R v Purvis, 2023 ABPC 29

The accused entered a guilty plea for arson, killing a cat and causing unnecessary pain and suffering to four cats when he lit the basement storage room on fire in the home that he shared with his former intimate partner that he continued to live with. The home was ultimately demolished, and one cat died from carbon monoxide poisoning. The remaining four cats survived although they required oxygen and treatment for toxic smoke exposure to their eyes.

The police were dispatched initially to perform a welfare check after receiving a call that the accused had taken excessive insulin as a suicide attempt and lit the home on fire. His ex-partner had received text messages taunting her with what he had done after she had messaged to advise there would be no utilities at the home the following week; the accused had responded with “LMAO awesome the house won’t be here and the cats lmao bring it c–t… Besides I took enough insulin I won’t be coming back I lit a fire in the basement bye” (para. 3(h)).

The Crown sought a global sentence to 3.5 to 4 years, while defence counsel sought a conditional sentence.

The Court found it aggravating that if he was intending to end his life, the fire was extraneous and a demonstration of animosity towards his ex-partner. He was also fully aware the cats were in the home and that he was in a position of trust over them that he breached. The Court cited Chen throughout the decision, specifically with respect to sentencing that should reflect the nature of animal cruelty crimes:

As we know, animals are sentient beings that feel pain and suffering. As a result of the arson, and as already mentioned, one cat died, and four required treatments for smoke inhalation. These offences are serious. However, I must also be mindful that when assessing the severity of the arson offence, I took into consideration the death and suffering of the cats — it is difficult not to. Regardless, it is important that I do not double down when contemplating this factor in assessing the severity of these offences. The inability to separate these consequences when looking at both the arson and the animal cruelty cases highlights their interconnectedness. (para.23)

The Court was also aware of his mental health issues although no formal report had been made, that alcohol was a significant factor and accepted that he had been alcohol free since the offence but had not attended treatment or counselling. It was determined that an 18-month concurrent imprisonment for the arson and animal cruelty offences, minus six and half months for pretrial custody, along with two years of probation and a 15-year animal prohibition order “to provide protection for animals who are victims of such crimes” (para. 139) was a proportionate sentence.