Two recent cases that have hit the media shine light on the BC SPCA’s newer powers regarding search warrants in relation to animals in distress (stories attached). In one case the owner of a dog who had ingested drugs and been taken to the veterinarian was reported to the SPCA. In the other case the owner of a dog who had abused his dog while being filmed by a security camera in an elevator was reported. In both instances BC SPCA officers attended at private residences, armed with search warrants, made entry and seized the animals.
The BC SPCA gets its powers relating to search warrants under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act (the “Act”). The Act was amended in 2008 to expand the powers of SPCA officers and constables to obtain search warrants in relation to animals in distress. The Act allows for warrants that authorize SPCA officers to enter a residence, and search for evidence of an offence under the Act as well as seize that evidence.
If while searching for evidence of an offence under the Act, SPCA officers were to uncover evidence of separate offence, such as one under the Criminal Code of Canada or the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, there would be numerous intersecting areas of law that would govern whether that evidence may be admissible against the person whose residence was searched. What is more clear though is that if SPCA officers made entry into a home under one of their warrants and encountered evidence of a criminal offence that was in plain view in the home that evidence would very likely be admissible against the person whose residence was searched. That evidence would also likely be a solid foundation for asking a judge for a warrant to search the house for further evidence of suspected criminal activity.
The most likely and plain examples of this relate to drug offences. If SPCA officers entered a home to seize an animal in distress and discovered an obvious marijuana grow operation, a drug lab or open evidence of drug dealing in plain view, the occupier of that home would certainly find the police attending very shortly thereafter.
It is probably a little known fact that SPCA officers have the ability to enter a person’s home in such a manner. Of course everyone enjoys not having their privacy and homes invaded, even if they are not doing anything illegal. So, be good to your animals. As if you needed another reason.