress” offence won’t apply in cases where generally accepted practices of agricultural animal care, management or husbandry are being followed.

Interference with accepted farming practices is not the legislation’s intent, the province said, noting that more specific or detailed exemptions, when or if needed to allow such farm practices, would be added later by provincial regulation.

Vets protected

And while the new laws require veterinarians to report suspected abuse and neglect, they also protect vets from personal liability for doing so, the province said.

“Veterinarians are often the first to recognize signs of abuse. For every animal that has been reported with obvious signs of abuse, there are dozens of cases that go undetected until identified by a veterinarian,” Dr. Jennifer Day, president-elect of the Ontario Veterinary Medical Association, said in the province’s release.

“The legislation, which makes the reporting of animal abuse mandatory for veterinarians, means that more cases will be reported,” Day said.

Among other new offences created through this legislation are charges of training or permitting animals to fight other animals, or owning or possessing equipment or structures used in animal fighting; failing to comply with standards of care for all animals; obstructing an OSPCA inspector or agent; making a knowingly false complaint to the OSPCA; and causing harm to a law enforcement service animal, such as a police dog or horse.

The new legislation also clarifies previous laws — for example, laying out clear requirements that an adult is responsible where a minor “owns” an animal, and also laying out personal responsibility where an organization or commercial entity owns an animal.

Also clarified is the OSPCA’s ability to enter premises, other than homes, without a warrant, when they have reasonable grounds to believe an animal is in immediate distress.

As well, the new legislation clarifies that in the event of a conflict between the OSPCA Act and a municipal bylaw, whichever provision affords the greatest protection to animals would take precedence.

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