R v Helfer, 2014 ONCJ

Mr. Helfer pleaded guilty to criminal harassment, two counts of assault with a weapon, one count of break and enter, and one count of maiming a dog. .

Before the events culminating in criminal charges, Helfer was in a verbal altercation with his mother; in whose property he had been living that resulted in the police being called. Helfer returned later in the day after being told to leave, demanded to be let in, with him banging on the front door, saying that he wanted to get his dog, which was inside the residence.

Helfer retrieved the dog without going into the residence. He then beat the dog viciously with multiple implements. The end result was that the dog was dumped in a nearby dumpster with a wheelbarrow, with the dog barely clinging to life.

The key issue at trial was the length of sentence. Defence asked for three months, the crown for three years. Complicating this issue was that the Criminal Code in 2008 was amended, so that offences concerning cruelty against animals became indictable offences, which the crown said was a signal from parliament that longer sentences should be given to those who abuse animals.

In support of its arguments, the Crown submitted a petition by concerned residents who asked for the maximum possible sentence under the Criminal Code. Crown also submitted that when parliament amends a law to provide for a greater sentence, the court must act accordingly with a change in sentence. Crown also submitted that denunciation and deterrence must be emphasized here.

The judge imposed a two year sentence. Aggravating factors were Helfer’s harassment of his mother, and that he returned to the residence despite the fact police were called earlier in the day; the sheer violence towards the dog, the breach of trust aspect (Helfer was the dog’s owner), and the fact this was a senseless attack perpetuated by Helfer, in order to get back at his mother. Helfer’s prior criminal record for violent offences, and the impact on the community members who saw the attack and had to deal with the aftermath at the OPSCA.

Mitigating factors for sentencing were Helfer’s guilty plea, his expression of remorse, and the fact that he cooperated with the psych assessment, his youth (he is 24), the fact that his adult criminal conviction was five years in the past, his cognitive difficulties (ADHD and learning disability), his ability to feel some sympathy towards other individuals, and the fact that this was a spontaneous outburst of violence, rather than a calculated attack (the judge was of the belief the former was easier to manage).

The judge accepted the Crown’s argument that after the amending of the Criminal Code, those who commit animal cruelty will face harsher sentences than in the past. However he largely disregarded the petition, saying that these have no place in Canadian courtrooms.

R v Gerling, 2016 BCCA 72, 128 WCB (2d) 533.

Gerling operated a dog breeding facility in the Fraser Valley. In September 2010, 14 dogs were found in poor condition and seized by an officer of the BCSCPA, in accordance with s. 11 (a) of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act.

After the seizure the animals were inspected by a veterinarian, who found serious health problems which had been left festering for at least a few months. Gerling was later convicted at trial of willfully causing unnecessary pain, suffering, or injury to an animal, and failure to provide suitable and adequate food, water, shelter or care, contrary to s. 445.1(1)(a) and 446(1) (b) of the Criminal Code.

Gerling appealed the conviction. Issues on appeal were whether animals could be seized without giving owners a chance to relieve their distress, and how the mens rea is to be applied for the Criminal Code sections.

Appeal judge concluded that the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act gives officers discretion to seize animals, without giving recourse to the owner to relieve the animal’s distress if the owner “had not taken and would not be able to take the steps necessary to relieve their distress” ( Ulmer Test). Judge concluded there was ample reason for the officer to exercise her discretion here as there was a long history of SPCA orders regarding Mr. Gerling’s improper standard of animal care.

Judge also held that when there is no evidence to the contrary the test under s. 445.1.1.a is objective. When there is evidence to the contrary, the crown must prove wilful conduct. The test then becomes subjective as the accused must “know the act or omission will cause an event, and be reckless as to whether the event occurs or not.” The latter situation is when s. 429.1 of the code applies.

Judge found there was no contrary evidence in this case, and there was ample evidence that Gerling caused the suffering of the animals under his care, and he has neglected the care of these animals for a long time. As such Gerling could be convicted under the relevant Criminal Code sections.

R v Keefer, Vandyk & Visser, 2017 BCPC 63894-2C

The BC SPCA was alerted to an undercover investigation performed by ‘Mercy for Animals’. One of their employees posed as a worker at Chilliwack Cattle Sales and filmed his experience there. The video depicted numerous acts of violence towards animals, including beating, kicking, stomping and hitting cows.
After a lengthy investigation the BC SPCA recommended 20 charges to crown for Chilliwack Cattle Sales and its employees. The company and all employees have pled guilty.
Keefer, Vandyk and Visser pleaded guilty to section 24(1) of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act and to section 34(a) of the Wildlife Act.

This case is precedent setting as all individuals charged received jail time for offences against farm animals.

