Calling it a critically important moment for animal welfare in Ontario, a Brock University professor released her latest findings Wednesday, March 20 that offer unique insight and perspective on the issue.
Kendra Coulter, Chair of Brock’s Labour Studies Department and Canada’s foremost academic expert on anti-cruelty enforcement, has released a much-anticipated public report entitled: A More Humane and Safer Ontario: The Future of Animal Cruelty Investigations.
For nearly a century, anti-cruelty investigations in Ontario have been handled by charitable organizations. However, earlier this month, the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (OSPCA) announced it would cease its law enforcement work at the end of March.
“Crimes against animals have been sidelined and de-prioritized by successive governments, and charities have filled in the gap,” says Coulter. “But the era of private enforcement is over and Ontario will finally have public animal cruelty investigations.”
Coulter has been leading a team studying different approaches to animal cruelty investigations work through field research, interviews, and policy and statistical analysis. In January, she launched a public survey open to all adult Ontarians focusing on the future of humane law enforcement. More than 20,000 people completed the survey, which Coulter says is a “staggering number for an academic study, and a remarkable comment on the level of public interest in animal cruelty.”
Wednesday’s report combines the key findings from the survey and Coulter’s nuanced assessment of different potential paths forward.
“This unprecedented pool of data reaffirms that people in Ontario see animal cruelty investigations as a public responsibility and want better for animals,” she says.
The report presents the degrees of public support for 10 public enforcement approaches, with Coulter providing analysis of the strengths, weaknesses and feasibility of each model.
- Very high (88 to 90 per cent) levels of public support for police playing a central role in animal cruelty investigations, whether through force-wide involvement or specialized animal crimes units. The public strongly supports partnerships between law enforcement and animal welfare organizations who could provide supportive services.
- Noteworthy support for some of the relevant provincial ministries to be given new or different enforcement powers in order to investigate suspected cruelty when it involves the animals and sectors under their mandates.
- The public supports increasing the enforcement powers of municipal bylaw enforcement officers. However, this option has some significant limitations and drawbacks, which are explained in the report.
“Animal cruelty exists on a spectrum,” Coulter explains. “It is directly connected to violence against women and children, and often occurs alongside other serious crimes.”
She says investigations can also lead to the discovery of people struggling with financial or health issues, and in those cases, additional resources and services are needed.
“A comprehensive and well co-ordinated model is necessary to effectively respond,” says Coulter.
The report explains these and other pertinent issues in more detail and considers possible solutions.
“The most promising options will likely involve a strategic combination of organizations, including police for enforcement and non-profits for support and animal care,” she says. “A specialized provincial anti-cruelty unit comprised of Special Constables is a particularly compelling route because of its likely benefits to animals and the safety of officers and the public.”
The report is available to the public at stopanimalcruelty.ca and was presented this week to both the Premier’s Office and the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services.
“This is an historic opportunity to finally build the effective and properly resourced public animal cruelty investigations system the animals and people of Ontario deserve,” says Coulter. “The province could send a clear message that we take crimes against animals seriously.”