A mother and her son pleaded guilty in court Tuesday to charges stemming from the death of 13 horses and the mistreatment of 15 more on a farm in Stouffville, Ont., last year.
Victoria Small, her husband David Small and their son Jason, 32, were charged with allowing an animal to be in distress, failing to provide adequate food and failing to provide care necessary for general welfare following an investigation by the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (OSPCA).
The three pleaded guilty only to the charge of allowing an animal to be in distress.
David Small didn’t appear in the Newmarket provincial offences court Tuesday due to medical issues, but a lawyer representing him entered his guilty plea on his behalf.
“The good news is we don’t have to have a trial,” said Calvin Barry, the defence lawyer for Victoria and Jason Small.
Because David Small couldn’t attend in person, the sentencing was pushed to next month.
The three face up to $60,000 in fines and possible jail time.
Michael Cheung, who owns the farm where the horses were found, attended the court session and said he was hoping to see the Smalls sentenced.
“It’s somewhat satisfying that they are finally admitting to guilt,” he told CBC Toronto.
The Smalls were supposed to be looking after the horses, but the animals were found either dead or starving.
The horses still alive had been living in stalls filled with urine, feces and water.
Cheung also alleges the Smalls also defrauded him out of thousands of dollars.
“I’m disappointed that this is dragging out one more month, but that’s OK,” he said. “Until they get sentenced, there’s really no relief.”
OSPCA will no longer enforce animal cruelty laws
This development comes a day after Ontario’s animal welfare agency said it will no longer investigate and enforce animal cruelty laws.
Instead, the agency says it will shift into a support role in animal cruelty investigations, providing animal shelter, forensic evidence collection and veterinary services.
“We want to see a system in place that provides maximum protection for animals,” said Kate MacDonald, OSPCA’s chief executive officer, in a press release. “Being an outside agency, we have been woefully under-resourced to provide legislation enforcement.”
“Enforcement is the responsibility of government.”
Currently, the OSPCA has police powers, but that role came into question last month when an Ontario court judge found the agency’s powers to be unconstitutional, and lacking in accountability and transparency standards.
The province appealed the decision.
‘Things could get worse’
Brock University professor Dr. Kendra Coulter said she’s not surprised by the OSPCA’s decision.
“For about a century, charities have been subsidizing the public sector by providing what is a public service on donor dollars,” she said.
“The era of private enforcement of animal cruelty laws in Ontario is over.”
She added that for the past couple of years, the OSPCA has shown signs of trying to move towards its animal care work, and away from the enforcement work.
Now, she says the province needs to shift its focus to protecting the animals.
“This is first and foremost about animals, and we need a system that is properly resourced, officers that are properly trained and protected for the well-being of animals,” Coulter said.
The OSPCA has said it will draft recommendations for a new Ontario Animal Protection Act, but it’s not clear how the organization’s current responsibilities will be distributed.
“Things could get worse if there is not a clear plan put in place.”