Sunday, September 17, 2017

Gail Benoit is showing us that there's something wrong with the justice system in Nova Scotia

You didn't know it - but Gail Benoit was in court last week. You wouldn't know because no media was there to cover it.

It was because she had broken her prohibition order (5 years) regarding not being able to own any animals when she was convicted earlier this year when she sold kittens without a health certificate.

A couple months ago SPCA Special Constables visited her home and found she wasn't in compliance with her prohibition order when they saw she owned a fish - and last week she was in court to deal with breaking that prohibition order.

Both the Crown and Defence agreed on a $250 fine but the Judge dismissed that and instead fined Ms. Benoit a paltry $25 and gave her a year - $2 a month to pay it back.

What kind of deterrence are we showing her - and other people convicted of animal cruelty in this province if the Justice system is treating people who have been convicted of crimes and then we deal with them so lightly?

It brings to mind the classic case in 2009 when a woman by the name of Susan Keizer drowned a litter of kittens in the Valley and was convicted of animal cruelty - and fined $5 for doing it - the crown prosecutor in the case - William Ferguson - empathized with her plight - he had problems with stray cats on his own property so he understood where she was coming from when she drowned the kittens.

She had reached out to local rescues and the SPCA to try to find help with the mother of the kittens and no one would help her - and so felt like she had no choice but to make such an awful move with the kittens - it would seem that taking the kittens to a vet and humanely euthanizing the kittens never occurred to anyone in this situation - this story went viral worldwide at the time - you can read the whole story - here

Thee have been a few cases over the years where the Justice system in Nova Scotia has given really seemingly un-just convictions when it came to animal cruelty - when the conviction didn't seem to fit the crime - when the person who did the cruelty really seemed to get off way too lightly here in Nova Scotia.

Back in 2007 there was the very sad and very famous case of Dennis Perrault who cut the genitals of a kitten - he was sentenced to 3 months of house arrest which at the time was probably the most punitive of sentences that had ever been awarded for an animal cruelty cases in Nova Scotia - but the Crown had asked for 3 or 4 months of actual jail time.  The Judge Anne Derrick didn't agree with that though because Mr Perrault had PTSD and had been taking a lot of pain medication and said he didn't remember actually doing the medical procedure that he was convicted of performing.

More recently - in July of this year a woman was fined $500 for failing to provide her dog with medical attention when he was ill and he had to be killed by the NS SPCA because he was beyond medical intervention by the time he was seized by them.  The woman's name was Sunday Wallace and this is a picture of her dog when he was seized - you can pretty much tell that this dog was in dire need of medical intervention.

The first person to ever get a jail sentence for animal abuse happened in 2016 - a man had been hoarding cats in Lower Sackville and was convicted of animal cruelty because of them.  Michael Cairns was sentenced to 30 days intermittently in jail (whatever that means?) for hoarding 19 cats in "quite horrific conditions" and it was his second conviction - he had been previously convicted in 2013 and at that time he had received an 18 month prohibition.  Along with the 30 days in jail he was handed a lifetime prohibiton this time - so hopefully he will not be hoarding any more animals

One really sad case - and one that the NS SPCA was unhappy with the judge with was the case of a shih-tzu that had to be killed due to the neglect of the owner - after it was seized the SPCA had it groomed and one of the poor dog's legs actually FELL OFF!  The owner said she had no idea the dog was that sick - and the judge believed her - Charlene Lucas was fined $150 and given a 5 year prohibition - she said she didn't know there was anything wrong with the leg.  The problem is that she says she's on a list to get a therapy dog though - so what's going to happen when she comes to the top of the list?

One recent case that there was a good outcome is in New Brunswick - this week a man got an actual 3 month jail term for killing a cat - 3 months!  I don't know if we'll ever get that kind of sentence from a judge here in Nova Scotia but we can always hope - the Nova Scotia SPCA certainly asks for that kind of sentence - but whether our crown attorneys and judges are willing to award that - that is another thing.

So what can you do?  Contact your MLA and demand that animal cruelty be taken seriously by our court system.

The fact that Gail Benoit and people like her continue to be able to work the court system here in Nova Scotia is really quite unbelievable.  A $25 to pay off over a year is no deterrent to someone like her - giving her a prohibition on having animals and then not actually giving her any consequence for breaking her prohibition is rather ridiculous.

Ms. Benoit said under oath in a court of law that she would never stop selling puppies - I think if anything, we should believe what she says.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Animal Cruelty Appeal Board Accountability Post #3

I received a letter from Minister Keith Colwell a couple weeks ago and honestly I didn't really know what to do about it.

I was hoping when he did finally write back to me that he'd  say something positive, like give me some legal precedent - like that there were other "semi-judicial boards" that aren't open to the public so the Animal Cruelty Appeal Board wasn't open to the public either.

But all his letter says is "The Act allows the Board to use their own discretion to determine the appropriate process for the hearings".

