Thursday, July 8, 2010

OSPCA wrongfully seized couple's animals

The OSPCA has made an out-of-court settlement of $40,000 to an Elmvale “hobby farmer” whose pigs, emu, turkeys, chickens, ducks and guinea pigs it wrongly seized in 2007.
After a six-day trial in October ’08, Justice Clair Marchand, of the Ontario Superior Court, ruled that the evidence of Don Hervieux and his wife, Cynthia Bloxom, and their witnesses was “much more credible” than the evidence of OSPCA agent Mark Beauchamp, who seized the animals.
Hervieux and Bloxom want their legal costs added to the settlement offer, and are contemplating a class-action suit against the OSPCA, which has a questionable record of persecuting people in rural Ontario, especially farmers.
“Their agents seem to know very little about farm animals,” Hervieux says. “They mostly know dogs and cats, and use their considerable powers to get money.”
No warrant
A month after Beauchamp went to the farm without a warrant and seized the animals and free-ranging birds, Hervieux and Bloxom were billed by the OSPCA for the “cost of removal” of the livestock — $560 for 28 hours of work by inspectors, $445.60 veterinary costs, $1,590 boarding costs, $350 for trucking costs, $112.70 for mileage travelled and $31.55 for feed and straw. Total $3,089.85, to which was added the note: “To the above sum add $110 per day boarding costs.”
“That’s what the OSPCA does,” Hervieux says. “They charge huge amounts — extortion really — and force you to sign surrender documents for the animals when you can’t afford to pay.”
(A woman in Niagara Falls was charged $7,333 if she wanted her small dog returned — she is fighting this in court).
It’s why Hervieux is keen to be part of a class-action suit against the OSPCA (his pager number is 705-835-8484, for those interested).
“As soon as the inspectors arrived to take our livestock, I contacted the OSPCA,” Hervieux says. “Kate MacDonald, chief executive officer, Hugh Coghill, chief inspector — they did nothing, weren’t interested. That’s another reason why there’s got to be changes — and some people at the OSPCA who understand farm animals.”
The OSPCA has been centre stage ever since it raided the Toronto Humane Society and charged executives with cruelty (apparently for a euthanasia rate of 7% that was deemed too low), and then unleashed a storm when it ordered 350 animals at its Newmarket shelter killed because they had ringworm.
Public pressure forced the OSPCA to reverse its earlier statement, and say only 100 anaimals were killed.
Bloxom said their pigs and birds were taken to an OSPCA “foster home” in Midland, “where conditions were horrible.”
On three separate occasions, they visited the Midland foster site and took photos that showed a dead rat on the floor.
On each visit, the rat hadn’t been removed.
Bloxom says the turkey and chickens were kept near the wild boars — which presumably ate them.
“The turkey was half eaten, and we presume our missing chickens were eaten by the hogs,” she says. “Shameful.”
During the seizure, guinea pigs were inadvertently killed or ran away.
“They wanted to charge us $20 boarding fees for each of the three guinea pigs they took,” Hervieux says.
During the court case, the unsanitary and poor condition of the animals testified by Beauchamp were refuted by a veterinarian, Dr. Sheila Driver of Huronia animal Hospital.
Driver, who has 15 years experience, testified that all the animals were in good shape and “no medical attention was required.”
In all, five wild pigs, an emu, two turkeys, eight hens, two roosters, two geese and one guinea hen were removed when Hervieux and Bloxom refused to surrender them.
When Hervieux described OSPCA officer Beauchamps manner as “imperious, authoritarian, demanding and officious,” Marchand, in his finding, said: “I would add officious and very opinionated.”
He ruled that Beauchamp “did not have the knowledge nor the experience to find the animals in question in distress.”
Also, Hervieux and Bloxom were not told they could appeal to the Animal Care Review Board.
“I reject the evidence of Mr. Beauchamp that he did in fact explain this remedy to Mr. Hervieux,” Marchand said.
He added that Beauchamp “was on the premises without a warrant ... (and) was obviously discourteous and officious, and I find it unlikely that he would have explained the appeal section to the appellants.”
He ordered Hervieux and Bloxom to “immediately pick up the remainder of their animals.”
The fact that the OSPCA would settle for $40,000 is unusual, and further evidence that, as a charity, it shouldn’t have powers that exceed those of police.
There are too many complaints of OSPCA abuse around the province.
The provincial government should require that animal inspectors who have powers to seize and prosecute be under the jurisdiction of the attorney general, and not a charity that depends on public donations for its income.
It’ll be interesting to see whether a class-action suit gets off the ground.

*From the Toronto Sun