Thursday, July 27, 2017

Animal Cruelty Appeal Board Accountability Post #2

Tonight I'm going to talk about transparency.

Transparency is a very important word when it comes to animal protection.  When you are dealing with sometimes the most important thing in person's world - their pet - you had better get thing's right when you are an authoritarian organization coming into a person or family's life and threatening to take away that animal, or actually taking away that animal - or even just generally mucking about in your life.

And that being said - there needs to be transparency - and accountability - all through the process - from the first interaction to the final step - whether the human is charged with cruelty to animals and goes to trial and is convicted or whether there is an order to comply - or whatever the outcome is.

There needs to be accountability and transparency on both the animal owners side and the authoritarian organization's side.

And what is this all for?  It is to protect the humans? No.  I think we at least can all agree about this - it is for the protection of the animal - for the dog or cat or gerbil or even fish - as lately in the news, Gail Benoit has been in the news for having some fish seized from her in her prohibition order for harbouring fish that she was not allowed to own. (and kudos to the NS SPCA for doing that!)

The NS SPCA is the only organization in Nova Scotia who are empowered to enforce the Animal Protection Act, and they take that very seriously.  They have been given policing powers to do that. They don't have guns, but they do carry billy bats and wear flak jackets and I'm sure they probably need them on a regular basis because there's nothing that inflame people like animals - just try to say anything on facebook that is against someone's philosophy and you will soon learn how angry someone can get.  But I digress.

The Special Constables of the NS SPCA see a lot of horrible things on a regular basis as I'm sure you can imagine.  Sometimes it's hard to keep ourselves alive so keeping our pets in tip top condition can be a challenge at the best of time - and then there's cultural differences that can come into play - I know this from running a dog rescue that rescues dogs who have been chained out their whole lives - there are actually people out there who think that if you have a backyard that's where dogs are supposed to be - and even worse - that's where they enjoy being, especially if they are certain breeds of dog.

And if the dog isn't living inside with you on your couch, there are health conditions that creep in that you don't notice, their nails can start to get pretty long and gangly, things can just get out of control.  Epsecially when they've been outside for a few years.

So it would make sense that the SPCA constables would start to get a bit hardened by the pain that they see day in and day out - but somehow they don't - I think that in order to do this job it really is a calling - you can either do it or you can't.  And the animals of Nova Scotia are the better for it.

9.5 times out of 10 the Special Constables work with owners - providing educations, working with the owners, giving them notices of orders to comply - they do it for the love of the animals, and they understand that the owners want the best for their animals - but if they see that the animal is in dire distress - sometimes they do have to seize an animal - they will do it, and thank dog they are there to do that.

There is a lot of work that has to go into having an animal seized, gathering the information and documenting the condition of the animal so  that a case can be made for the charge of cruelty.

Some times it's pretty cut and dry - you'd think it would be, but lawyers are very funny people.  They question everything, and if there's the least question of anything - they will not proceed.  Especially Crown Prosecutors - they are the most busy government workers in this province - and when it comes to animals - the court system is not in the 21st century - I think we can all agree to that.

So if a Crown Prosecutor sees that an animal has been given back to a person at an Animal Cruelty Appeal Board Hearing - a person who has been charged with animal cruelty by the NS SPCA - do you think that they are going to proceed with the charge?  I will give you one chance to answer.

That's why we need transparency and accountability from the Animal Cruelty Appeal Board the same as we have with the Nova Scotia Court System - and also the same that we require from the NS SPCA.

Today in a CBC News article the Chief Inspector of the NS SPCA says that she's seeing a troubling trend of animals being returned to owners from the Animal Cruelty Appeal Board - and that is not good news - and we need to find out why that is happening.

There needs to be some transparency and accountability from this board - and find out why this is happening - we need to get the past decisions of the board to see why those animals were returned - maybe they were returned for good reasons - but right now we don't know why, and that's not good.

