December 4, 2012 by lizforanimals
The verdict is finally in on British Columbia’s most notorious animal cruelty case to date, the Robert Fawcett sled dog killings. I have put off writing about this particular case because I wanted to wait until it was finalized and this man saw his day in court. Now I am free to write about this atrocity, as a blog post, but also as a catharsis for myself.
The first time I heard about this heinous crime I was absolutely mortified. Like everyone else, I couldn’t comprehend how anyone could commit such a horrific act of cruelty. I searched the media and the Internet for more information, hoping that there would be something that would help me to understand this individual and the circumstances that led him to commit such a brutal crime. Surely he had lost his mind or someone had held a gun on him and/or his family, threatening their lives! Sadly, this was not the case. The reasons were simply monetary and he had been told to ‘cull’ the dogs by his employer. This ‘cull’ went terribly wrong and a full out slaughter ensued, resulting in 56 dogs dead, 9 of them having suffered unnecessarily, according to evidence presented from the investigation. In my humble opinion, I would suggest that the remaining 47 dogs also suffered, albeit, not by the standards of our Provincial and Federal legislation.
I have attempted, here in this post, to address how the events unfolded in this unspeakable crime against the sled dogs. I am, however, human and therefore not above making errors, so please bear with me as I try to make this journey.
This story first broke when it became known that Robert Fawcett had filed a claim through Worksafe BC, stating that he was suffering from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In this claim, he stated that in April 2010 he had killed 100 of the sled dogs in his care, as part of a ‘cull’ for the company he worked for. Outdoor Adventures Whistler, was apparently suffering financially, now that the 2010 Winter Olympics was over and the company now found themselves with a surplus of dogs that they could no longer provide care for. These were healthy dogs, not sick, injured or old dogs, but healthy dogs. These dogs were just no longer an asset, no longer financially viable. Mr. Fawcett stated that he was directed to ‘cull’ the dogs by his boss and that it needed to be done over a 3 day period of time, so as to not interfere with the ongoing tour business. ‘Business as usual’ with no interruptions. The first onslaught of killings took place on April 21st, 2010. Fawcett even posted a guard at the entrance to the ‘killing field’ so that no one could stumble upon the horrific event taking place and as a safety measure in case he shot himself. Who posts a guard as a lookout if you’re doing something on the up and up? The first day of killing did not go well. Many of the dogs were shot repeatedly and or knifed, as many of the gory details were released (I do not wish to repeat them here, however, there are many accounts of these details and I will include a link for those interested). These are the same details that Fawcett himself spoke about on a PTSD online forum, stating, ” I was forced to kill and it has pretty much destroyed my soul “, claiming that the images of this two day ordeal haunted him and contributed to his declining mental health. At that point, I ask, why didn’t Mr. Fawcett stop, realizing that things were drastically out of control? He was experienced at ‘culling’, this wasn’t his first time! He’d been in the sled dog business for many years and should have realized that a ‘cull’ of this magnitude was beyond anyone’s scope and above all, just wrong. He didn’t stop, he took a day off from killing, regular business as usual ensued, as sled dog tours were conducted on the 22nd of April. On April 23rd, 2010, Fawcett returned to finish his savage ‘cull’. He had time, during those three days, to think about the ramifications of what he was doing. He could have stopped. He could have gone to the media. He could have reached out for help. He did not.
During my search on the Internet, I was surprised to find that a colleague and friend of mine was the organizer of a Vigil page on Facebook in memorial of the dogs. I joined my friend to help with organizing the Vigil in North Vancouver, British Columbia. There were Vigils being planned across Canada, in every province and worldwide in several countries. Canada was outraged. The world was outraged! There were walks, rallies, protests, vigils and Facebook pages created to address the horror of this crime. People could not comprehend the magnitude of cruelty involved and were speaking out against this despicable act of cruelty, hoping that somehow their actions would bring justice for the dogs.
British Columbia (BC) responded to this profound act of cruelty by establishing the strongest animal cruelty legislation in the country, 5 years maximum jail time, $75,000 maximum fine for offenders and even declared April 23rd to be Animal Abuse Prevention Day forevermore in BC, in honour of the 100 sled dogs killed.The BCSPCA launched what would turn out to be the most expensive and complex investigation in its’ history, hiring a team of forensic experts to exhume the graves of the sled dogs. When all was said and done, 56 dogs were recovered and 1000 pages of evidence was submitted to the Crown.
None of this seemed to matter come sentencing day.
It was important for me to be at the sentencing, to see Robert Fawcett receive his just dues, or so I hoped. I, like many others, had recently attended the BCSPCA’s memorial for the sled dogs in Penticton on November 2nd, so everything was fresh, the emotion resurfacing, the need for justice that much stronger.
It was a long day in court and an emotional one. There was a lot of talk of how Fawcett was made an international pariah through the media and social network. How the vigils and protests apparently affected his ability to cope with everyday life and how his mental health continued to spiral downward.There was mention that he and his family
received numerous death threats and that they even had to be clandestinely moved a couple of times for their own safety. (Death threats were made to the organizers of the vigils in Whistler, BC as well, but you don’t hear any mention of that in any of the media stories).
Apparently, at one point, Fawcett was so distraught that he spent a couple of months in a psychiatric facility in Guelph (the judge considered this ‘time served’).
