There are two types of animal cruelty across the spectrum of animal abuse. Active cruelty is inflicted with intent to cause harm to an animal and therefore cause suffering. On the other hand, passive cruelty is inflicted through disinterest in the well-being of animals and usually occurs over long periods of time.
Sometimes passive cruelty happens to our companion animals or sport animals via hoarding or food production. It is all happening to sentient creatures and can no longer be considered a peripheral concern. The American Psychiatric Association considers animal cruelty as one of the diagnostic criteria of conduct disorder. The fourth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) defines conduct disorder as “a repetitive and persistent pattern of behavior in which the basic rights of others or major age appropriate societal norms or rules are violated.” Conduct disorder is found in those who abuse animals and abuse people.
The link between animal abuse and personal violence is becoming so well established that many communities now cross-train social-service and animal-control agencies in how to recognize signs of animal abuse as possible indicators of other abusive behaviours.
In York Region (and indeed across Canada) we’ve seen the police consistently fail to take action against passive cruelty. They seem bewildered that they are called to attend to cruelty issues that are not related to dogs and cats. While they are justifiably concerned that the Stouffville cat-killer may turn to harming people, they have a clear disconnect when it comes to passive cruelty.
While we’re seeing a gradual shift in mentality, activists in York Region Ontario have found that, more often than not, the perpetrators of passive abuse are looked upon with disinterest or scepticism by the authorities, from the OSPCA to the police. In the absence of the OSPCA presence on weekends, the police have consistently refused to act to protect farm animals, despite having the Criminal Code quoted directly to them – seemingly because they do not view these animals as deserving of the same care and protection because they are “products.” There are also concerns about whether police officers have sufficient specialized knowledge of animal husbandry to recognize distress, and whether the police service has enough resources to take on this extra role. In a letter responding to a complaint by me, they seem to be admitting as much……..
Compounding the issue of identifying and acting on passive cruelty is the fact that Canada only has only a 1% animal cruelty case conviction rate, due to the absence of adequate legislation. It`s more important that ever for the police to understand their role in interpreting the Criminal Code as it applies to animals, since they may be called upon to act more frequently.
MPP Jack MacLaren of the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario introduced The Prevention of Cruelty of Animals Act, 2012 (Bill 37) in March 2012. Fortunately, the Bill did not survive a second reading. This new bill would have handed over inspection rights for farm animals to members of the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA). This would undermine the protection of farm animals by giving the inhumane farming industry the right to maintain their own inadequate standards. It is unconscionable to hand over the welfare of farm animals to any group that has vested interests in the agriculture industry.
Also under Bill 37, farmers would have been allowed to call in their own veterinarians to determine whether abuse exists. Veterinarians who are paid by these farmers and make a living through servicing these farmers’ animals will, in many cases, not want to cause trouble and “bite the hand that feeds them,“ so there will be little imperative to report abuse. This is an unacceptable conflict of interest.
Inspectors would no longer have had the power of a police officer and will not be able to inspect without the permission of the land owner. And only the police would be able to lay charges under the Provincial Offences Act or the Criminal Code of Canada. Enforcement would be done by the OPP or local police force only after abuse has been substantiated and reported on by the inspectors.
Without OSPCA officers having the authority to intervene directly at the time they witness the offence, that enforcement branch becomes completely useless, and animals would suffer until and unless enforcement finally arrives by the action of the police. Experience has shown us that the likelihood of police taking action to uphold Criminal Code of Canada (or any other action) on behalf of animals is poor. While OSPCA inaction directly contributed to the death of this horse, could we expect much more from the police, had they been engaged in this case? Fortunately, the bill is now dead, otherwise, these changes would have meant that the public would have even less transparency than under the current system, where the OSPCA reports next to nothing and due to privacy laws, and will not give the average citizen any details about an investigation. Investigation results should be made public.
On this issue even OSPCA chair Rob Godfrey agrees.