May 30th Paws, MNRF & Rehabbers meeting
We were told in advance that the May 30th virtual meeting with Paws, MNRF and Rehabbers would be a summary of the Provincial Animal Welfare Services Act. Which it was. The Provincial Animal Welfare Services (Paws) Act is different from the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act (Wildlife Rehabbers have operated under for the last 23 years). Regulations for Paws are based on the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries (GFAS) were the MNRF is based on the National Wildlife Rehabilitors Association (NWRA) Minimum Standards Guide.
The good news is that Paws said that Rehabbers can operate from dwellings, which several Rehabbers had been told they cannot (still need it in writing). Paws also acknowledged that Paws officers can not enter a dwelling without a warrant. Fines for non-compliance mentioned but not the size where not mentioned ($25,000 to $200,000). The question and answer at the end, was only able to handle questions from 6 Rehabbers. Open Sky Raptor was not able to speak. If a Rehabbers has a site inspection from MNRF it is not acceptable to Paws. Paws said they are not currently doing site inspection of Rehabbers but have the right to do in the future. Rehabbers will now have to deal with both Paws (GFAS) and MNRF (NAWR) regulations. Paws also does not handle cruelty to wildlife call through their 1800 call center and refer them to MNRF. The six Rehabbers who asked questions had a lot good questions and concerns. Jeff from Georgian Bay Turtle raised the question under the Paws Act you are not supposed to have an animal under distress, which is what most Rehabbers handled. He also raised concern about additional Paws regulations on top of MNRF regulations on Rehabbers. Derek from Mally’s echoed concerns about adding Paws regulations on Rehabbers. A lot of question asked of Paws were being “taken back to get answers.”
It was said that “nothing has changed” implying that the same conditions existed before when the Cruelty to Animal Act was in place. This comment is plain wrong. The Ontario Humane Society who enforced the act did not regulate or investigate any Wildlife Rehabbers. They felt that Rehabbers were licensed, regulated, had site inspections and the responsibility of the MNRF. No everything has changed.
In discussions with the Minister’s Office they said in order to get changes, we should be talking with the Solicitor General’s Office. The Minister’s Office (MNRF) does see the problems but can only try to persuade. The MNRF cannot change the policy of another Ministry. We have updated the White Paper Paws and directing efforts with the Solicitor General’s Office. To see the updated version of the White Paper click on #6) White Paper on the right hand side.
If nothing changes what happened to Open sky Raptor can and will happen to some other Wildlife Rehabbers. The question is who and when. The regulations and rules have completely changed.
We have a big problem
Most Rehabbers have heard by now of problems Carol from Open Sky Raptor is having with Provincial Animal Welfare Services (PAWS). The problem is not cruelty to animals (reason PAWS was created) but all about standards. MNRF and PAWS standards for caging and animal care are very different. The Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act (MNRF) and the Provincial Animal Welfare Services Act (PAWS) conflict with each other. If you comply with one you are in conflict with the other. Open Sky Raptor has been caught up in this conflict. This is the second Rehabber in less than a year that has run into this problem.
The immediate problem for Carol is PAWS came in with a warrant which was very generic. Is the warrant correct or is it an overreach? Unofficial a knowledgeable person in the MNRF suggested she gets legal advice. Carol like most Rehabbers does not have the were with all to hire a lawyer. We are asking if any Rehabber knows of any lawyer that would be willing to do pro bono work. The lawyer should be experienced in legal arguments and trial procedures. “Barrister” not Solicitor side of the law.
The long-term problem for just about every Wildlife Rehabber in the province is that, this can happen to you. If any one files a complaint with PAWS (even if there is no foundation) PAWS can come into your place unannounced.
PAWS standards are very different and they know less about wildlife than the MNRF. So far every Rehabber that they have visited, was treated very aggressively and with the approach they were guilty until proven innocent. In a letter received from PAWS they claim they can inspect and investigate any Wildlife Rehabber any time they want and impose their conditions.
Ultimately this conflicting legislation has to be sorted out by either the two Ministers involved or by the courts.
We started talking with the political side of the Solicitor General’s Office (which PAWS is part of) over a year ago when the first incident happened. We registered our concerns and the problem this creates for Rehabbers. Between the Provincial election and other priorities it keeps moving to the bottom of the pile. The Minister of Natural Resources office is aware of the problem (Carol kind of let everyone at the senior level know).
Some discussion is happening between the Ministers Office and the Solicitor General’s Office. How high a priority, and if anything can be resolved is any one’s guess. If it becomes established that Rehabbers will also have to report to PAWS it will be very hard to undo.