Denouncing Animal Cruelty

Craig Wright abused six dogs over a period of 17 months, while operating a dog training business in Oshawa. After a trial Mr. Wright was convicted of five charges of animal cruelty and one charge of neglecting an animal.

The trial judge imposed a suspended sentence and gave Mr. Wright 95 days of credit for pre-sentence custody. The trial judge also ordered a section 447.1 prohibition order, prohibiting Mr. Wright from having control or possession of an animal for five years. However, the trial judge refused to prohibit Mr. Wright from residing with an animal. Mr. Wright owned a dog and the trial judge was concerned that a prohibition against living with an animal would punish his wife and children.

On appeal, the Court of Appeal allowed the appeal and varied Mr. Wright’s sentence: 2014 ONCA 675. In a brief endorsement the Court found the trial judge’s sentence to be “manifestly inadequate,” imposed a nine month jail sentence, and varied the prohibition order to prohibit Mr. Wright from residing with an animal:

Having regard to the gravity of the specific charges, the number of convictions, the respondent’s criminal record which demonstrates both a propensity for violence and a disregard for judicial orders (the appellant was on probation at the time of these offences), the respondents abject failure to accept the criminality of his conduct and the amendments to the Criminal Code in 2008 which signal an added determination by Parliament to deter and punish those who would engage in acts of cruelty to animals, we think the sentence was manifestly inadequate.
In our view, further incarceration was required. We would impose a sentence of nine months. Given the appellant credit for three months presentence, he has six months to serve.
We would vary the 447.1(1)(a) order to include a prohibition against “residing” with any animal or bird. [at paras 1-3]

One of the issues argued in this appeal was the significance of amendments to the Criminal Code that increased the maximum sentence for animal cruelty. Parliament amended the animal cruelty provisions of the Criminal Code in 2008, raising the maximum sentence to imprisonment for five years.

The Court of Appeal recognized that increasing the maximum penalty for animal cruelty offences signalled Parliament’s intent to denounce and deter animal cruelty. The Court considered Parliament’s intent as one of the factors supporting further incarceration in this case.

On this point, the Court of Appeal echoed the recent decision of Justice Alder in R v Helfer, [2014] OJ No 2984 (OCJ):

This type of behaviour must be denounced. When parliament enacted the changes to the Criminal Code provisions respecting animal cruelty, they did so to reflect our society's view towards animal abuse and cruelty. Those who inflict pain on animals, those who are deliberately brutal towards animals will face harsher sentences than in the past, as our society considers this behaviour morally reprehensible and the courts must attempt to denounce and deter this behaviour. [at para 83]