Lawyers Work To Intervene In Dog-Fighting Case (GALLERY)

Protesters outside the Chatham-Kent Provincial Offences Courhouse, November 3, 2016 (Photo by Jake Kislinsky)

Two animal rights groups have tried to make the voices of 21 pit bulls heard, and now a Justice of the Peace will decide if they can intervene in the Tilbury dog-fighting case.

On Thursday, a busload of protesters from Toronto gathered at the Chatham-Kent Provincial Offences Courthouse. While many stood on the side of Communication Rd. holding signs to support the dogs, the courtroom inside was crammed with spectators.

They watched as lawyers representing Animal Justice and Dog Tales, two animal rights groups based out of the GTA, argued to be given “intervener” status in an upcoming application hearing. That hearing will address the OSPCA’s application to euthanize 21 of the dogs seized during a Tilbury dog-fighting ring bust.

The OSPCA has held the dogs in a secure location since they were first seized in October 2015. The euthanasia request comes after the American SPCA assessed the dogs a few weeks after the seizure. A total of 18 were considered fit for rehabilitation, but 21 more dogs were deemed too aggressive.

The GTA animal groups want to step in and rehabilitate the dogs. Not only do they have plans to eventually move the animals out of the province, they want a new independent assessment done, to get an updated analysis of the dogs’ status.

Four of the residents accused in the dog-fighting case also agree that, if there’s a chance the dogs can be rehabilitated, the animals shouldn’t be destroyed. But, considering they’re dealing with their own criminal charges, Animal Justice reps don’t feel the respondents can adequately fight for the dogs’ lives.

“Right now, there’s a risk the respondents may not fully argue this case, and fully represent the interests of the dogs,” says Marc McLaren-Caux, who represents Animal Justice. “So it makes sense to allow other people to come in and supplement that effort, to make sure what the court hears is a product of good testing.”

During Tuesday’s proceedings, the Crown argued the Justice of the Peace doesn’t have jurisdiction to grant intervener status. James Boonstra says intervention has been granted in the past, but only in situations pertaining to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. He also argues the Dog Owners’ Liability Act states pit bull-like dogs who are deemed dangerous must be euthanized.

However, Dog Tales’ lawyer John Nunziata claims that legislation only applies if pit-bulls attack a human or domesticated animal.

“At times I thought [the Crown] was the paid lawyer for the OSPCA,” Nunziata added. “His role is to [seek] out justice. I told him he should look behind him in the courtroom. It’s the public interest he has to pursue and accommodate.”

The suspects and dogs were seized in October 2015. Defence lawyers believe preliminary hearings in the criminal matter won’t get started until December 2017, and the actual trial won’t begin until 2018.

Ken Marley represents the majority of the accused. He reminded the court that his clients are innocent until proven guilty. As a result, he believes it unfair to make a decision on the dogs before the criminal matters get resolved.

“If they’re acquitted of the charges, by one means or another, they’re innocent,” says Marley. “They’ve always been presumed innocent. So the next issue becomes: if the dogs have already been destroyed, what remedy or recourse will they have?”

A Chatham-Kent Justice of the Peace will take a few weeks to go over the arguments before making a decision on the intervener status. The involved parties will expect a decision ahead of the OSPCA’s application hearing, which is set for December 22.

Keep an eye on for reaction from the OSPCA on the matter soon.