Bill 136 and Bill 156
Progress on animal protection legislation has always been painfully slow in Canada.
The use of animals – their bodies and their forced work – is deeply entrenched in our national economy, and millions of people still profit from animal-using industries. Phasing out the financial exploitation of animals will require a major re-set of how humans view animals – no small feat.
This reality greatly impacts two Ontario bills that affect animals, Bill 136 and Bill 156.
To truly eliminate human-caused animal suffering, we would need to accept changing our diets and clothing choices to eliminate animal products. We would need to resist entertainments that exploit animals like circuses, rodeos and zoos. We would need to reject lethal entertainments like sport hunting and fishing. And, we would need to stop donating to medical researchers that use animals, demanding that non-animal alternatives be adopted instead.
However, many Canadians are not ready to make these choices, and likely do not know the extent of the suffering that farmed animals endure. If they did, they might change their choices more quickly. Hopefully, when they are provided more compassionate alternatives such as plant-based foods, they will choose those alternatives.
Governments and politicians fully understand that society is changing so we see mixed messages from governments. For example, we see dramatic changes in Canada’s Food Guide that no longer caters to animal agriculture, while at the same time governments allow for inhumane practices in the animal food industry. It seems that politicians feel political security in pandering to the demands of powerful business groups like animal agriculture and other animal-using industries, while throwing a crumb or two in the direction of a changing society.
For these reasons, we are not surprised at what is unfolding in Ontario politics – not surprised, but disappointed. Given the realities already mentioned, Animal Alliance of Canada values legislation that moves the bar forward on animal protection, even if on an incremental level. Even though change is so often slow, meaningful progress is still worth celebrating.
The PAWS Act, the ‘Provincial Animal Welfare Services Act’, aka Bill 136, contains positive elements that can serve as important building blocks for better protection for some classifications of animals. The bill has just passed, and will come into force in January of 2020.
But, Bill 156, the ‘Security from Trespass and Protecting Food Safety Act, 2019’, an ‘ag-gag’ law, would criminalize under-cover information gathering such as the kind that has exposed diary workers brutalizing cattle; and pigs living in squalid, though legally accepted conditions.
There have been numerous cases of horrific treatment of animals taking place in legally sanctioned industries like farming, animal transportation, and slaughter that have been recorded by under-cover activists. And millions of farmed animals daily endure conditions that are easily understood to cause them distress and suffering; like gestation and farrowing crates for female pigs, and battery cages for hens.
Brave people have taken jobs on farms and related facilities to shine a light on what is done to animals behind closed doors. These workers have recorded shocking video evidence of cruel abuse, and exposed the bitter truth of what animals endure in these industries.
What should be the response of a moral nation to this evidence?
Surely, we should be resolved to weed out and punish the abusers, and pass stricter laws to ease as much as possible the suffering inflicted on animal victims used in farming. The under-cover evidence should inspire legislators to decide that the acceptance of animal-use for food cannot be an excuse for the high degree of suffering that is currently legally allowed.
Better still, as a moral nation, we should commit to phasing out these businesses that profit from the misery of animals, reducing as soon as possible the number of animals made to suffer so greatly as society adapts to changes in dietary choices and habits. And, we should improve regulations to lessen the suffering of those animals still used for food while we keep moving toward an elimination of this form of abuse and exploitation. But these things have not happened.
Instead, the tone was set by Alberta’s Bill 27, the ‘Trespass Statutes: Protecting Law-abiding Property Owners Act,’ which threatens legal repercussions for those who: “misrepresent themselves in order to gain access to farms and capture images to discredit operators,” according to a reported quote from Alberta Premier, Jason Kenney, on a farming media site.
This regulation attacks the honourable practice of under-cover investigation, where people take jobs to record and expose what is being done to the vulnerable and voiceless behind closed doors. This is a fearful regulation that slams the door shut on barns where victims suffer without hope of rescue.
A regulation like this can also set a precedent and inspire future bills to protect research facilities where animals are subjected to what can rightly be called torture. Most of us will recall the expose of a research facility in Montreal called ITR Laboratories Canada. An animal advocate worked at the laboratory as a technician for four months and recorded the suffering inflicted on animals there. Without such ‘whistle-blowers’ working undercover there is little hope of exposing how badly animals are treated in legal industries.
Now, Ontario too has written its own ‘ag-gag’ bill, Bill 156, which was recently tabled in the provincial legislature and has passed second reading. If passed, Bill 156 would criminalize the practice of under-cover investigation in facilities where animals used for food are kept behind closed doors. Bill 156 is a highly damaging bill that would plunge the most abused and vulnerable animals even further into darkness, making it unlikely that convictions for abusing them would ever be possible.
