On October 29, 2019, the Ontario government tabled The Provincial Animal Welfare Services (PAWS) Act, which, if passed, would establish an enforcement team made up of a chief inspector, locally deployed provincial inspectors and specialized inspectors for agriculture, zoos, aquariums and equines.

Inspectors would conduct outreach and education on animal care, proactive, risk-based inspections, reactive inspections and investigations in response to welfare concerns, and provide resources to Ontario Provincial Police and crowns to support successful welfare prosecutions.

The Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (OSPCA) Act would be repealed and replaced with the PAWS Act. If passed, the new act would:

  • Establish prohibitions, offences and requirements (e.g., compliance with prescribed standards of care)
  • Introduce penalties that would be the strongest in Canada, and focus on non-compliance and repeat offenders and would differentiate between individuals and corporations
  • Require veterinarians, and enable requiring others through regulations, to report animal abuse to the province
  • Allow inspectors, as well as others to be prescribed in regulation, to enter motor vehicles to address the issue of pets in critical distress in hot cars
  • Outline the duties and powers of the chief inspector as well as powers provided to inspectors and others such as police and First Nation constables
  • Provide inspectors with the specific powers they need to carry out their duties, instead of broad, police-like powers that were provided under the OSPCA Act
  • Establish regulation-making authority such as enabling the government to develop regulations that prohibit certain animals or procedures, or require a license to possess or breed certain animals

Kendra Coulter, chair of the Department of Labour Studies at Brock University, a leading Canadian researcher on issues of animal welfare commented, “The framework is promising. Our research has found that a dedicated publicly-funded anti-cruelty team would be the smartest option for Ontario, so I am pleased that the government has made this the foundation of its new approach. A coordinated provincial team will help to ensure animals and communities around the province receive consistent services. Having a properly resourced public team of experts, including specialized officers with additional knowledge about horses, who are also empowered to educate the public and solve problems, is smart policy. I look forward to seeing more details including about funding, the number of inspectors, officer protections, and the plans for animal care and veterinary forensics, as these are crucial dimensions that will directly affect the effectiveness of the new system. Appropriate care and transportation are particularly important for vulnerable horses.”

If the legislation is passed, the government intends to introduce transitional regulations to ensure protection of animals while long-term regulations are developed through consultations, including with advice from a multi-disciplinary table.