Monday, April 14, 2008

Accountability Part II

This post is part 2 in my series of posts leading up to the Annual General Meeting of the NS SPCA on April 26th, 2008. Today I'm going to post an article from the Chronicle Herald from 2004 that talks about a sheep farmer who was purportedly neglecting his animals - and the NS SPCA didn't think it was "worth it" to charge him with animal cruelty - because it would cost too much money to prosecute him, seeing as how he'd just get a slap on the wrist anyway.

The ladies from the Antigonish SPCA (once again) were protesting the fact - as well as the people from the Digby SPCA - were wanting an inquiry into the whole thing - the article makes for some VERY interesting reading - especially in hindsight - which we all know is 20/20. But reading it today, in the shadow of the Celtic Pets fiasco, and the charges that were filed, and then last week - when a dog was found hanged in the HRM Metro area - and Judith Gass was on record saying that "If identified, whoever is responsible for the dog’s death will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, she said. "There’s no question about that.""

One has to ask themselves - why would THAT individual be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law - for the ONE and only dog - when the Celtic's Pet case involved 130 animals, and it seems they're charged so lightly. What IS the fullest extent of the law?

Another interesting aspect of this article is that it talks about the Animal Cruelty Bill - which was passed last week in Ottawa - and wasn't commented on at all by the NS SPCA. One also has to ask why....

NovaScotia, Tuesday, May 18, 2004, p. A1

SPCA under fire for sheep case; Critics wonder why charges were not brought against accused farmer

A Digby animal shelter manager wants an investigation into why the SPCA did not charge a Cape Breton sheep farmer with animal cruelty.

More than three dozen dying sheep and lambs were removed from the farm of Ken Hunter of Skye Glen in March. But the SPCA told this newspaper last month that it would
not lay charges.

"If there is no punishment of any kind, no charges being laid against people who commit cruelty to animals, then animal welfare has taken a great step backward," says
Dorothy Andrews, manager of TLC Animal Shelter in Digby.

"That's the only thing that's kept me going all these years. People who abuse animals don't like it when they have to go to court."

The SPCA constitution says the society is to "investigate cases of cruelty or neglect of animals . . . to enforce all laws which are . . . enacted for the prevention of cruelty to animals . . . to secure by lawful means the arrest, conviction and punishment of all persons violating such laws."

If an animal suffers, the person responsible faces charges under the Criminal Code of Canada and the province's Animal Cruelty Prevention Act. Judith Gass, Nova Scotia SPCA president, said in an interview April 29 the conditions on Mr. Hunter's
farm were "disgusting" and the animals "could not have remained on that property with that owner." The SPCA doesn't usually lay charges, "and the reason is lack of
manpower and resources," Ms. Gass said. "Mostly what we're interested in is looking after the animals" and educating the public.

This past Friday, after Ms. Andrews' comments about the SPCA fulfilling its mandate, Ms. Gass spoke again about enforcement practices. "The penalties we receive in the courts are very, very low," she said.

"If we took a large herd of animals and had to foster them, it could cost thousands of dollars. "Then we would have to be concerned if we could win the court case. .
. . Sometimes cases get thrown out on technicalities and we've put this money into it and are just pumping our wheels."

She said federal Bill C-22, which is before the House of Commons, would significantly increase penalties in animal cruelty cases. "If we had gone to court, we would have gotten some sort of small fine," she said of the current penalties.

Ms. Gass, a lawyer, said the Nova Scotia SPCA charges about five or six people each year among the hundreds of cases it investigates. But Ms. Andrews says that has to change. "I think the SPCA should be investigated to find out exactly what they should be doing, how much resources they have in order to do the job they're supposed to do," she said. "The SPCA president has said publicly they don't have the resources to do the job. If the president says, 'We are not doing our job because we don't have the manpower and resources,' then I think the public has a right to know what their resources are.

"We have good legislation in Nova Scotia and we have an SPCA president saying, 'What's the good of using it, since he'll get off anyway?' That's the same thing as the RCMP not charging someone who breaks into a house because it will cost too much to take them to court." Ms. Andrews wants a government-appointed investigator "to go in and check things out and say, 'This is your mandate, this is your policy, this is your manpower.'"

"If they can't do what their policy is, then they should be dismantled. A president of an organization should be able to back up her statements. I think she took us back 20 years and gave the criminals a green light."

The SPCA, she said, has a mandate to enforce laws enacted for the prevention of cruelty to animals, as its constitution says. "These statements need to be cleared up that this president made, and people in Nova Scotia need to be told it was a mistake (not to take action) because criminals in Nova Scotia who abuse animals . . .
they definitely do get charged," Ms. Andrews said. Several court cases resulting from charges laid by SPCA agents are ongoing. They include one of a dog not receiving adequate food, water and care; cattle not receiving adequate food, water, shelter or care; and horses not receiving adequate food, water, shelter and care.

Betty O'Neil, president of the Antigonish branch of the SPCA, said Saturday she doesn't understand why Mr. Hunter wasn't charged. The Antigonish branch is run by volunteers who rely on the RCMP to lay charges. If manpower is a problem, "there are other resources that can be used, like the RCMP, who do an excellent job," Ms.
O'Neil said.

The original complaint to the SPCA head office was made in January about the condition of Mr. Hunter's emaciated dog and a request to check the condition of the farm animals. SPCA protocol requires that the Agriculture Department be consulted in
the case of a registered farm, which Mr. Hunter had, before its investigation can proceed. Arthur Pick, senior agricultural resource co-ordinator for the
province, said Saturday he didn't get the SPCA report until March.

"I'm surprised we didn't get that back in January," Mr. Pick said. "At that point we would normally go in and see if there was cruelty." Mr. Pick said the agricultural regional co-ordinator for Sydney told the SPCA to go in and investigate because "it was a bad situation and needed to be dealt with."

"He obviously felt there could be cruelty there." SPCA head office sent a volunteer agent to Mr. Hunter's farm accompanied by a veterinarian to treat and remove the dying sheep and lambs. The animals were taken to a hobby farm. Ms. Gass said each case is different, and Mr. Hunter endured the penalty of publicity. But the case did
not become public until after he was contacted by this newspaper about the condition of his farm, more than a month after the SPCA removed the animals.

And he did not resign from the AgriPoint Board until after he was asked whether he was concerned about his position on the board.

"No one has talked to me about resigning from the board," he said in an interview April 29. "If there is a problem, I will resign from the board."

He resigned that night.

"I realize maybe I should have been more diligent. ... That's something I have to live with," Mr. Hunter said when asked about the condition of his animals.

- Bill C-22 would be the first major amendment to the Cruelty to Animals sections of the Criminal Code of Canada since 1892.
- The bill moves animals out of the property section of the code and provides stiffer penalties for killing or harming an animal or for failing to provide adequate care.
- Changes include increasing penalties for intentional cruelty from two to five years; allowing unlimited fines which are now set at a maximum of $2,000; allowing humane societies to claim costs for housing animals involved in a cruelty case; setting a lifetime ban on keeping animals.

Here's a quote from the NS SPCA's 2003 Annual Report that's on their Cover Page:

"If you are neutral in siutations of injustice,
You have chosen the side of the oppressor,
If an elephant has his foot on the tail of the mouse
And you say you are neutral,
The mouse will not appreciate your neutrality".
- Bishop Desmond Tutu

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