The following is by Antonella Artuso for Sun Media.
TORONTO -- Anyone caught abusing or neglecting an animal could face fines of up to $60,000, jail time and a lifetime ban on pet ownership under a new provincial animal welfare bill that comes into effect today.
Community Safety Minister Rick Bartolucci's bill will also give inspectors with the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals the power to enter public places such as zoos, pet stores and circuses without a warrant to determine if animals are receiving proper care.
The act creates a new offence -- causing or permitting distress to an animal -- that has higher penalties and a lower burden of proof than the Criminal Code which had been the only tool available for the prosecution of serious animal abuse cases.
Hugh Coghill, Ontario Chief Inspector for the OSPCA, said their inspectors investigate about 15,000-16,000 complaints a year but the vast majority are resolved with verbal recommendations.
About 2,500 cases might receive a written order, and the courts are reserved for the most serious and recalcitrant offenders.
"The Ontario SPCA always takes an educational role first and foremost, so education before enforcement is a key mantra that we have in the back of our mind all the time when we're doing our work," Coghill said. "If whatever you were doing before wasn't against the law, it's not against the law now. But people who abuse and neglect animals need to be aware that the laws will now be stronger to protect animals."
The OSPCA can now seize and hold an animal until a court decides if the owner is guilty of an offence under the act, where previously the animal had to be returned if the offender paid the bill for any vet care that was required.
The existing maximum $60,000 fine for cruelty to animals, which applied only to cats and dogs for sale, has now been extended to all offences.
"If you cut the ears off your dog without anaesthetic, without care and treatment, that could be an offence and that could be a very serious fine," said Coghill, noting it would not have been an offence under the previous legislation.
The Provincial Animal Welfare Act also mandates vets to report suspected animal abuse or neglect.
Animal doctors had been bound by confidentiality rules, but are now protected under law if they report a client to the OSPCA.
"It was actually the veterinarians that wanted it," Coghill said.
The OSPCA welcomes the new power to enter public places where animals are kept because obtaining a warrant has proven difficult, he said.
The OSPCA was denied a warrant to search a west Ontario zoo where a member of the public had complained about the care of a kangaroo because the information was three months old.
When inspectors arrived at the zoo without a warrant, the owner refused them access, he said."The fact that we're denied entry to a place that is open to the public (now) becomes our grounds to get a warrant and go in and see if the animals are being provided the standard of care," he said.