HALIFAX — Concerns over infighting at the Nova Scotia SPCA and its handling of a recent animal cruelty case in Cape Breton has prompted the province to revamp its animal protection laws.
Under a proposed new act the agriculture minister would have the power to revoke the SPCA's ability to enforce the law and appoint another party to handle the role.
Agriculture Minister Brooke Taylor called that a "just in case" clause and said Tuesday that the majority of the proposed changes are aimed at helping the non-profit organization carry out its duties.
The SPCA has weathered months of criticism from former and current members over the lack of accountability within the society and for not acting sooner to rescue more than 100 animals from a Port Hawkesbury shelter in February.
A 63-year-old mother and her 33-year-old daughter will return to court in July to enter pleas on animal cruelty charges related to that case.
Concerns were also heightened following what was described as a "tense and acrimonious" closed door meeting last month in which the society's board survived a confidence motion.
"I think that those incidents were brought to our attention in spades," said Taylor. "There's no big secret that yes, in fact ... those two certainly highlighted the need to revamp the Animal Cruelty Act."
Under the changes the Department of Agriculture would handle all agricultural-related cruelty complaints while the SPCA would deal with complaints regarding domestic animals.
Both the province and the society would also have to hire more investigators.
The government expects it will cost as much as $280,000 to help the SPCA hire up to seven additional inspectors. It currently has two full-time inspectors and 20 volunteer special constables.
Taylor said another change would enable the inspectors to demand that animals be brought out for their inspection if they arrive at a private residence without a warrant.
"We've incorporated it into the law ... and we believe in most cases Nova Scotians will respect the law and present those animals to the inspectors," said Taylor.
The SPCA would also be required to open its annual meetings to the public, set up an independent appeal board to review cases involving animal seizures and cruelty investigations, and require veterinarians to report animal neglect or abuse to the SPCA.
Nova Scotia SPCA president Pamela Keddy said she welcomed the legislation because it would help the society deal with its thin resources.
She said ceding agricultural cruelty cases to the province would be a definite help. Last year the SPCA dealt with 13 agricultural cases and another 942 cases involving domestic animals.
"Although they might be small in nature for us, they take over so much of what we do and the resources that we have," said Keddy. "By them taking just that one component that's going to free up a lot of our time and resources to concentrate on domestic animals."
Keddy said the controversy surrounding this year's annual meeting has led to change.
"From negative we're getting positive. It's an awful thing to say that was the impetus to get this moving forward, but it did and so be it," said Keddy.
Government officials said the legislation likely won't be dealt with until the fall sitting of the house.
As well - from the Chronicle Herald:
N.S. moves to make sure SPCA annual meetings public
By THE CANADIAN PRESS
Tue. May 27 - 4:18 PM
Annual meetings of Nova Scotia's SPCA would have to be open to the public under legislation introduced today.
The provincial government promised the change after squabbling within the non-profit agency.
The SPCA board has been criticized recently by members and former members on a variety of issues, including its handling of an alleged animal cruelty case in Cape Breton.
Agriculture Minister Brooke Taylor says the Animal Cruelty Protection Act places responsibility for agriculture-related cruelty complaints with his department, while the SPCA will handle complaints involving domestic animals.
The new law would also allow the agriculture minister to designate another entity to fulfill its animal protection role if the SPCA fails to perform the duties set out in the legislation.
An independent appeal board would be created as well to review cases involving animal seizures and cruelty investigations.
The law would require veterinarians to report animal neglect or abuse to the SPCA.