Animal Advocates Watchdog

In 1994 some members of the BC legislature warned of this very evil

[1994 Legislative Session:3rd Session, 35th Parliament

Official Report of
WEDNESDAY, April 13, 1994


Hon. D. Zirnhelt:

The offence provision will require the SPCA to give an animal owner the chance to take action immediately to help the animal. However, if the owner ignores the warning, the society will have the authority to take action to help the animal and to recommend to the Crown Counsel that charges be laid.

In proposing the amendments to the act to increase the powers of the SPCA, I have also been aware of the fact that the SPCA needs to recognize all the interests of the public when using its power under the act. The SPCA has always done that, and I am confident that the society will continue to do so. But we still have a responsibility to ensure that the significant powers given to the SPCA are used reasonably. To help ensure that, the amendments will require the SPCA to put in place comprehensive policies and procedures to guide its agents on the use of the act’s enforcement powers, and they will make those policies subject to government review[1]. SPCA agents will also have to be appointed as special provincial constables under the Police Act in order to be able to exercise the act’s enforcement powers. This will ensure that SPCA agents have proper training, and it will also give the public the right to have and agent’s actions reviewed by an independent review body when they’re unhappy with the actions of an agent. [2]

The amendments will also expressly state that the offence provision does not apply to activities carried out according to reasonable and generally accepted management practices. They will emphasize that the act must be administered in a way which ensures that animals are treated humanely, while still allowing uses of animals to continue. [3]


There are a few items that need clarifications by the minister, such as the definition of cruelty. [4] What does cruelty mean to you and to me? We want to hear what the minister thinks about that, considering it is not defined in the bill. It could be and area of contention. Another area we want clarification on is: What is critical distress, and how do you judge it? Veterinarians are having problems with these terminologies. We’d like to hear the minister’s point of view on this so we’ll have it on the record, and people will know where they stand. [5]Another area is the powers of the authorized agent, or special constable. What training is the SPCA going to have to make sure that it’s standardized? What standards do the special constables adhere to when they go out on a task? [6]We would like to hear just what the standards will be. It’s not talked about in the bill right now.

C. Serwa:

I don’t know how the minister proposes that regulations will be drawn up through this legislation that will indicate clearly what is on one side of the line and what is on the other side.


I stress that the last thing the SPCA wants to do is separate owners from their animals. They want to be able to point out to owners: “This is what you’re doing wrong; you can do it better. We will help educate you.” If must comes to must, then you lay charges; but that is certainly not the first thing any SPCA people I know would ever do.[7]

H. De Jong:

I’m pleased to rise and speak on Bill 4. I suppose Bill 4 raises two important philosophical questions: the first is our relationship with nature and, more particularly, with animals; the second is our approach to providing service and whether or not a province wide monopoly[8] is the appropriate way of dealing with the variety of situations which exist across British Columbia.

The second issue relates to how Bill 4 goes about dealing with the need to strengthen the protection of domestic animals. The government appears to assume that one size fits all. With this approach, there would be plenty of sore customers if they were running a shoe store. The SPCA is a fine organization, with an excellent reputation, but they are not the only agency capable of dealing with animals. I object to granting any organization a legislative monopoly [9]unless there are truly compelling reasons to do so. It is not good for the taxpayers to have no choice, and it is not good for even the best-intentioned organizations to have no competition or possibility of competition in the future.[10]

It’s a very strange kind of privatization: giving police powers to a private organization. If the subjects were people rather that animals, it would be like turning the justice system over to the B.C. Civil Liberties Association. To have a say in the policies adopted, you would have to buy a membership.

But in Bill 4, police powers are extended province wide to a single private society – albeit a well-respected and sincerely dedicated organization.

The question is though: what other society has similar jurisdiction extended beyond the confines of its voluntary membership to the general public? I believe that police powers ought to be exercised by the police. [11]

I would like to ask the minister to be clear about who is going to pay for the agents established under part 3 of this bill. Is this another downloading of costs on local government, which the Minister of Government Services used to complain about so bitterly when he was in opposition? How much are we talking about? Many charities have had unfavorable publicity in recent years about empire-building and excessive administrative overhead. What is riper for empire building than a legislated monopoly? Is the reason for the monopoly in this bill administrative convenience?[12]

The bill policies farmers in determining when an animal is in critical distress. Does the minister have any estimate of the cost of this policing? The trouble with setting up schemes you can’t afford to police adequately is that you open the door to discretionary enforcement. There will always be the potential for favoritism and similar sorts of abuse. If a farmer was a strong critic of the government, would the government inspectors look at his animals more critically that those of his neighbors, or would you have a new make-work project, looking for problems that aren’t really there? [13]

I’m not clear what “any premises” means in this act. For example, does it include barns or barnyards? The power to enter private property without a warrant is a serious matter. Giving this power to private society is quite alien to our legal system. [14]Under Bill 4, apparently only the farmer’s dwelling is exempted from this type of invasion of privacy. I’m not sure that’s the government has considered the serious ramifications in the case of mistaken entry or damage done as a result, since the existing legislation exempts from liability those who enforce it. Under Bill 4, as in so much NDP legislation, the public must rely on cabinet regulations to be adequately safeguarded against overzealous enforcement.[15]

To conclude, the intent of the bill may have some good in it, and there is a definite need to address. But I fear the minister has been offered a quick fix, a superficially appealing solution which contains many hidden pitfalls and unforeseen consequences.

Not the least of these is the dangerous precedent in endowing any private organization, no matter how benevolent, with police powers bolstered by statutory immunity from damage claims.[16] At committee stage, I would urge the minister to substantially modify this bill.

Messages In This Thread

Another one bites the dust: SPCA pulls out of Kitimat
The resignation of Phyllis Gregg, the BC SPCA director for Kitimat, November 2004
If the branch is not paid for by taxpayers, the SPCA pulls out: We wish Phyllis Gregg and her volunteers the best *LINK* *PIC*
Bad P.R. of the SPCA's own making is the pattern: Approval of dogs going to UBC research and the Electrothanator *LINK* *PIC*
AAS has never wanted the SPCA to fracture this way
AAS trusted and defended Craig Daniell until the Graham seizure *LINK* *PIC*
Valerius Geist, PhD., P. Biol.Letter to the Attorney General: I have grave concerns pertaining to the administration of justice
In 1994 some members of the BC legislature warned of this very evil
Deputy Minister, Agriculture, Food and Fisheries responds to Dr Geist's letter