Friday, March 26, 2010

More On The OSPCA

Talk about a Grand ol’ time.

Staff with the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals hardly has been roughing it since raiding the Toronto Humane Society late last year.

An unknown number of employees of the charitable organization, supported by donor dollars, have been hanging their hats at downtown Toronto’s Grand Hotel, the Sun has learned.

One room for one person at the Grand Thursday night would have cost from $169 to $699 plus taxes.

“I can absolutely say we’re not staying or using the penthouse suite. People stay in regular, standard rooms,” OSPCA spokesman Rosaline Ryan said Thursday. “It’s standard for charitable organizations to ask for a charitable rate and most places give it. Now, I can’t confirm because I wasn’t the one who booked this hotel.”

OSPCA officers raided the River St. building on Nov. 26, 2009, claiming THS was keeping sick animals alive that should have been euthanized. Former THS president Tim Trow and four other senior employees were charged with animal cruelty and led off the property in handcuffs in front of the media, who were tipped off to the raid by the OSPCA.

In January, prominent animal cruelty investigator Tre Smith was paraded out in front of the media in handcuffs.

Smith — who gained notoriety in the summer of 2007 when he smashed the window out of a vehicle to rescue a Rottweiler from baking in the heat — was charged with impersonating a peace officer and perjury.

The initial search warrant was for five days, but four months later the OSPCA still has the reigns of the shelter.

As part of the investigation, the OSPCA has been obliged to house staff close to the River St. site, Ryan said, explaining they are all out-of-towners.

The Jarvis St. hotel is no kennel — its website boasts of “intimate, luxurious and warmly residential” accommodations.

When asked how many employees have been staying at the Grand, Ryan said that while she didn’t have any figures, “it can often be a small number of staff depending on what the needs are.”

A private meeting was held by the OSPCA for humane society volunteers and animal lovers at a conference room at the hotel Wednesday.

Staff at THS, who did not want to be named, also raised concerns about other costs associated with the investigation, which won’t wrap up until next month at the earliest.

They say the OSPCA has hired security staff to work around the clock, as many as five during the day and two at night. And they claim the OSPCA also buys lunch most days for everyone on site, possibly more than 30 people, including OSPCA and THS employees.

The entire case may come apart at the seams if the courts eventually determine the relationship between the OSPCA’s lead investigator, Kevin Strooband, and a woman who was employed by THS up until last month is a conflict of interest.

The OSPCA has acknowledged the relationship but claims there is no conflict because Alison Hay is not a witness.

According to the OSPCA’s most recent tax return, the charity received $8.6 million in tax-receipted donations in 2008.

The OSPCA also got $2.8 million from the province, $2.04 million from municipal governments, and a small federal contribution, for a total of about $4.9 million in taxpayers dollars.

Total revenue for the charity topped more than $17 million according to its 2008 filings with the Canada Revenue Agency.

“I’m confident that donors know that the money that they contribute to the OSPCA, parts of it go to investigative work and investigative work covers a number of different expense items,” Ryan said.

THS spokesman Ian McConachie said he’s convinced donors would rather know their money was being used to help animals find homes.

“I’m pretty sure the OSPCA is going to have to answer some questions from their donors,” he said.

— With files from Tamara Cherry and Chris Doucette

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