By Connor Lynch
OTTAWA — Jail time is the new normal for farmers charged with animal cruelty, an agriculture lawyer says.
Ottawa lawyer Kurtis Andrews told Farmers Forum that a dairy farmer client was charged for “striking” a cow that kicked him and the Crown attorney pushed for jail time, even though the farmer was a first-time offender. For reasons of client confidentiality, Andrews said he could not share details, such as how often the cow was struck, what the farmer used to strike the cow and how hard.
The case was resolved without trial but Andrews said that the Crown attorney cited a recent animal cruelty case in British Columbia to bolster his argument for jail time. In the B.C. case, three dairy farm workers were sentenced to jail. One worker was sentenced to seven days in jail and barred from owning or caring for animals for a year. The other two workers were sentenced to 60 days in jail each, and were barred from owning or caring for animals for three years. The worker who received the lightest sentence was documented striking a cow on its hocks with a rubber cattle cane, holding it with two hands and swinging repeatedly to get the cow to move, twisting a cow’s tail until a popping sound was heard, as well as punching a cow with his fist in the face and jabbing another cow in the face with a metal pole. The other two men were documented repeatedly and forcefully kicking downed cows, sometimes at the same time with one kicking the cow in the face and the other kicking it in the rear, throwing feces at the cows, pulling out their tail hairs, and one of them punched a bull in the testicles. The workers were caught by an animal activist undercover video.
Animals under the law are property, albeit a special class of property, and that hasn’t changed. But the change in sentencing moves animals and humans closer together on the legal playing field. Andrews said that a quick scan of criminal cases suggests that first-time offenders “causing harm” to animals and first-time offenders “causing harm” to people are often getting similar sentences, between 30 to 60 days in jail. Perhaps, if his client had been a repeat offender, the court would have seen a jail sentence as reasonable, he said. “But to have similar jail time for a first offence against a person versus an animal? That’s kind of a surprise to me.”
Thanks to the B.C case, “the Crown will be going after jail time,” Andrews said. “Before, there wasn’t a sniff of it. People need to be careful.”
The B.C. case is currently being appealed by the prosecution to obtain harsher sentencing. If the appeal is successful, it would solidify the jail time ruling in a higher court. “Courts at the bottom follow courts above,” Andrews said, noting that a precedent established in a higher court is more meaningful.
Animal cruelty charges always carried provisions for jail time. But prosecutors never bothered seeking it, because “they don’t go after things they don’t expect to get,” he said.
Culture and common beliefs about animals and their rights has changed. “Even over the past five years, from the public’s perspective, things have changed on the seriousness of anything that really deals with animals at all.” As the public takes cruelty against animals much more seriously, “what’s realistic in terms of what the courts might order in terms of a penalty has changed,” Andrews said. “If you end up being investigated or charged, you need to take it very seriously.
“What could a person do that would potentially result in jail time? That’s the million-dollar question in a lot of ways.”