It would behoove the NS SPCA to step up their transparency as well - last week they announced the Animal Cruelty Appeal Board meeting this past Monday - that's how I knew to attend.  I think when these board meeetings are happening they should start announcing them.  I know I will start attending them - and if need be - be kicked out of every one of them.

Maybe we should go back to having a judge make these decisions and not have veterinarians and breeders make these decisions.  I don't know but there needs to be a light shone onto this - because I don't want animals to be suffering unnecessarily in this province - to be being put back into the hands of abusers if that is what is happening.

I do know for a fact that the court system in Nova Scotia needs to be changed when it comes to Animal Protection - but that's for another post.

But right now we'll just stick with trying to find out what's happening with this "quasi-judicial" board.

Here's the CBC News article:

'Concerning' pattern emerging in animal protection cases, says SPCA

N.S. SPCA seized 6 dogs, 2 returned to owner days later after appeal board ruling

Moira Donovan - CBC News

The SPCA's chief inspector says in roughly half a dozen cases, dogs have been returned to their owners by the appeal board after being seized by the SPCA

The chief inspector with the Nova Scotia SPCA says a troubling pattern is emerging where pets seized by the organization are being returned to their owners by the body in charge of hearing appeals of decisions made under the province's Animal Protection Act.

Jo-Anne Landsburg said the most recent case involved the return of two dogs to their owner, Duncan Sinclair of Falmouth, by the Animal Cruelty Appeal Board just days after they were seized by the SPCA.

"It's happened before," Landsburg told the CBC's Information Morning.

"We've seen animals that have been seized by the SPCA returned to owners by the board, and where we think it's more or less to suit the owner and not so much for the best welfare of the animal, so that's why this pattern that we're starting to see is becoming very concerning."

'Really in a bad state'

Sinclair had 19 dogs on his property when the SPCA received a complaint from the public. Landsburg said the majority of those dogs were in good condition but alleged that six were "really in a bad state."

"I mean severe matting, unable to walk ... pus kind of oozing from their face," she said.

The Animal Protection Act requires the SPCA to work with the owner to rectify the situation, but since Sinclair wasn't present at the time, Landsburg said the organization had no choice but to seize the dogs.

Sinclair has been charged with causing an animal to be in distress and failing to provide adequate medical attention to an animal in his care. He has declined requests for comment.

Financial considerations

Landsburg alleged Sinclair hasn't been able to afford basic vaccinations or deworming for any of his 19 dogs.

She also said Sinclair has claimed to be breeding dogs to pay for winter wood but she added the possible financial impact of the SPCA's seizure shouldn't be a factor in whether to return the animals.

Landsburg said she doesn't condemn someone for trying to make a living, "however, if you're going to do that, you need to take the animal's welfare into consideration."

Due in court in October

Sinclair is due in court in October to answer to the charges. Landsburg said while it is a concern the appeal board's decision could influence the court case, the charges laid relate to the condition of the dogs when they were found.

"We just have to prove that this situation happened at that time," she said.

'A very sad situation'

Of the four dogs remaining in the SPCA's care, Landsburg said three will be put up for adoption after "extensive surgeries," including procedures to treat cleft palates. The fourth has only one viable limb and will be euthanised.

"It's a very sad situation," said Landsburg.

Trevor Lawson, chair of the Animal Cruelty Appeal Board, did not respond to requests for comment.

With files from CBC's Information Morning

Previous posts in this series:

What does the Animal Cruelty Board Have to Hide?

Animal Cruelty Appeal Board Accountability Post #1

Animal Cruelty Appeal Board Accountability Post #2

Animal Cruelty Appeal Board Accountability Post #3

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Animal Cruelty Appeal Board Accountability Post #1

So I have been spending quite a bit of time on the internet. So I've had an interesting day.  The dogs have had a pretty boring day unfortunately but my day not so much.

