Ontario updates 90-year-old animal cruelty law

Roadside zoo regulations still needed to protect animals and community safety

On November 18th Queen's Park voted to pass Bill 50, An Act to Amend the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) Act. Bill 50 is the first significant update to the Act since it was written in 1919. WSPA was one of the key stakeholders in the development of Bill 50 and welcomes the changes.

Bill 50 makes it a provincial offence to abuse animals, and it establishes the strongest penalties in the country, but WSPA is concerned that a key component is missing from the bill -- licencing. Ontarians still do not require a licence to keep an exotic wild animal in captivity, and there are no public safety requirements for zoos. It means that just about anyone can still keep a monkey or tiger in the backyard.

Throughout the process of developing Bill 50, the government committed to addressing animal welfare and public safety problems at roadside zoos. WSPA has been working with the government, as part of our membership in the Provincial Animal Welfare Working Group chaired by the Ministry of Community and Safety and Correctional Services, to ensure that the roadside zoos and problems with all wildlife in captivity are addressed. But, despite recommendations from WSPA and other key stakeholders to include licencing, it will not be a requirement. WSPA is concerned that without this component many of the problems plaguing Ontario’s roadside zoos will continue.

Ontario has more roadside zoos than all other provinces combined, yet it is the only province that does not require a licence to keep exotic wildlife or set public safety requirements for zoos. As a result, animals are being kept in poor, substandard conditions by owners with little or no experience, qualifications or finances to care for them properly. This leaves the animals, zoo visitors and communities surrounding roadside zoos at risk.

WSPA has submitted recommendations on regulations that will accompany Bill 50, and remains optimistic that the government will incorporate some of their recommendations and that the problems at roadside zoos will be alleviated through the regulations. WSPA is also urging the government to introduce new legislation that will require licences to keep wild animals.

For more information:
Read the government backgrounder on what Bill 50 will do for animals
Read the full Bill 50: Provincial Animal Welfare Act


About the campaign

Ontario has the weakest zoo regulations and animal protection law in the country. There are more than 45 zoos in Ontario; more than any other province (approximately 60% of all Canadian zoos are in Ontario). The majority of zoos in Ontario are “roadside zoos”—small, substandard facilities that typically house animals in poor, barren conditions, and lack trained professional animal care staff and the financial resources necessary to ensure proper animal care and housing.

  • Ontario does not regulate the keeping of exotic wildlife in captivity. One doesn’t even need a licence to keep a lion or tiger in their backyard. 2/3 of the animals kept in Ontario zoos are exotic species.

  • A licence is only required to keep native wildlife in captivity and the conditions are minimal, vague and poorly enforced.

  • To open a zoo, no training or education is necessary and no business plan or base level of funding required.

  • There are no public health and safety regulations or inspections to protect zoo staff, volunteers, visitors and neighbours.

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