R v Ehbrecht, 2022 ABPC 141

The accused physically abused five kittens between December 1, 2017 and November 27, 2018. Two of the kittens were so badly injured that they had to be put down. The accused admitted to purposefully injuring each kitten and has pleaded guilty to five counts of animal cruelty in violation of section 445.1(1)(a) of the Criminal Code of Canada. The Crown filed an indictment and is seeking a two-year prison sentence followed by three years of probation. The Crown also requested that the accused be barred from owning or having custody or control of an animal or bird for the rest of his life. The defence sought a two-year conditional sentence with house arrest, followed by three years of probation. 

A conditional sentence order, according to the judge, would not give adequate effect to the principles of denunciation and general deterrence and would be in conflict with the directions issued by the Alberta Court of Appeal in R v Chen, 2021 ABCA 382, (“Chen”). At the same time, the judge discovered that the accused had a difficult childhood in which he was taken away from his family at the age of 12 and later placed in the care of Child and Family Services (“CFS”) between the ages of 14 and 18 years old. He had been diagnosed with a variety of mental health problems, including adjustment disorder with mixed anxiety and depressive mood, Oppositional Defiance Disorder, ADHD, Tourette’s syndrome, and Cluster B and C personality traits. Since the offence was committed, the accused had abstained from alcohol and has the support of his parents; he is also married and has a supportive spouse. The accused has complied with medical treatment that has reduced his proclivities for anger and violence, and has developed insight and expressed remorse for the suffering he caused the kittens in his care. 

The judge determined that “animals, like children, are most vulnerable and at risk at home among those they trust. Like child sexual abuse, animal cruelty “can all too often be invisible to society” (Friesen para. 67). Society’s treatment of animals has evolved and as a society we recognize that animals are sentient beings that feel pain and feel fear in the same way we do and sentencing for animal cruelty must take this into account (Chen)” (para. 30). They also acknowledged that animals are sentient beings capable of suffering fear and pain and that the “intentional infliction of pain and suffering on animals violates the fundamental values of Canadian society” (para. 50). Many factors were found to be aggravating, such as the severe, gratuitous and prolonged nature of the physical abuse of five kittens, the weeks without veterinary care, the domestic violence element to some of the physical abuse that had been committed in the presence of two of the accused’s former girlfriends. The accused’s position of trust as the owner and primary caretaker of the kittens was also found to be aggravating.

For the reasons stated above, the judge sentenced the defendant to 12 months in prison, three years probation, and a lifetime ban on owning or caring for animals. This sentence is intended to carry out the primary sentencing principles of denunciation and deterrence, but it is also influenced by the accused’s youth and rehabilitation prospects.