The not-so-Humane Society
Seems the cute and cuddly creatures aren't the only ones feeling caged at the Toronto Humane Society.
Five weeks into a bitter strike, allegations of sexual harassment of staffers and mistreatment of animals are being levelled at management by unionized employees and volunteers. Some of the complaints have been aired on www.savetheths.com, a website started by a former volunteer who was let go.
Gwen Painter, shop steward for Teamsters Union 419, which represents 30 workers at the THS, says it's a dangerous place to work. Dog bites are a daily hazard at the non-profit, which ranks in the top 2 per cent for workplace injuries in Ontario.
Those charging sexual harassment, according to the union, include two employees who have filed grievances, and a third non-unionized woman who has filed a complaint with the Ontario Human Rights Commission.
THS president Tim Trow says he's aware of the grievances, but he notes that a former manager involved in one case hasn't worked there for a while. He expresses surprise that health and safety are a priority of the union. Trow recently issued a statement saying a 5 per cent wage increase over two years, scheduling and the availability of parking spaces are the main issues in the strike.
He says workers receive rabies shots and equipment such as special gloves and nets, and dog poles are readily available. "Nips and scratches," he says, come with the territory. "No one is forced to handle anything they're uncomfortable with."
One shelter volunteer claims dogs have died or been neglected. A small percentage of dogs will die, counters Trow, because many arrive sick.
The Ontario Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has also been in to investigate the union's claims. Trow says the OSPCA "had different views on how animals should be cared for."
While the Humane Society says it's interested in talking about health and safety issues, it may be a while before this strike's settled.
Management is demanding that all harassment complaints be dropped before a contract is signed. But Painter says the union will not withdraw them.
Cops flogging a dead horse
Etobicoke Councillor Gloria Lindsay Luby says the Criminal Code has blinders on when it comes to protecting police horses.
Taking her cue from the public outcry over Brigadier, the cop horse that died in the line of duty last month, Lindsay Luby says she wants the Justice Department to amend the Code to make harming any police or government animal an indictable offence.
Says Lindsay Luby, "It's unfair that someone deliberately harms one of our law enforcement service animals and would get nothing more than a slap on the wrist and a small fine."
Justice spokesperson Christian Girouard says the Criminal Code already provides penalties for endangering other animals or causing unnecessary suffering, making no distinction between police or other horses.
Animal rights activists wonder why police horses are deliberately being put in harm's way in the first place, whether policing protests or patrolling the streets. Toronto Animal Rights Society director John Ewasyn says we should be taking horses "out of the policing equation."
Toronto Police Services is backing Lindsay Luby's efforts and won't get off its high horse on this one just yet. Says mounted unit Sergeant Peter Spurling, policing on the back of a beast "can get you into spaces a car can't, offers a more commanding presence than a bicycle and an effective and peaceful way to move unruly crowds."
Adds Dan Sandor , webmaster of brigadierslaw.ca, which includes a blog, news and photos of the deceased Belgian cross, "A regular dog or horse doesn't get put in the line of fire every day. So within reason, we must protect the animals working on the job."
Port lands power play
Opponents of the Portlands Energy Centre gas plant planned for the waterfront played the health card at Woodgreen Community Centre Monday, March 27.
Some 60 seniors, the majority of them Chinese Canadian, crammed into a meeting room to hear about how the plant could send them to the hospital.
"Being seniors, you know in the summertime how difficult it is to breathe sometimes," area Councillor Paula Fletcher told the crowd.
Public health nurse Betty Wu-Lawrence flashed cancer warning signs, which seemed to make people shift uncomfortably in their seats.
"We have to be careful what we eat and drink already. We shouldn't have to worry about what we breathe," she said. "In this neighbourhood, we have childbearing women who don't know what the issues are."
Trinity-Spadina NDP MP Olivia Chow asked, "Why do we need to reindustrialize the waterfront? It's hugely expensive and an environmental degradation. There are other alternatives."
The Chinese Chamber of Commerce organized the meeting as part of an effort to boost the campaign of Peter Tabuns, who's running for the NDP in a provincial by-election in Toronto-Danforth.
Tabuns predicted the province would put another plant in the area within 10 years. "This is the beginning of the end," he said.