Monthly Archives: May 2014

From the Animal Advocate’s Toolbox – Making an Access to Information Request

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Canada governmentWritten by:  Heather Clemenceau

For the last few days I’ve been watching the 2014 Equine Summit held at Equine Advocates, on YouTube. Aside from the knowledge and quality of the speakers, one thing stood out for me – the sheer volume of information many of them have obtained by FOIA requests (in the US). While the information isn’t provided immediately, it’s incredibly informative, particularly when it comes to the activities of the BLM. Here in Canada, the Canadian Horse Defence Coalition has used the process to expose the misfeasance of government inspectors at slaughterhouses, as well as reveal to the public the dire conditions under which horses,  including pregnant mares,  are shipped for slaughter. Recently, an ATI (Access to Information) request was completed in concert with an American advocate in the US, in order to “triangulate” the transit time for a shipment of horses made by Jeron Gold, which was videotaped in November 2013 heading to Richelieu slaughterhouse at about 4pm (because we know the arrival time at slaughterhouses is often fudged to come in under the regulation 36 hours).

Some backstory on the Access to Information Act – Canada was just the eighth country in the world to guarantee citizens the right to request government records in accordance with top hat tip to lonidisclosure law, when we passed the ATIA on Canada Day, 1983. What we have is a version of free information, which is not exactly the same thing as open government. The main principles of this Act are: government information should be available to the public; exemptions to this right should be limited and specific; and decisions on disclosure of information should be reviewed independently of government. Through the ATI Act, the Canadian press has discovered that the executive office of any party in power (although particularly the Harper government) tends to be somewhat adversarial to the process,  and considers any groups involved in environmental or animal rights to be part of the “green scare.” Greenpeace, PeTA, and probably other groups in Canada (and maybe even this blog writer) are considered to be “terrorist” groups, and this was confirmed by requesting government documents. Good to know!

So this blog is all about providing some guidelines and links so that interested parties can do their own ATI requests with confidence. Obviously, if you request information, you should have a good idea in advance what you are seeking to find out. You should have a specific timeline in mind, and be specific about what you need.  Ask for information that could solve a problem or answer a question. You should have a plan in advance that will allow you to do something useful with the information, such as use it to build a case for your MP to do something, write to MPs, correct an invalid assumption, write a cover letter and send it to the newspapers, or blog it, etc. You can also request personal information about yourself too, and if it is incorrect, you have the right to have it corrected. But don’t waste your money or the government’s time (the system is under incredible strain already) just for curiosity’s sake. Make it count.

ATI requests can only be completed by Canadian citizens, permanent residents or any other person (or entity) present in Canada. An individual who is not a Canadian citizen or a permanent resident cannot make a request from outside Canada unless it is made by a representative who is a Canadian citizen, a permanent resident or a person present in Canada on behalf of the individual. Start by submitting a written request, which must contain the following:

  • The full name,  signature of the requester, Canadian mailing address, and if possible, a telephone number and/or e-mail address where the requester can be contacted between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. on weekdays
  • A $5.00 application fee. Payment can be made by cash, cheque or money order. Cheques and money orders must be made payable to the Receiver General for Canada. The fee entitles the requester to five hours of search and preparation time. If your request will take more time, you will be notified of same and will be required to pay for this time in order for the ATI to proceed. Be sure to take this into consideration if you intend to ask for records for a long period of time (or have a strict budget).

There is an additional fee schedule for supplying documents:

  • for photocopying a page with dimensions of not more than 21.5 cm by 35.5 cm, $0.20 per page,
  • for microfiche duplication, non-silver, $0.40 per fiche,
  • for 16 mm microfilm duplication, non-silver, $12 per 30.5 m roll,
  • for 35 mm microfilm duplication, non-silver, $14 per 30.5 m roll,
  • for microform to paper duplication, $0.25 per page
  • for magnetic tape-to-tape duplication, $25 per 731.5 m reel
  • where the record requested is a non-computerized record, the head of the government institution may require payment in the amount of $2.50 per person per quarter hour for every hour in excess of five hours that is spent by any person on search and preparation. This may be the case with certain manually completed forms from slaughterhouses which are handwritten on paper.

