The Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals must allow all Toronto Humane Society employees not facing criminal charges to return to work starting Tuesday, a judge ruled Tuesday.
But the OSPCA, which has been searching the Toronto Humane Society for close to a month, will remain in charge of the shelter's animal care at least until each side's duelling legal applications in the continuing animal-cruelty investigation are resolved. In the meantime, one of the OSPCA's lawyers said investigators are unearthing evidence that could lead to as many as two dozen more criminal animal-cruelty charges.
The OSPCA has been searching humane society premises since Nov. 26, when their investigators executed a search warrant on the shelter's River Street facility and arrested five senior staff, including volunteer president Tim Trow and veterinarian Steve Sheridan, on criminal charges of animal cruelty; the other 14 board members face provincial animal-cruelty charges.
During their search, OSPCA investigators say they found animals that were neglected, dehydrated and living in filthy conditions. One of the most gruesome finds early in the search was a mummified cat in a cage stuck above ceiling panels.
But four weeks is too long for what has effectively become an "occupation" of the humane society's premises to continue, Judge Ian Nordheimer said Tuesday.
Judge Nordheimer ordered the OSPCA to turn over all potentially sensitive documents, including scans of the humane society's hard drives, to a third party, and to allow all humane society employees not facing criminal charges to return to work.
Since Nov. 26, investigators have barred about 35 employees from entering - on the basis, the OSPCA said, that they wouldn't have been able to do their work while the search was continuing. Humane society lawyer Frank Addario argued that keeping senior staff out of the building rendered the society unable to conduct business or pay its bills.
"We can begin to take charge of the business of the charity again," he said. "We've achieved the thing we came to achieve. … We wanted to bring that occupation to an end."
OSPCA lawyer Christopher Avery said the ruling isn't a setback because they had planned to finish their search by Monday, anyway. And the court order to keep animal care under OSPCA control is "absolutely" a victory, he said.
"We're in a much better position than we were when we got here this morning."
At the same time, the OSPCA filed an injunction Tuesday asking the province to remove the humane society's board and acting president and appoint an interim supervisor to take over the humane society's operations until a new board can be elected.
The application alleges the board has failed to provide necessary food, medicine and care to animals in an overcrowded shelter whose bills the board is unable to pay, rendering it unable to fulfill its obligations as a charitable organization.