R v Paulsen, 2015 BCPC 204679-1

Emma Paulsen owned a dog walking business for 7 years. On May 13th, 2014 Paulsen reported to the RCMP that six dogs had been stolen out of the back of her pickup truck while she was in the washroom at a dog park in Langley. An intensive search and investigation was conducted and resources were used from the RCMP, Animal Control and Pet Searchers Canada, including members of the public. It was not until May 19th, 2014 that Paulsen confessed to Pet Searchers Canada that the dogs had perished in the back of her truck while she was shopping and she had transported the bodies to Chilliwack and left them in a ditch. With this new information, the BC SPCA began an investigation into Paulsen and found that all 6 dogs had perished as a result of heat stroke, one of which belonged to Paulsen.

Although this case was deemed accidental, Paulsen pleaded guilty.

This case is significant as it is one of the few cases in which the accused is convicted of, and receives a strong sentence for, leaving an animal in a hot vehicle. It was also the charge under the (relatively) new section 9.1(1) which creates a positive duty on the part of an owner to protect an animal from a situation that is likely to cause an animal to be in distress (eg. leaving a dog in a car on a hot day).

Mitigating factors include: Paulsen did not intend to harm the dog; Paulsen’s mental state at the time in question; Paulsen is a first-time offender.

Aggravating factors include: Paulsen’s behaviour was more than mere negligence; Paulsen’s six days of deception toward law enforcement, the media, the BCSPCA, and the owners of the deceased dogs; Paulsen did not apologize or express remorse and tried to cover up her wrongdoing.

R v Habermehl, 2013 CarswellAlta 570

Accused charged with wilfully causing unnecessary pain, suffering or injury to a cat contrary to s. 445.1(1)(a). Accused denied charges and pled not guilty. Accused lived with girlfriend who was owner of cat. At dissolution of relationship girlfriend left apartment while accused packed belongings. When girlfriend returned she noticed that cat had extreme swelling on side of body and was distressed. Had to surrender cat to SPCA for treatment and cat had to be euthanized. Upon necropsy, Dr determined that cause of injury was blunt for trauma. Court ruled that accused had exclusive opportunity to cause injuries to cat and that the injuring was wilful, intentional and reckless. Court is satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that accused caused injuries to cat which caused unnecessary pain and suffering. Guilty as charged.

R v Labonte, 2014 ABPC 153 (CanLII)

Accused was a 19-year-old employee of a dog daycare. He brutally beat a 5-month-old boxer until he vomited blood. The dog had no lasting or permanent injuries.

R v Gerling, 2013 BCSC 2503 (CanLII)

Gerling operated a chihuahua kennel. The dogs under his care were poorly groomed, inadequately cared for, and required serious eye and dental treatment.

R v Marohn, 2012 BCPC 198 & 199

In December 2008 a police officer responded to a report of a vehicle in a ditch. Dr. Marohn was at the scene with a horse, which he was using to attempt to pull the car from the ditch. The horse had collapsed and could not be raised to its feet. A veterinarian had to euthanize the horse. Necropsy revealed the horse was emaciated due to lack of food.

Dr. Marohn had financial problems due to an injury which made him incapable to work. He still collected horses on his property, despite knowing the financial burden.

Trial judge does not accept the accused’s evidence of the event, and states that he is “satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused was using Buddy [the horse] to attempt to free the vehicle from the ditch,” despite knowing the horse was emaciated.

Although being in financial trouble, Dr. Marohn declined an offer from the SPCA to take four of his horses. He made some efforts to find alternative locations for the horses, which were not commensurate with the seriousness of the situation. The judge states, “it is clear that the accused’s heart and good intentions interfered with his good judgment… It interfered with him using due diligence in finding alternative solutions.”

The Crown has proven the elements as required in s. 24(1). With respect to s.446(1)(b), the evidence proves beyond a reasonable doubt that there was a marked departure from the reasonable care in these circumstances.

Dr. Marohn was found guilty of both counts.


A large degree of the accused’s poor judgement in dealing with the issues related to the horse are related to his medical issues. He is unable to work, which put his family in dire financial distress. Dr. Marohn (a veterinarian) lost his practice and had to rely on friends for the housing of his daughters. According to the judge, “it is clear that if he had the financial means he would have properly cared for his horse,” and “the accused expressed genuine remorse” for his actions.

Denunciation and deterrence has already occurred by virtue of the public arrest, the conviction, the accused’s pre-trial release, conditions on release, and the extensive media coverage.

Dr. Marohn was sentenced to 24 months probation for each count, to run concurrently, as well as a 3 year prohibition order.

R v Tremblay, 2012 BCPC 410

Defendant hit the dog, “King”, with his open hand and with a dish as well as striking the dog , including blows with the hammer to its head and body. Mr. Tremblay sprayed a substance into the dog’s face and appeared to rub the substance into the dog’s eyes. The judgment seems to suggest if Crown had proceeded by way of indictment, might have imposed a longer jail term although not criticizing Crown’s decision to proceed by summary conviction. Might have been longer than 6 months except 1) Crown asked for 6 months; 2) Comparison to similar cases (Connors and Munroe)

R. v. McConkey, 2008 ABPC 37

McConkey’s dogs were severely matted, had irritated skin and dental problems, as well as other health issues. She failed to arrange proper treatment for their afflictions.