I've been digging into all things legal in the province of Nova Scotia when it comes to the court system and access to it and whether or not the public should be allowed to know anything about it - and even though the Animal Cruelty Appeal Court thinks that what they are doing never should see the light of day - guess what - I am quite sure they are wrong.

And if people haven't learned anything - they should never come up against a crazy dog lady.

The corrupt SPCA learned that in 2008 - if you were around at that time - you will know that I did not give up and you will have a smile on your face thinking back to that time - and if you weren't around and involved at that time - and you are going to be affected by all of this - you are going to learn some lessons - hence why the title of this blog posts is entitled "post #1" - there will be more posts to come until the outcome is one that is positive to abused and injured animals of Nova Scotia.

For some reason the Animal Cruelty Appeals Board here in Nova Scotia does not want any of their decisions or board hearings to be made public at all - they don't want any information that happens there to get into the public at all.  It makes no sense.

When the NS SPCA seizes a companion animal - they do it for a reason - because an animal is in distress.  Not for any other reason.  They have a strict set of guidelines to go by - and most times they charge the person with cruelty to animals.

When they charge the person with cruelty to animals there is always a many months lapse between the charge and court date - for instance the breeder in the case from Monday - David Sinclair - doesn't have his court case - until October 3rd.  And when that court case happens - we will all be allowed to attend that hearing because it's open to the public - so we'll be able to hear all the gory details about he treated the six dogs that were seized.

Why can't we hear any of the gory details from Monday's hearings? What's so special about an appeal board hearing?

It operates under Provincial Legislation just like the Courts of Nova Scotia do - there is no difference even though it's not a judge presiding over the Appeal Board.

According to the Nova Scotia Government's website -

Adjudicative ABCs are quasi-judicial bodies that make decisions about the legal rights, liberty and security of individual Nova Scotians. Members of adjudicative ABCs consider evidence and apply legal rules in order to decide cases brought before them.

The Animal Cruelty Appeal Board is supposed to have 8 members and currently has 3 vacancies

This board pays $150 a day stipend and the chair (Trevor Lawson) makes $200 - this is TAX PAYER money - so we are paying these people to do their work completely behind closed doors.

The make up of the committee is:

1 Trevor Lawson (Halifax) Chair & Member Feb 24, 2015 - Feb 23, 2018 - veterinarian
2 Robert Pineo (Halifax)Member Feb 24, 2015 - Feb 23, 2018 - lawyer
3 Brooke Gray (Lunenburg)Member Jul 28, 2015 - Jul 27, 2020 - journalist
4 Brenda Mitchell (Halifax)Member Jul 28, 2015 - Jul 27, 2020 - unknown
5 E. Garry Mumford (Halifax)Member Jul 28, 2015 - Jul 27, 2019 - police officer
6 William B. Vye (Halifax)Member Jul 28, 2015 - Jul 27, 2019 - free mason
7 VacantMember
8 VacantMember
9 VacantMember
10 Noella Martin (Halifax)Vice-chair &; Member - Jul 28, 2015Jul 27, 2020 - lawyer

As I wrote in last night's blog post - the court's of Nova Scotia are supposed to free and open to the public.

When I was searching today I found some good quotes - one of which is -

"In the darkness of secrecy, sinister interest and evil in every shape have full swing. Only in proportion as publicity has place can any of the checks applicable to judicial injustice operate. where there is no publicity there is no justice. Publicity is the very soul of justice. It is the keenest spur to exertion and the surest of all guards against improbity. It keeps the judge himself while trying under trial."

That is so good.

It came from a paper on the British Columbia government's website that is just a treasure trove of good links and references - it gives a reference to a court case here in Nova Scotia - it says:

"In Attorney General of Nova Scotia v. Maclntyre, Dickson J. for the Supreme Court of Canada, held that there is a strong presumption at law that judicial hearings are to be open to public scrutiny." - so I looked up that court case - and it's when the journalist Linden Macintrye from the CBC tried to get a search warrant and he was denied access to it so he took the courts to trial - and guess what -- he won - because why?

