Judges have an awesome responsibility. While upholding and interpreting the law, they must also sentence offenders and ensure that those sentences reflect the crime committed and are proportionate to the seriousness of the crime. This principle of proportionality is on the mind of many people this week as Robert Fawcett received a sentence of three years' probation for inhumanely slaughtering dogs by gunshots, stabbing and throat slitting as the dogs became uneconomical after the 2010 Olympic tourist trade tapered off in Whistler Village.
The facts in the case are not in dispute -- they came to light when Fawcett filed a worker's compensation claim for post-traumatic stress disorder resulting from the two day slaughter. The British Columbia SPCA worked tirelessly to provide what could now be called the industry standard in animal cruelty investigation. They pieced together the evidence of the crimes committed, engaged international experts in forensics, exhumed bodies and maintained a chain of custody (notably without the assistance of the RCMP at the crime site).
The quarter million dollar investigation, half raised by the BC SPCA and funded only in part by the Government of British Columbia, involved top pathologists, archaeologists and anthropologists who recovered 56 corpses and provided evidence that nine of them had endured prolonged suffering.
Despite the evidence the light sentencing Mr. Fawcett received last Thursday clearly ignores the aforementioned principal of proportionality. The sad thing is that the courts had the tools to adequately sentence Mr. Fawcett; B.C. has some of the best provincial legislation in the country where the maximum sentence that can be levied for causing unnecessary pain and suffering to an animal is five years' imprisonment and a maximum fine of $75,000.
Instead, the judge's decision seems to have been weighted in favour of Mr. Fawcett's suffering. Since he perpetrated this heinous act his mental health has been poor and he has nightmares. Those are consequences of a heinous act, an act that he chose to undertake. When faced with the decision of what to do with the sled dogs that were no longer wanted, he didn't call the B.C. SPCA or a rescue group, he didn't seek out a veterinarian that could humanely euthanize the animals, he didn't put out a plea to the Whistler or Vancouver community for help with the dogs, or to anyone else who could provide an alternative way out.
Not surprisingly, Mr. Fawcett's statement noted that the situation "spiralled out of control" over the two days during which he used a scoped rifle to finish off dogs that ran away after being shot incompetently and during which his methods ranged from "execution style," to stabbing, to throwing live dogs in a mass grave. He even chose to inhumanely kill the mother of his own pet dog.
If the court and the B.C. Crown Attorney's Office believe that three years' probation is a proportional and adequate sentence for a two day bloodbath which took place in front of the other dogs who were about to die, this is the latest in a long line of cases in which the government and the courts do not take animal cruelty seriously.
It provides further evidence that the court system fails the people of British Columbia and the people of Canada who expect more from government. It has failed at least nine dogs, probably many more, who suffered needlessly. Those who care about animals and about living in a humane society agree that those who commit heinous acts of animal cruelty should be appropriately and proportionately punished.