B.C. SPCA suing critics for defamation in latest dog fight
By David Carrigg-Staff writer
A long battle between the B.C. SPCA and its most vocal critic, Animal Advocates, will be played out in court as the two trade blows over the truth behind the society's operations.
Lorie Chortyk, B.C. SPCA spokeswoman, said dozens of pages of postings on the Animal Advocates' website has damaged the society's reputation. Chortyk said repeated attempts to get Animal Advocates to remove the material failed.
As a result, the B.C. SPCA is suing key members of Animal Advocates as well as B.C. SPCA critics Emma Vandewetering, Gail Moerkerken, Lori Cumiskey, Richard Roe and Mary Roe.
"We haven't wanted to go down the legal route, but we've been trying for years just to get them to remove the defamatory information. It's not a matter of us not wanting people to have opinions, but the information up there is untrue," Chortyk said. "It's hurting the society and it's hurting the animals."
The B.C. SPCA has been fighting a public relations battle since 2001, when it was revealed the society's executive director, Doug Hooper, was earning $204,000 a year after securing annual pay raises by meeting privately with the society president.
Hooper had been hired in 1996 on a salary of $66,000 and between then and the time he was fired in 2001 the society lost several animal control contracts. The society was later ordered to pay Hooper over $100,000 in severance pay.
The society's branches were then merged under the leadership of new chief executive Doug Brimacombe, who resigned suddenly in May 2003 and is presently suing the society for wrongful dismissal.
The B.C. SPCA's new executive director Craig Daniel revealed shortly after his appointment that the society has lost $10 million since 2000 and would have to rationalize its services.
Since then, the City of Delta decided not to renew its animal control contract with the B.C. SPCA, citing growing public concerns over the operation. Richmond has not renewed its bylaw enforcement contract with the society and the City of Surrey is currently reviewing its contract.
One of the society's high-profile employees also created a storm recently when she took a dog from the society's Delta branch she believed had been wrongly slated for euthanasia.
In the B.C. SPCA's writ of summons, lodged on Aug. 30 at the Supreme Court of B.C., the society claims that Animal Advocates has been a vociferous, public critic of the B.C. SPCA and is a clearing house for criticisms of the B.C. SPCA.
The B.C. SPCA claims that Animal Advocates has implied incompetence, cruelty, corruption, criminal wrongdoing and incitement of others to commit criminal acts on the part of the society.
Judy Stone, Animal Advocates spokeswoman, said she stands by the website and can prove the accusations it contains. "I could write a thousand pages of how much I know. I can subpoena a hundred very credible witnesses, from SPCA directors, to employees and volunteers, Vancouver City pound managers, municipal staff, lawyers, owners of healthy animals that have been wrongly seized, Ministry of Agriculture Food and Fisheries and Corporate Registry staff, RCMP, and vets. And I will if I have to," Stone said.
Animal Advocates has not yet responded to the B.C. SPCA's writ.