The defence council, Greg Diamond, disclosed that Fawcett’s childhood was less than perfect. Mother left when he was eleven, father was emotionally distant, stepfather was an alcoholic, Fawcett grew up on a farm, which included caring for and slaughtering animals. At some point in his childhood, he suffered some form of sexual abuse, although the defense didn’t elaborate. Mr. Fawcett experienced suicidal ideation and had been diagnosed with PTSD. The psychiatric assessment stated that Fawcett was not a threat to people or animals. Defence council presented the court with 30 character reference letters on Mr. Fawcett’s behalf, all stating what an upstanding man he was and how out of character this crime was for him. Mr. Diamond even pointed out that Mr. Fawcett had tattooed a ring of dogs around his arm to remind him of his beloved sled dogs. Robert Fawcett did not have any prior criminal record. The picture was drawn, by the defence council and Crown, of a broken, contrite man, who had already paid the price for his sins and was no longer a threat to anyone but himself.
Crown suggested a sentence of 3 years probation, a $5000 fine, 200 community hours and a life time ban on ‘owning’ or caring for animals.
All of this is what influenced the Judges’ decision when it came down to passing sentence.
Judge Merrick was very clear in pointing out that Mr. Fawcett was not on trial for killing the dogs, which was legal, but rather for the manner in which the dogs were killed, which was unlawful and that he was only convicted for the inhumane death of nine of the dogs. The Judge then went on to say that “the international demonization of Mr. Fawcett was an overwhelming mitigating factor in the decision not to send him to jail.” Judge Merrick stated that jail is meant to be a rehabilitative process and he didn’t feel that Mr. Fawcett would benefit from this process. (I believe that jail is mostly punitive and that there is very little rehabilitation, if any, that occurs while incarcerated. The general public is placating itself by assuming any different). The judge said that, ” Mr. Fawcett had the dog’s best interests in mind when he killed them ” and he didn’t feel that Mr. Fawcett was likely to reoffend.
Judge Merrick then handed down what seemed like the most lenient sentence possible. No jail time, a $1,500 fine, 200 community hours, a 10 year firearms ban and a 3 year ban on any commercial involvement with animals. There was no exemption from ‘owning’ animals. In my considered opinion, this was a slap on the wrist sentence considering the level of animal cruelty perpetrated by Mr. Robert Todd Fawcett! This was not a punishment worthy of any merit!
I am very disappointed with this sentencing, wondering what is the point of having the strongest animal cruelty legislation in the country if it isn’t enforced and what will it take for the courts to start taking crimes against animals seriously? This sentence does not reflect the crime committed, nor is it proportionate to the seriousness of this crime. The courts need to get tougher on sentencing those convicted of animal cruelty! I am ashamed of our judicial system when it comes to animal cruelty related cases.
There’s a lot of talk about justice versus vengeance and that people need to ‘move on’ and ‘move past’ this devastating ordeal. Some are doing that, mostly those in the sled dog business, but for others, ‘moving on and moving past’ this disturbing episode in BC’s history has been made more difficult by the sentence passed. Granted, at the beginning of the court proceedings, I most definitely wanted the maximum sentence of 5 years jail, but as the day progressed, I realized that wouldn’t necessarily be the best course of action. I do believe that some jail time should have been warranted and at the very least, a far more substantial fine should have been levied. What was needed, was a sentence that would deter others in the future from following in Mr. Fawcett’s footsteps. To quote Marcie Moriarty, General Manager of Cruelty Investigations of the BCSPCA, ” Mr Fawcett basically walked away and was paid taxpayer dollars in compensation from WorkSafe BC for committing the crime.” (Canada.com)
I have no doubt that Mr. Fawcett suffers mental anguish from his deeds, any sane person would, but I find it difficult to muster up any true feelings of compassion for the man who knowingly chose to brutally execute 56 dogs in the manner in which he did. I do, however, feel deeply for his wife and children who have had to endure the scrutiny of the media in the shadow of their husband and father’s actions. I feel that the Court has failed these dogs, as well as failed to send a strong message to future abusers.
The federal legislation, in regards to animal welfare, is antiquated and hasn’t seen any serious change in over 120 years. The current legislation still considers animals to be property and contains several loopholes that make conviction problematic. The majority of offenders are not properly prosecuted and charged for their crimes due to these many loopholes within the legislation. There is allowance within the legislation that permits a person to kill an animal (their ‘property’) brutally and viciously, as long as the animal dies immediately. Again, to quote Marcie Moriarty of the BCSPCA, ” It’s always been legal to kill your animal, it just has to be done humanely.” (Quoted April 21, 2012, during the Whistler Sled Dog Investigation)
Yes, culling is legal. Yes, killing your animal, your ‘property’, is legal in Canada, as long as it is done humanely. HUMANELY equals animal dies quickly/immediately. I don’t know about you, but I have a very difficult time with this statement! Just because something is legal, does not mean that it is ethically and morally right. It used to be legal to own people, but it wasn’t right and good people fought against it and eventually won the battle! If you want to see changes to the federal and provincial legislation in regards to animal welfare, please sign the petition and TAKE ACTION HERE
During court, defence lawyer Greg Diamond spoke about “The one silver lining that resulted from this tragedy was the new stronger BC legislation and the new guidelines and standards for sled dogs.” This new BC legislation is only as strong as its enforcement and as for the new guidelines/standards for sled dogs, that’s a whole other blog post, but I have included the link, for your perusal, to the new guidelines/standards for sled dogs, complete with diagrams on how to shoot your dog if needed(Appendix G). Not too sure if these guidelines/standards actually provide any new ‘protection’ for sled dogs, but like I said, that’s a whole other blog post!