CALGARY—The Alberta Court of Appeal today confirmed the need for Canadian courts to protect animals from violent crimes when sentencing those who are found guilty of animal cruelty. The Court held that because animals are sentient beings that experience pain and suffering, crimes against them are crimes of violence and should be treated differently from property offences.
The Alberta Court of Appeal decision was released today in R v Chen—an appeal involving the appropriate approach to sentencing in criminal animal cruelty cases. In the case, Mr. Chen pleaded guilty to causing unnecessary suffering to a puppy named Cinnamon, after admitting to beating her and causing extensive injuries.
He was initially sentenced to a 10-year ban on owning animals, and 90 days in jail to be served on the weekends. On appeal to the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench, the jail term was set aside and he was instead sentenced to serve a conditional sentence in the community, which is commonly known as house arrest.
National animal law organization Animal Justice intervened before the Alberta Court of Appeal in its reconsideration of the decision of the Court of Queen’s Bench. Animal Justice urged the Court to focus not merely on punishment, but ensuring that sentencing decisions in animal cruelty cases include a focus on the need to meaningfully prevent future harm to animals through a ban on future animal ownership, and remedial measures such as rehabilitation, and providing reparations for suffering that has already been caused.
On Appeal, the Court overturned the Court of Queen’s Bench decision and substituted the original sentence. The Court held that “[a]n aggressive attack on an animal intended to wilfully cause unnecessary pain, suffering or injury is properly characterized as violent” and emphasized that animals “must be treated as living victims and not chattels.” Importantly, it also recognized that cases of neglect can be considered equally serious.
“The Court of Appeal’s decision in this case acknowledges that animals are living, feeling beings and that violence against animals is unacceptable in Canadian society,” said lawyer Camille Labchuk, executive director of Animal Justice. “The Court specifically cited Animal Justice’s submissions that cruelty sentences require nuance and may include rehabilitation, reparations, and an emphasis on prohibition orders to protect animals from future harm.”
The case was argued on September 21, 2021 in Calgary, Alberta. Animal Justice was represented by lawyers Peter Sankoff of Bottos Law Group and Chris Rudnicki of Rusonik, O’Connor, Robbins, Roxx & Angelini, LLP.