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The lead Inspector for the OSPCA, Mindy Hall, speaks briefly with members of the media before continuing her investigation inside the Humane Society on River Street. (Peter Power)
The lead Inspector for the OSPCA, Mindy Hall, speaks briefly with members of the media before continuing her investigation inside the Humane Society on River Street. (Peter Power)

SPCA suspends status of shelter Add to ...

The Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals suspended the affiliate status of the Toronto Humane Society yesterday and launched an investigation into allegations of animal cruelty with an inspection of the shelter's River Street facility.

OSPCA investigators were accompanied by Toronto Police officers and had secured a search warrant, but were not required to use it as THS management opened the doors to the inspection, which lasted more than five hours. Kristin Williams, a spokesperson for the OSPCA, said last night orders were issued regarding the standards of care of four animals, and the investigation continues.

Reporters and TV cameras crowded outside the shelter's glass doors, as volunteer dog walkers filed in and out, and an inspection of the facility's animal cages and clinic was carried out.

The THS must comply with the OSPCA orders to relieve the four animals' distress. Ms. Williams said that following a three-part series by The Globe and Mail, "numerous" allegations of animal suffering have been brought forward.

The Globe's series, which uncovered animal suffering, as well as the allegations brought forward to the OSPCA, helped inspectors secure the search warrant and informed the decision to suspend the THS's affiliate status, she said.

"The allegations in The Globe and Mail were serious, they were substantiated by professionals, and we have since received a number of other individuals who have come forward with additional information that is distressing and we need to look into it," Ms. Williams said.

Ian McConachie, a spokesperson for the THS, called the investigation politically motivated.

"We are a very high-profile shelter, we operate the largest shelter in Canada, we're in the largest municipality and we care for the largest amount of animals so that is probably one of the reasons the OSPCA has not seen eye to eye, as they'd really like us to fall in line like other shelters have and we refuse to do so," he said.

Mayor David Miller said the the reports in The Globe and Mail raise serious issues about the operations of the Humane Society.

"I thought it's appropriate for the Ontario society which supervises them to investigate. The city doesn't have a role in investigating. We have our own animal services and we're proud of the way they're run. But I do think given the nature of the very serious concerns it's appropriate for the Ontario society to investigate."

The OSCPA is part of the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services.

The chairman of its board, Jim Sykes, is also the CEO of the Hamilton-Burlington SPCA. A libel suit launched by the THS against the Hamilton group remains unsettled. The suit relates to 2007 fundraising flyers distributed by the Hamilton-Burlington SPCA that claimed that the THS and another group "do not support any animals in this community!"

The THS and the OSPCA also locked horns last year over Bill 50, which, before it was amended, would have meant that only OSPCA-affiliated shelters could carry the title "humane society."

With their affiliate status suspended, the THS has no authority to conduct animal cruelty investigations. Shelter operations, however, will continue as usual.

If the OSPCA's investigation does lead to charges, they could be laid under the OSPCA Act or under the Criminal Code.

The Canada Revenue Agency has the authority to revoke charitable status, and the Office of the Public Guardian and Trustee of Ontario is also charged with investigating charities.

But as far as shelter operations go, the Toronto Humane Society is accountable to its board of directors.

There are 15 directors listed in the society's latest issue of its magazine, AnimalTalk. They are elected by a membership of about 1,800, according to court documents, and an effort by concerned THS members is currently under way to secure the names and mailing addresses of the membership.

"The Toronto Humane Society has a board of directors that it's accountable to, and its shelter operations and policies are independent from the Ontario SPCA," Ms. Williams said.

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