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.