The legislated timeframe for responding to Access to Information or Privacy requests is 30 calendar days. The Access to Information Act permits an institution to extend the time limit to respond to a request beyond the 30 calendar days if:

  • the request is for a large number of records or requires a search through a large number of records, and the original time limit would unreasonably interfere with the operations of the institution;
  • external consultations are necessary and cannot reasonably be expected to be completed within the original time limit

In all likelihood,your request WILL take longer than 30 days to process. If you are looking only for a few documents over a short period of time, you should receive your package in a few weeks. If you want records for an entire year or an extremely high volume of records, your request may take YEARS. Unless you can afford to have a fair chunk of money tied up for years waiting for boxes of information to be delivered to you, make sure you really need to have this quantity of information!

By processing your request under the ATIA, the government tells us that they will:

  1. Process the request without regard to our identity (but they may sometimes ask if you are related to an individual you are requesting information for).
  2. Offer reasonable assistance throughout the request process.
  3. Provide information on the Access to Information Act  including information on the processing of your request and your right to complain to the appropriate Commissioner of Canada. (you have 60 days from receipt of your documents to make a complaint)
  4. Inform us as appropriate and without undue delay when our request needs to be clarified.
  5. Make every reasonable effort to locate and retrieve the requested records or personal information under the control of the government institution.
  6. Apply limited and specific exemption
  7. Provide accurate and complete responses.
  8. Provide timely access to the requested information.
  9. Provide records or personal information in the format and official language requested, as appropriate.

Of course, there are various checks and balances that must be examined before the various branches of government will send you anything. It’s entirely possible that there may be no records for what you are seeking, or the information will simply not be disclosed. Refer to the Lexis Nexis info-graphic for the process involved in complying with an ATI request:

LexisNexisATIRequestFlowchart

Centennial Flame on Parliament HillOnce you’ve decided exactly what you want and have determined the time period, you will need to determine which federal government institution is most likely to have the information you are seeking. Most readers of this blog will probably be interested in the Canadian Food Inspection Agency or Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. Each government institution also has an Access to Information and Privacy Coordinator. These individuals are responsible for ensuring that any Access to Information and Privacy requests received by the government institution are responded to in accordance with the Acts and also for the application of the legislation within the institution. The list of Access to Information and Privacy Coordinators, along with their contact information, is available online. You can also view completed ATI requests here.

If you are requesting information relative to a specific Canadian slaughterhouse, you will need to provide the correct code in order to process your request. For convenience sake, they are included below:

076 – Viande Richelieu Inc./Richelieu Meat Inc. (Quebec)

505 – Les Viandes de la Petite-Nation Inc. (Quebec)

506 – Bouvry Export Calgary Ltd. (Alberta)

587 – KML Meat Processors Ltd. (British Columbia)

657 – Canadian Premium Meats Inc. (Alberta)

Please bear in mind that EIDS are not “owned” or retained by the CFIA or any other government agency. No branch of government retains photocopies either. The EID was cleverly designed to be a document that is owned by the Canadian Library of Parliament Ottawarespective slaughterhouse, and has a retention period of one year. Since slaughterhouses are privately owned entities, it’s not possible to request copies of EID forms via the Access to Information Act. Also bear in mind that if you are requesting documentation from Quebec (Richelieu or LPN slaughterhouses) you will receive your paperwork in French. Subsection 12(2) of the Access to Information Act provides for scenarios where records have been requested in one particular official language. If you want to receive the records in English, you must specify this request in advance, and it WILL come at additional cost and time, since translation services must be involved. You are better off to attempt to translate the documents yourself, even though many may be handwritten. So befriend or bribe a French-speaking person, if you are completely unable to translate any French at all.

Lastly, if you want to track your ATI submission, we suggest that you pay for a registered letter from Canada Post. Good luck with your searches, and may you find something that will be deeply embarrassing to Gerry Ritz or your MP.