Because "court records (are) available for examination by members of the general public."

"It was further held that . . curtailment of public accessibility can only be justified where there is present the need to protect values of super ordinate importance." For example, public accessibility may exceptionally be denied where the administration of justice would be rendered impracticable, or where the need to protect the innocent overrides the public access interest."

"It would seem therefore, that an administrative body exercising a quasi-iudicial function should be susceptible to the presumption put forward in Attorney General of Nova Scotia v, Macintyre, supra.

The last thing I'll quote from the BC Government's website document is this -

Dickson J. quoted the arguments of British philosopher Bentham to support this presumption:

"In the darkness of secrecy, sinister interest and evil in every shape have full swing. Only in proportion as publicity has place can any of the checks applicable to judicial injustice operate. where there is no publicity there is no justice.

Publicity is the very soul of justice. It is the keenest spur to exertion and the surest of all guards against improbity. It keeps the judge himself while trying under trial."

There is no legal reason why the Animal Cruelty Appeal Board is a secret government organization that has no transparency or accountability to the tax payers of Nova Scotia - they the people who have paid $257 to this board to have their seized animals to have them returned prior to their court cases rather than waiting until their court cases for their cruelty charges - is not a good enough reason for the total blackout.

It makes no sense at all and the tax paying animal loving people of Nova Scotia deserve accountability and transparency on this issue.

Other posts in this series:

What does the Animal Cruelty Board have to hide?

Animal Cruelty Appeal Board Accountability Post #1

Animal Cruelty Appeal Board Accountability Post #2

Animal Cruelty Appeal Board Post #3

Monday, July 24, 2017

What does the Animal Cruelty Appeal Board Have to Hide?

Back in 2008 the animal welfare world in Nova Scotia was in shambles.  The Nova Scotia SPCA at the top was completely corrupt - there was collusion within management to protect people within their ranks and within the rescue community who had been hoarding and abusing animals for years and in that year everything collapsed and it all came out in what came to be called the "Celtic Pets fiasco".

After that everything changed - there was a coup at the NS SPCA and a bright new shiny management took over, animals stopped dying, and the Department of Agriculture changed legislation so that hopefully the absolutely horrific things that had happened would never happen again.

One of those things was the institution of an "Animal Cruelty Appeal Board" - a place where a person could apply to when they'd had an interaction with the NS SPCA and had their animals seized - and they thought that it had been done unjustly.  It took several years to happen - it didn't happen until 2011. You can read the Adjudicative Board Selection Criteria here.

At the time people in the Animal Advocate community thought it was a good idea because we were still pretty burned out on the NS SPCA - we had seen how corrupt the organization could be and we thought it was good that there was an extra layer of accountability.

Since 2008 the NS SPCA has done nothing but improve until we've come to today when it is probably one of the best animal protection organizations in Canada - it has a zero tolerance policy for animal cruelty and "sets the example for animal care in the province of Nova Scotia".

It's shelters in Dartmouth and Cape Breton are open admission which is absolutely amazing - they have been able to do this while at the same time maintaining a no kill status - keeping a live release status of more than 90% of the animals that come into their care - when I first started in rescue the SPCA in Nova Scotia was killing more than 50% of the animals in Dartmouth and 80% of the animals in Cape Breton - to have moved to where they are now is nothing short of a miracle.

On the animal protection side - the enforcement of the Animal Cruelty Act in the province - it was only a few years ago that they only brought a few charges a year because they only charged people that they had 100% chance of winning because they felt that they didn't have the funds to actually bring charges on cases they didn't have 100% chance of winning - but that isn't the case anymore.

With their zero tolerance policy - if cruelty is happening - the NS SPCA will lay charges and will seize animals - and the animals of Nova Scotia are benefiting from these changes - the NS SPCA is truly a friend to the companion animals of Nova Scotia.  And we should be thanking them for that.

You would think that the members of the Animal Cruelty Appeal Board would agree with everything that I have just said.

