To the Honourable Geoff Plant, Attorney General
PO Box 9044, Stn PROV GOVT
V8W 9E2, Canada
Date: 31st January 2005
Re: The necessity of amending Section 1(2) and 11(a) of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act in order to clarify the intent of the legislation.
I am writing you as I have grave concerns pertaining to the administration of justice using the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act. I am asking that your office look into this matter with a view of amending said legislation so as to prevent the kind of happenings I am drawing your attention to below and which brings the administration of justice into disrepute. This pertains to an action under Sections 1 (2) and 11 (a) of said Act by the BRITISH COLUMBIA SOCIETY FOR THE PRESERVATION OF CRUELTY TO ANIMALS, hereafter called BCSPCA. As the courts now interpret said legislation it defeats due process and gives to the policing agents arbitrary powers against which defendants of little means in a small town are essentially helpless. To put it plainly, the court, unwittingly, has legitimized what is in essence small-town terror, in which officials can exercise questionable judgment to the detriment of citizen against which they have no recourse. As in the case in question it leads to more than wrongful conviction and grave injustice. It also imposes great public costs, without fulfilling the goal of the legislation. None of this can be in the public interest. It also raises the question to what extent legal zeal shall be allowed to override basic morality and elementary decency.
The tragedy I am referring to can be followed up in detail in the records of the SUPREME COURT of BRITISH COLUMBIA, between: BRITISH COLUMBIA SOCIETY FOR THE PRESERVATION OF CRUELTY TO ANIMALS and: HEATHER GRAHAM AND RONALD GRAHAM, No. L 032120, Vancouver Registry, as well as in the records and transcripts of Regina v. Ronald and Heather Graham, Crown File No. 26668 in Port Alberni. There is additional material available in support of the Grahams.
The Grahams are an elderly couple of retirement age, living in great rural poverty and most limited income in Port Alberni. Their passion was dogs shows, in which Mrs. Graham won some 522 awards registered with the Canadian Kennel Club. Their operation had been inspected by the BCSPCA on numerous occasions without any request for change. However, relationships did sour, no small matter, Mr. Minister, in a small town! Mrs. Graham, aware of the couples' age and infirmities, was winding down operations, when on April 15th 2003, they were suddenly raided by the SPCA and charged under federal as well as provincial legislation in criminal and provincial courts. The raid was televised and reported on in print with the Grahams accused of running a puppy mill (a charge denied by the judge presiding over Regina v. Ronald and Heather Graham), while the Grahams were pilloried publicly and repeatedly juxtaposed on TV to filthy dogs that did not belong to them. The RCMP was part of this unseemly spectacle, although it was also the RCMP that deserves some praise, as it was Constable Shaun Clark who saw to it that Mrs. Graham was properly hospitalized when she broke down over the public abuse she had suffered as well as the loss of her dogs to which she and Mr. Graham were closely attached. The Grahams cashed in their small RRSP to defend themselves, which, for that year, raised their income above the limit to receive legal aid. The Grahams went into debt with a 'loan to payday' lender, as they could raise no loan with regular banks. This money also ran out and they were faced with two said court cases without legal representation. As a neighbor I was asked to help out, but which disqualified me by the rules of the court to be material witness for the defense. My professional and academic expertise does cover the matter of health and animal behavior and well-being, in addition to which I have kept and trained dogs for two decades and had then known the Grahams as neighbors for some eight years. The Grahams were thus deprived in court of both legal and material expertise. In reviewing the Crown's material against the Grahams I was not merely appalled at the lack of professionalism as evidenced by a plethora of errors, but by the fabrication of evidence. I damaged the Grahams' case by pointing out to the Crown that their's was based on a remarkable spectrum of questioanble witnesses, questioning whether it was in the interest of justice to proceed with such flawed evidence. I was assured that my findings - dismissed as mere theory - could be tested in court. However, they were not! Crown counsel ably avoided the incriminating evidence, thereby protecting his witnesses against perjury. Clearly, by this very action, he agreed with my findings that his witnesses had presented to the Crown questionable statements in order to incriminate the Grahams. We were promised a fair trial, but such was not the case, as not even the veracity of witnesses could be tested, in large part due to my ignorance of court procedures and the refusal of Crown counsel to allow me to introduce corrective measures. As a senior scientist I had never cross-examined a witness in my life let alone acted as an advocate in court (though I have acted as an expert witness in cases here and in the United States). When I pointed out to the judge important background matters, Crown counsel reminded the judge that my evidence must not be taken into account under any circumstances, an indication that judgment could not be equitable if what I spoke to was damaging to the Crown's case. The SPCA's own veterinarians reported that the Grahams' dogs were healthy, as also attested to by the Grahams' veterinarian. Technically, if the animals are healthy then the environment they live in is also healthful, no matter how unusual or even obnoxious it may appear to us. And on this matter, Mr. Minister, based on decades of academic and professional work, I am the judge. And the Grahams did keep their dogs, in large part due to rural poverty, in admittedly quite unusual circumstances. The attempt to criminalize the Grahams under the fedearal Criminal Code failed, but they were convicted under provincial legislation, fined, deprived of their animals and are exposed now to court-sanctioned loss of elementary privacy. I had warned in writing Crown counsel that he was heading for wrongful conviction which, in my judgment, was achieved. A private person, distressed over the perceived injustice, financed legal counsel to examine possible appeals and handle the case in Supreme Court. An appeal on procedure was not possible; an appeal on substance was not allowed. It is important to note that all the false witness we pointed out is part of the sworn affidavits submitted to the Supreme Court by the BCSPCA, and exposed as such in the counter affidavit submitted by the Grahams to Supreme Court plus exhibits. Such material was, to our knowledge, not examined by a judge of the Supreme Court as the Grahams were counseled to settle out of court. There are also the transcripts of Regina v. Ronald and Heather Graham. There is, therefore, extensive documentation in your hands. Mr. Minister, may I suggest that we are dealing here not merely with a miscarriage of justice, but with a scandal.
All this could have been avoided had the BCSPCA acted as upon plain reading of the legislation and as interpreted by independent counsel and by lower courts, due process demands under Sections 1(2) and 11(a) of the Act, namely, that the investigating officer supply the Grahams with a notice detailing what was wrong with their setup and demand due attention to matters raised in a reasonable time. Such never happened. The Grahams had been assured by too many previous SPCA inspections, and no reasonable person could have foreseen that the SPCA found criminally objectionable what it had approved for 13 years.
Mr. Minister, the Act needs clarifying via amendments, because as it now stands it allows capriciousness, questionable judgment to supersede elementary justice, let alone common decency. And such is offended by attempting to criminalize unfairly, essentially helpless citizen over an utterly pathetic triviality. And please consider the cost of it all to the public, not only the court costs, but the long term costs to the public of depriving impoverished elderly people of their means of existence and their chief enjoyment and social standing in the twilight of their life.
Valerius Geist, PhD., P. Biol.
Professor Emeritus of Environmental Science
Appended electronically: Grahams' Supreme Court Affidavit
Re: Section 11 (a)
cc. Gillian Trumper, MLA
Ken McRae, Mayor of Port Alberni
Judy Stone, President, Animal Advocates Society of BC