Appeal court reverses SPCA ruling

The Ontario Court of Appeal has overturned a lower court ruling that found it was unconstitutional for the province to hand over policing powers to the Society For the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) without imposing accountability and transparency standards on the agency.  

The provincial government appealed the Jan. 2, 2019, ruling by Ontario Superior Court Justice Timothy Minnema in the case involving Jeffrey Bogaerts, a paralegal from Perth, Ont., who launched the challenge five years ago after helping several animal owners who were under investigation by the SPCA, including a woman whose dog was seized.  

Bogaerts argued the government was relying on a charity to carry out its responsibilities, and said donors to the SPCA could potentially exert pressure on the agency to influence its policies.  

In his decision, Minnema said the policing powers of the SPCA were unconstitutional, and gave the government one year to redraft its law.

Questions of public policy

But in a decision handed down Thursday, the Court of Appeal said the search and seizure powers of the SPCA don't violate the Charter. 

"The design of a proper regime of law enforcement, one that ensure that peace officers are accountable, that their actions are subject to public scrutiny and that the law is enforced with integrity are questions of public policy, not individual rights protected by the Charter," the appeal court said.

"I have no doubt that it would be a good idea and sound policy to make all law enforcement bodies subject to reasonable standards of transparency, accountability and adequate funding and they will be properly funded.  But not all good ideas and sound public policies are constitutionally protected or mandated," Justice Robert J. Sharpe wrote.

Province to hire officers

Bogaerts's lawyer, Kurtis Andrews, said he couldn't comment until he has reviewed the appeal court's decision with his client. 

In March, the Ontario SPCA advised the government it would no longer enforce animal cruelty laws in the province, offering instead to take on a supporting role in investigations. 

On Oct. 29, the province introduced legislation that brings the entire animal welfare system under provincial control and funding — something Bogaerts wanted to see happen.  

The government says it will hire about 100 animal welfare officers to investigate cases and enforce animal cruelty laws.