Today I tried to attend a hearing of the Animal Cruelty Appeal Board in Windsor - and was turned away.

It was for a hearing of the 6 dogs that were seized a couple weeks ago - those dogs that were in the news - you might remember them - they were all over the news here locally.  The breeder was charged with cruelty to animals this past Friday.

I was turned around by the head of the appeal board - Veterinarian Trevor Lawson because he said the public was not allowed to attend these hearings because they are "semi-judicial".

When I search the internet though - I came upon a file called "GUIDELINES RE: MEDIA AND PUBLIC ACCESS TO THE COURTS OF NOVA SCOTIA" and it says the following:

"the general rule in Canada is that trials are open to the public and may be reported in full. By enabling the public to attend court proceedings and allowing access to court documents relating to trials, we educate our citizens about the law and enhance their confidence in the fairness of the legal system and the way it operates."

That sounds pretty counter to what Dr. Lawson said to me when he put me out of the Appeal Board hearing today - so I have no idea what he didn't want me to hear at the hearing.  What did they have to hide?

I was told by a member of the NS SPCA that I would be allowed at the hearing.  They were very worried that the results of this hearing were going to result in the return of this man's dogs to him.

I asked Chief Inspector Joanne Landsburg for a comment on me being put out at the hearing and she replied:

"I was shocked that they asked you to leave the hearing. It was my understanding as our lawyers that the hearing was a public hearing and therefore open to anyone who wanted to sit in.

When we had the appeal for the dogs seized from North Preston there was a large audience in attendance. It is my opinion that these hearings have a huge public interest and should be open to the public.

The SPCA must be held accountable for their actions and therefore an appeal board is necessary to uphold their accountability. It is also important for the public to know the challenges the SPCA face when it comes to seizing animals and allowing the public access to a hearing as such is fair in my opinion. "

I have also contacted the Department of Agriculture - Minister Keith Colwell's office - for direction from his office - as to why I was not allowed to sit in on the Appeal Board's hearing today.

I have also asked for copies of previous Appeal Board decisions - I want to know how many animals that have been returned to owners because of their decisions - and why they were returned.  I have a lot of faith in the Nova Scotia SPCA and the reasons that they seize animals - and I want to know how many animals have been returned to their owners because of this Appeal Board.

I believe like all Court Decisions in Nova Scotia - these decisions are public documents and they should be made available to the public.  If animals are being made to suffer because of the decisions of this Appeal Board - and the work of the Nova Scotia SPCA is being undermined - then the public needs to know that - and the Department of Agriculture needs to do something about it.

Just like in 2008 when things changed drastically - we may be at another crossroads in the work of the Department of Agriculture and the work they are doing to help the animals of the province of Nova Scotia - and it is through public knowledge - just like in 2008 that it's going to happen.

ps - this is a picture I took of the room just after all the members of the committee realized that I was in the room - I had given the Administrative Assistant my card asking her for previous case decisions - and I think the committee did a collective "holy shit" perhaps realizing that perhaps their previous decisions might be called into question - at this point they were all in the hallway outside have a confab - previous to me giving the Admin my card they had no problem with me being in the room

And one last thing - who does this board report to?  If they return animals to a person who is actually causing distress to a dog and the dog is being abused - and the NS SPCA was correct in seizing the dog - what redress does the NS SPCA have?

If the animals are returned - the NS SPCA can't charge the person with causing distress to the dog - no court is going to convict the person - the Animal Cruelty Appeal Board has deemed the person fit to have their dog(s) returned to them - so they can't really have been causing distress to the animal -so there's really no use in laying charges - it's lose lose for the NS SPCA.

If you look at it this way - the Animal Cruelty Appeal Board has too much power - they have more power than the NS SPCA, they have more power than the court system - I don't know if they thought this out when they created the Board but something needs to be done.

Next Posts in this series

Accountability Post #1

Accountability Post #2

Accountability Post #3