There is only one thing in the whole Animal Protection Act that talks about this:

Section 31 (4) The Board may, subject to this Act and the regulations, make rules of procedure for the conduct and management of appeals.

I wish that my job description was that broad, that's for sure.

So tonight I wrote a letter to Minister Colwell:

Regarding your letter of August 28, 2017 - Animal Cruelty Appeal Board - Ref #M7-2017/18

Dear Minister Colwell:

Thank you for your letter of August 28, 2017 in response to my query to from July 27, 2017 regarding the Animal Cruelty Appeal Board hearing that I was unable to attend that was held on that day for a man by the name of Duncan Sinclair who had 6 dogs seized from his property by the NS SPCA and was appealing to the Board to have them returned to him.

I was questioning why I wasn't allowed to attend the hearing when the public had been allowed to attend past hearings, and I was also asking to have previous decisions of the board made available to me.

I had been given legal advice that the Animal Cruelty Appeal Board was a semi judicial board like other semi judicial boards and as such should be open to the public - and I had also read the Animal Protection Act regarding the Animal Cruelty Appeal Board and there was nothing in there about who can attend Board meetings.

As I'm sure you know - the Animal Cruelty Appeal Board was created as an extra layer of accountability for the Nova Scotia SPCA after the horrible events of 2008 when the SPCA was found to be corrupt at the top level of management - the Animal Protection Act was changed, farm animal cruelty was moved over to the Department of Agriculture, they had to start reporting to your department every year - many things changed for the better because of things that happened that year - the premier at the time - Rodney MacDonald - actually said about animal cruelty and what had happened regarding what had happened with Celtic Pets and with the NS SPCA - "this is a situation which is unacceptable. Be it in a shelter, be it on a farm, be it in a household - they deserve to be respected, they deserve to be ensured that their safety, their health is looked after and maintained - and as a province - we'll make sure that happens."

And one of the things that came out of the changes was the Animal Cruelty Appeal Board. It wasn't his government that did it - it was the NDP government in 2011 that it finally happened - but animal advocates were finally happy when it did happen. We thought it was a win for the animals - but I have to say we are not so sure anymore.

Now - in 2017 - the Nova Scotia SPCA is not the same organization it was in 2008. In 2008 the Nova Scotia SPCA killed animals for spite, they colluded with corrupt animal rescues, they spent more on lawyers fees then they did on saving animals, they doctored their elections - it was not a good organization.

Today they are no kill province wide, and their enforcement services are probably the best in Canada. As an animal advocate I have complete faith in them. And the Animal Protection Act says that they are the organization who enforces cruelty in our province.

I have serious questions with the Animal Cruelty Appeal Board's ability to enforce the Animal Protection Act - because that is what they appear to be doing.

What are their qualifications? The members names are publicly available and it appears as if it is populated by a breeder, lawyers and veterinarians. What special training do they have to be on the Board to be overseeing the work that specialized animal protection officers are doing - and to return the animals that SPCA enforcement officers have deemed to be in distress at the time they were seized?

I think that perhaps at the time the Animal Cruelty Appeal Board may have seemed like a good idea - but that the Nova Scotia SPCA has now moved to a place where this Board no longer needs to be in place - the animals of Nova Scotia are now safe in the hands of the enforcement officers and the Nova Scotia Prosecution Department.

I'm sure you also realize that when animals are returned to people by the Animal Cruelty Appeal Board that the Crown Attorneys who work with the NS SPCA are not willing to prosecute these people for animal cruelty charges - so this Appeal Board are de facto judge and jury - and I really do not think that any of these Board members are qualified for that.

As you said in your letter - I am completely dedicated to animal welfare issues - and this is an issue that I am going to continue to follow - whether or not I can attend these meetings or not.

I do not understand how this Board can operate with no transparency, no public access and answers to no one. That to me is not right - I do not want to go back to the days of 2008 - I worked very hard back in 2008 to get the NS SPCA changed to the organization that it is today - at great personal expense, and I believe that there is something wrong going on today with the Animal Cruelty Appeal Board.

These are the things that I think need to change with the Animal Cruelty Appeal Board:
1. The public should be able to attend these hearings;
2. Previous decisions of the Board should be available to the public (as other court hearings are also available to the public)
3. Animal advocates should be able to be members of the Board
4. When Animal Cruelty Appeal Board meetings are being held they should be advertised so that members of the public can attend.

Thank you for your ongoing dedication to the animals of Nova Scotia,

Joan Sinden
Dog Advocate

I have been told that there are hopefully some changes coming to the Animal Protection Act this Fall - with any luck there will also be changes to the Animal Cruelty Protection Act - we can hope anyway.

Previous posts relating to this blog post

What does the Animal Cruelty Appeal Board have to hide?
Animal Cruelty Appeal Board Accountability Post #1
Animal Cruelty Appeal Board Accountability Post #2