This article was first posted Spring, 2013.
The criminal case involving the killing of sled dogs at Whistler (British Columbia, Canada) after the 2010 Olympics is now closed. The trial of Bob Fawcett who pleaded guilty to killing the dogs, was held on November 22, 2012. The penalty he was given was a fine of $1725, three years probation, and 200 hours of community service. He is banned from having firearms for at least 10 years and he is required to continue mental health counselling.
Most of us in Canada and abroad who had followed the case since February 2011 when the news broke of Fawcett’s revelation of having killed over 50 dogs, were stunned by the apparent leniency of his punishment. I had served on the B.C. Government Task Force Inquiry into the sled dog industry. The BC Government had acted swiftly calling for the criminal investigation and the Inquiry. As I reported to Alaskan Malamute Clubs in Canada and abroad, all the recommendations of the Inquiry were accepted and implemented by the BC Government. Good standards of care with regulation were set for commercial dogsledding and the penalty for cruelty to animals was increased to a maximum of 5 years imprisonment and $75,000 fine.
More funds were given to the criminal investigation. This case drew such widespread concern that international forensic experts, people who had worked on exhuming mass graves in war zones such as the former Yugoslavia, volunteered or worked for minimal pay to professionally excavate the mass grave where Fawcett had thrown the dogs he killed. In May 2011, 54 dog bodies were exhumed with 9 of them displaying clear marks of suffering an agonizing death. Fawcett then pleaded guilty to only one count of cruelty causing un-necessary suffering to animals. He was charged with 9 counts.
It looked like such a carefully prepared, air tight case, we expected a heavy fine and jail time. But the Crown did not press for that when he was convicted. Why was he given such a low fine and no jail time? After my initial outrage calmed down, I consulted a highly respected criminal lawyer. I learned that fines are set within a range that can be possibly paid. Fawcett was jobless and had suffered severe mental breakdown after killing the dogs in an inept appalling manner. He and his family had to move far away into hiding because of death threats. He was suicidal and put into an institution for counselling. Putting him in jail would decrease his chances of rehabilitation. Neither the prosecution nor the defense believed that society needed to be protected from Fawcett by putting him jail. The best chances for rehabilitation are expected to come through probation and counselling.
Canadians are generally proud of their justice system seeking rehabilitation over vengeance through incarceration. We can only hope that the outwardly lenient punishment given in this case is sufficient deterrent to others who might consider killing dogs they cannot keep in good care. The final good news in this case is that all the dogs that survived under Fawcett’s management, have been adopted into good homes.
Dorris Heffron author of City Wolves