Bill 156 shows how threatened the industries are by these exposes and how desperate they are to suppress them. As we have seen, the more Canadians know about how farmed animals are treated the more they seek alternatives to animal products.
We can celebrate the best parts of Bill 136, understanding that the bill is imperfect and work remains to be done.
But we must stop Bill 156 dead in its tracks.
Bill 136: Benefits of The PAWS Act:
The good news is that the new PAWS Act will make Ontario the first province in Canada to operate a publicly funded system, taking enforcement of animal protection legislation under the direction of the government. This is in contrast to other provinces that still follow the old model of contracting private not-for-profit organizations to provide this service.
Not-for-profits and charities like humane societies and SPCAs are able to operate with less transparency and public accountability than publicly-funded entities can, such as police services. Private charities are not subject to Freedom of Information requests so cannot be fully over-seen by elected representatives when citizens register complaints.
Ontario’s new model will make it possible to register complaints against inspectors and this leads to greater accountability. And, the new public system will provide greater transparency by making inspectors subject to oversight by Ontario’s auditor general, the ombudsman, and the privacy commissioner; and will be subject to Freedom of Information laws.
The accountability of the public enforcement model can be a building block for more improvements to animal protection in the future, and Ontario’s Progressive Conservative government deserves credit for this major policy change. It’s a significant development that sets us up for the possibility of far better enforcement. Hopefully, the new Ontario model will set an example for other provinces as well.
Unfortunately, the new PAWS Act continues to entrench past policy failures by leaving most of the animals in Ontario out of its protection: farmed animals, free-roaming wild animals, and animals used in research.
The PAWS Act provides better protections mostly to companion animals like dogs, cats, and horses. It’s possible that animals in zoos might be better protected, depending on the regulations and Standards of Care that are still to be developed.
The exempted classes of animals are supposedly protected under other ministries, but it’s clear that those ministries are set up to protect human use of those animals, not to protect animals themselves. The ‘normal’ practices of industries like hunting, trapping, farming and research are exempted from the new act, just as they were in the now repealed OSPCA Act.
While this is disappointing, it is not a great surprise. We know that most harms are done to animals in legal industries. It’s not the lone, sadistic animal abuser who does the most harm. It’s well-funded and politically protected business interests that are responsible for the suffering and killing of animals on a massive scale.
Even among people who are passionate advocates for companion animals like dogs, cats and horses there is often support for the continued oppression of other animal species used for food, clothing and in research. Governments know this. So, it’s no surprise that even among well-meaning politicians there is more concern for improving the lives of companion animal species than there is for the kinds of animals who are sources of profit for so many.
This leads us to the contradictory juxtaposition of two bills; one with a meaningful development in protection for some animals, while the other bill would plunge the largest number of animals in the province even further into darkness and misery.
For residents of Ontario, to stop Ontario Bill 156, ‘The Security From Trespass and Protecting Food Safety Act 2019’ please contact your Ontario representative.
Tell them that:
– Ethical businesses should not fear public exposure of their practices.
– Good businesses should have nothing to hide.
– Whistleblowers deserve to be protected under the law for the public good that they provide.
Urge them to vote ‘no’ on Bill 156.
Ontario citizens can use their postal code to find their MPP at: https://voterinformationservice.elections.on.ca/en/election/search?mode=postalCode
Those who do not live in Ontario can express their concerns to Premier Doug Ford at:
Legislative Building, Queen’s Park
Toronto, ON M7A 1A1
Albertans and all Canadians can register their opposition to Alberta’s Bill 27, the ‘Trespass Statutes: Protecting Law-abiding Property Owners Act.’ Though this bill has already passed, it’s important that provincial legislators know that there is opposition to this bill.
We can contact the minister who oversees Bill 27, Hon. Doug Schweitzer, Minister of Justice and Solicitor General and tell him that:
– whistleblowers deserve protection and their honourable actions should not be criminalized.
– businesses where vulnerable animals are confined should operate with full transparency and citizen oversight.
– well-run, humane, and honourable businesses should have nothing to hide, and should have no need to keep their practices hidden from public view.
Hon. Doug Schweitzer,
Minister of Justice and Solicitor General, Deputy House Leader,
424 Legislature Building
10800 – 97 Avenue
Edmonton, AB, T5K 2B6
We need your help to lobby the Ontario Government to improve
Bill 136, to develop effective regulations and Standards of Care,
still to be determined.
And, Bill 156 must not be allowed to become law.
We must stop Bill 156!
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Sources used for this article: