Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Anniversary of Horrors upon Horrors

"He is your friend, your partner, your defender,
your dog. You are his life, his love, his leader.
He will be yours, faithful and true, to the last
beat of his heart. You owe it to him to be worthy
of such devotion."

-      Unknown

Today is the day, one year ago, and two days after the Supreme Court ruled against it, that the city of Halifax Animal Services decided not to return Brindi to me. Then, less than two hours after that dire, gut-wrenching news, they sent two officers to my house accompanied by a squad car. They were there to charge me for an incident that occurred six months earlier, the one that led to my dog's seizure. What they couldn't achieve with an unconstitutional by-law, they decided to do another way, using the charges to leapfrog to another death sentence.

It was a Monday I'll never forget, and it came after an equally unforgettable grueling weekend of disbelief, horror, and disappointment. On the previous Friday, the Supreme Court justice finally released a ruling voiding the euthanasia order. But while people all over celebrated, I enjoyed just a few hours of elation. By the next day, when I was finally allowed to see Brindi after six months of begging, it had already became clear that something sinister was afoot. Animal Services manager Andrea Macdonald scoffed when I objected to the restrictions on visits and all but told me they were not releasing Brindi. She and her staff were sitting in the office then and there, on a weekend, scouring the by-law for some way to hang on to Brindi. They never actually found anything legal but that didn't seem to matter. Horrified, I begged my lawyer to do something, to no avail. I found out a month or so later that in fact he could have done a few things, both before and after that day. Brindi would have been right back where she belonged, but there was no way for me to know at the time: I also was foolish enough to trust him. Needless to say - and I won't, not right now, anyway - that man turned out to be far less of a lawyer than he ought to be. Far less than anyone would want to know, certainly not me.

Now, rather than getting a fair hearing on whether my dog is dangerous or can go home, I face a court trial for those charges. It's been a terrible year of let-downs and frustrations with the legal system and a number of lawyers. I don't know if I can honestly say that I am confident the proceedings will be fair - why would I expect fairness, after all the unfair treatment my dog and I have received?

Just last week I was in court to witness yet another case. The dog's behavior makes Brindi's pale in comparison. But neither the dog nor the owner was penalized by seizure and euthanasia; heck, not even fines. This dog, part lab, caused severe injuries to dogs requiring major surgery, and was reported again after attacking a person causing a cut to the lip. After the last report, Animal Services issued a muzzle order, but no charges were ever laid (hence, no fines). No mention of euthanization. The owner was able to even get the city to agree that the dog does not have to be muzzled on his property, by virtue of the length of his driveway and the fact that the by-law makes no mention of locations. It was astounding how forthcoming and cooperative both Animal Services and HRM lawyer Kishan Persaud were. Persaud unsuccessfully defended the city at the supreme court (to be fair, nobody could have succeeded in his place). Since then he has told me all sorts of things, many of them not true, including how dangerous my dog is, and how I deny responsibility for anything - both easily disproven. He sometimes adds very hurtful remarks. Last week, he bragged with a laugh, "We have had Brindi longer than you have!"

A month or so ago I witnessed a ruling on a case where an unlicensed dog (unlicensed for ten years) killed a kitten in a neighbor's yard. The dog's owner was the wife of the man who appeared in court; the wife was not there. Nor did he have a lawyer present (rarely ever is that the case).

How astonished was I to hear the same HRM lawyer Kishan Persaud tell the judge that HRM was seeking only a $300 fine plus court costs, totalling $500? The man pled guilty, as Persaud told him to do, and the judge gave him several months to pay the money and return with a license. NO mention of euthanasia, muzzle, or even a fence. This dog attacked and killed an animal, a proven killer. I waited to talk to Persaud about afterwards, but he scooted off very quickly. Humane Halifax sent out news releases; no press covered the story.

Now, in court Persaud used the idea that it was the first offense  - or at least, no prior incidents were reported - as an argument to mitigate the charges. However, these charges are known as "strict liability offenses". That means the offense either happened or it did not; if it happened, the law is supposed to be enforced, i.e., a fine for every violation. There are no mitigations; prior record has no bearing. It is not a discussion about a human offender. It is supposed to be about public safety. By-law A300 is very clear about the definition of dangerous dogs, and any dog that kills another animal or causes serious injuries definitely falls into the definition. The by-law makes no distinctions for prior offenses - no animal control by-law anywhere does!

Lest anybody misunderstand, I am against euthanizing dogs unless they are near death's door and cannot be treated successfully. So I am certainly not arguing that either of these dogs should be put down. However, if there was ever a case for ordering a muzzle or a fence, this was it. And I am saying that things are not right when my dog is incarcerated for over a year and a half and these others are not even considered for seizure!!! And these are just two cases. Others can be compared here, thanks to the expert help of Holly Ellis.

HRM's ruthless handling of my case does not even begin to compare to these cases. To the public, they seem to stress things like the number of incidents, but by-law offenses are meant to be charged and fined. When it comes to the question of euthanization, a few brushes with dogs here or there are not the issue; the issue is (or ought to be) whether a dog is too "dangerous" to own and "incorrigible" - unable to be trained. Is Brindi incorrigible? Hardly!!

Such cases also expose the myth that the issue about liability is a concern of HRM, since they involved serious damage and/or killing, unlike Brindi's "offenses". Even though Mayor Kelly may have said so, in all this time, HRM and Animal Services have never raised the issue of a lawsuit ensuing from a dog's behavior. In fact, Persaud shrugged off the idea of a lawsuit more than once in speaking to me. Other HRM lawyers show equal indifference, so it cannot be a genuine worry.

Persaud's answer to why he was so flexible and lenient with the other cases? Because the owners pleaded guilty. !!! I actually had to remind him that HRM is trying to kill my dog, not to simply enforce the law. He knows very well if I were to plead guilty, I would be signing her death sentence. They didn't seek to kill these other animals. In fact they only seem to have one euthanization in the last two years; of course that does not count the many times they intimidated owners into signing over their dogs, doubtless by telling them that it would be expensive to fight them in court, and the dog would suffer in the pound. That's why I sought the fastest method possible in court - the quashing of the law and the death sentence AND the release of my dog.

Too bad I could not count on HRM's goodwill response (to concede the problem is in the system, for one thing; the lack of an appeal process for starters), nor could I count on the local lights of the legal profession to do their job properly. It's up to me now, and I can tell you, I am not excited about the prospect of representing myself. I did everything I could to avoid it.

Meanwhile, try as I might, I cannot even get a judge to order that Brindi be transferred to a real kennel able to give her adequate exercise and care. I am told over and over that the provincial court has no "authority" to issue such an order. Even if it did, said the last judge, she "wouldn't want to", because she wanted to get on with the trial. I don't mean to challenge a judge, but that idea seems to sidestep a whole host of issues, not to mention legalities from the animal cruelty act to the property laws. It also begs the question: if the provincial judge has no authority over a municipality, who does?
Jurisdiction of provincial court judges
106. A provincial court judge has, with respect to matters arising under this Act, jurisdiction over the whole county, union of counties or judicial district in which the city, town or other place for which he is appointed or in which he has jurisdiction under provincial laws is situated.
Yet suppose, as an owner, I was not giving Brindi proper care. The Nova Scotia SPCA could come and take her away forever on the strength of a simple phone call, even an anonymous one. And Janice Bingley's ongoing horror story with the seizure of 22 dogs (including 11 newborn Great Dane puppies) is a disturbing reminder that the SPCA has the authority to do all sorts of things, even to adopt (sell) her dogs without ever laying charges. So a charity has more authority (power) than a provincial court judge. Interesting, isn't it?

This lack of due process and overstepping of authority is of course just as unconstitutional as the A300 by-law clause that allowed animal control officers to order euthanasia without a court ruling - the clause that one year ago, I asked the court to quash. It was declared void with retroactive effect -i.e., it was effectively never a law.

There is a lot more I would love to say about the legal process and profession. It would certainly explain a lot of questions that I know people have. But I don't dare say more.

All I can say is, I went to court over a year ago to get my dog back. There was never any doubt of that. I have the papers and the cancelled checks to show it.

But today, thanks to my "victory" in court, costing me countless hours of my time, and over $30,000 I could ill afford to spend, every dog in HRM is now protected, except for my dog. Today, we are still living with the horrors resulting from wrongful seizure and lack of due process. Today, my dog is not safe, and my life is upside down. My dog is still facing a death sentence. My poor, loving, smart, faithful funny girl Brindi, who waited two years to be adopted and only had one year together with me, a real family in a real home, is still languishing in the pound run by the SPCA, and her robust health and fit condition are gone, her teeth are bad, gums are diseased, and she has pancreatitis. I hope the municipal employees and others who love to say that they are just doing their jobs can sleep at night. I sure can't.