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Not Your Neighbourhood Pet Store – the “Odd and Unusual” Exotic Animal Auction

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Zebra at OLEX

Photo credit – http://www.weanimals.org/ – We Animals – Jo-Anne McArthur

Written by:  Heather Clemenceau

On Saturday May 3rd I attended my first exotic animal auction – The “Odd and Unusual” event run by Tiger Paw Exotics and its owner Tim Height from Arthur, Ontario. Height is the Canadian and less flash version of the US’s Joe Exotic – he sells animals to private collectors and provides creatures for film and TV productions.  The auction is not widely publicized and is certainly not found on the Tiger Paw website itself.  Obviously,  they don’t want to attract the wrong sort of people – people like me and a group of others attending the auction at the same time who will document the conditions of the animals and try to do something about it.

I’m somewhat late as usual, and when I arrive, the auction is just beginning with saddles and other animal-related products being offered at the Orangeville fairgrounds. The auction used to be held at OLEX – Ontario Livestock Exchange in St. Jacobs, Ontario, but Tiger Paw and Height were allegedly asked not to return after complaints from residents.

baby pygmy goatThe signs indoors prohibit alcohol and photography. Of course photography is not permitted because the state of the pens and the condition of many of the animals is sad or even disgusting in some cases. They know that OMAFRA (Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs – has jurisdiction over farm animal (but not exotic) animal auctions) and animal activists are present in droves and they want what happens in Orangeville to stay in Orangeville and not end up on YouTube.

I know there are other people here like me (activists) because I see sympathetic-looking women looking intently at the animals, or taking notes on pads of paper. Like my friends and I, they don’t fit in either – their hair is not dishevelled, there’s no Virginia Slims 120 dangling from their lips, nor are they missing half their teeth. Sometimes we make eye contact and they look knowingly at me and me back at them.

It also seems odd that you’d have to put a sign up to advise event-goers that they should refrain from drinking alcohol, until you realize that the crowd is a mix of trucker and cowboy hats, NASCAR jackets, and the requisite mullets, whose owners appear to be on their way to a cosplay event. The parking lot featured an assortment of barely roadworthy trailers, some almost completely rusted through in parts, or with missing floor boards. A couple were deathtraps you wouldn’t touch without a tetanus shot. There are a small number of Mennonites here too. A few parents brought their children to fawn over the animals, oblivious to the care issues that stand out.

Fortunately, there are no exotic carnivores here today, probably not a good idea considering the amount of prey animals in attendance. The smaller animals such as macaws, snakes, finches, geese, rabbits, and a peacock are housed in a room separate from the farm animals and other exotic ungulates such as Przewalski’s horses and zebras. With a few exceptions, most animals are not nearly as odd or unusual as their owners or event attendees – we see a baby bison, some highland cattle, goats and sheep, lots of mini horses, standard and mammoth donkeys and a few camels – mostly the type of animal you might see at a petting zoo.

Few if any of these animals belonged to Height himself and were offered on consignment – after being here only a few minutes it becomes apparent that there are vastly different standards of care seen auction trailerhere – from clean animals in good flesh to thin animals with horrid hooves and manure-caked long coats. I didn’t know what to expect, and was quite unprepared for the inconsiderate, and, in some instances, abusive handling and housing of animals I saw in the holding areas.

Even the clean animals were still observed to be handled roughly – pulled by twine “halters” while they occasionally trembled in fear and steadfastly refused to go forward.  In most pens there was no food or just remnants of hay, and I saw no water at all for any animal. The stalls for the zebras and Przewalski’s horses were filthy – it’s hard to believe they would have arrived in the morning that same day.

Both groups of equines seemed wary or completely over the idea of people coming to look at them. A mammoth donkey is presented for auction with a twoonie-sized raw sore on her tail. The camels are outfitted with halters several sizes too small, restricting their ability to chew and leaving embedded marks on their heads and noses. Several animals, particularly the mammoth donkeys, have long, chipped hooves or “elf boots.” And the hyacinthe macaw, protected by CITES against over-exploitation through international trade, has plucked out all his body feathers, a behaviour often taken to be caused by anything ranging from confinement neurosis to skin infections, hormone imbalances, and wasting disease. Plucking is virtually unknown in the wild bird population, and no other pet practices the self-destruction parrots do. Some have compared plucking to trichotillomania, the obsessive compulsive human disorder of hair pulling. Birds observed in the wild spend 50 percent of their waking time finding food, 25 percent interacting with their flock, and 25 percent preening. We put them in cages where they have no flock or social structure and put a bowl of food in front of them and wonder why some are neurotic. In any event, the macaw is really not suitable for sale or even display, and a disagreement erupts when a concerned bystander asks that the bird’s cage be covered with cardboard to prevent an excess of gawkers.  Tim Height himself is there and reluctantly complies. When it is suggested that the bird might be underweight, a helpful woman offers that there is “enough meat on him to eat.”

bald Hyacinth macawThere are few opportunities to take pictures surreptitiously. A “security” detail follows various people who have taken pictures or complained about the condition of some of the animals. Of all the farm animals, I notice a trio of alpacas and mini horses are the only really clean looking animals. You’d think that people would at least run a curry comb through their animals knowing they were going to present them for sale? Another group of donkeys and ponies are filthy – caked in manure and urine. You can only wonder what their living conditions are like. Some baby animals are here, too young to be separated from their dams, and will be unable to nurse if sold without them. Several babies are in pens with male animals while their dams are nowhere to be seen. You don’t need any experience bottle feeding a zebra or any other animal here, just enough cash to buy the animal. I suspect a lot of these people learn to care for animals by trial and error, and there are no questions asked of the prospective purchasers.

The event organizers obviously see no problem with the deplorable practice of accepting unweaned baby animals for sale. We see a pygmy goat baby who would still be nursing. He is not ambulatory, camped out and appearing to strain. He occasionally falls down. His eyes exude a purulent yellow-ish discharge, and he continually sneezes. The adult male goats in his pen are not very tolerant of the little fellow. The OMAFRA rep who is onsite declares it illegal for the owner to have transported him in this condition – non-ambulatory animals cannot be transported according to Health of Animals regulations and other regulations, although I’m sure there will be no penalties for the owner. So a rescue attempt is made and a veterinarian is called to assess him. Dr. Mallu Postens arrives and declares he may have a blockage and is unfit for sale. She administers sub-cutaneous fluids and he appears to revive somewhat – and why not? If he is still nursing no wonder he became dehydrated without anything to drink. I wish I could tell readers that he was rescued but I don’t precisely know what happened to him………

In 2010, an Ontario man was mauled to death by his pet tiger—the same animal that had attacked a ten-year-old boy several years before. A few years ago, a woman near 100 Mile House, British Columbia, was killed by her fiancé’s Siberian tiger. Even though these animals were not present today,  this auction still contributes to the Canadian illicit animal trade. So do some roadside zoos in Ontario, who also sell exotic animals to private collectors.  Overheard at the event was someone claiming to have bought a tiger from the Northwood Zoo in Seagrave, Ontario.

Animals who do survive long enough to be sold here are often subject to inadequate care afterwards, because caretakers are often unprepared or unable to provide for the needs of animals who are so far removed from their natural

These are the most basic of animal requirements,  and it's clear that the owner of the baby pygmy goat is in violation.

These are the most basic of animal requirements, and it’s clear that the owner of the baby pygmy goat is in violation.

habitats. Many exotic animals will likely die or be abandoned by their caretakers.  Zebras in particular are especially ornery and difficult to tame and will often fight viciously with other zebras.

The province of Ontario doesn’t require licensing to keep dangerous exotic pets. Ontario does not have province-wide regulations; instead, there is a confusing hodgepodge of municipal rules that allow monkeys in some jurisdictions while forbidding tigers in others. You could live next door to a person keeping lions in his backyard and not even know it. Toronto has banned the sale of dogs and cats in pet stores but we can still sell exotics north of the city. And you still need a license for a dog and maybe even a cat.

There appear to be no health guarantees offered for any of the animals either. What guarantees are there about vaccinations or zoonotic diseases? Salmonellosis, B-virus, and tuberculosis are three of the most dangerous pathogens that can be transmitted to humans from reptiles, monkeys, and cattle. If some of these animals have obviously not seen a farrier in months, can they be confidently ruled-out as vectors for disease? If all this is not yet completely off-putting, consider that next to the display of exotic animals (and just outside the washrooms) is the presence of a food concession stand . And not a bottle of hand sanitizer in sight!

Word has it that there is another exotic event to be held here in November . Assuming that the town doesn’t rise up against these types of events, I’ll have to remember to black out some of my teeth so as not to stand out too much at my next visit.