R v Vassell, 2022 ONCJ 415

Mr. Vassell entered a guilty plea to the charge of wilfully causing unnecessary suffering to an animal, his 17-week-old puppy. Mr. Vassell picked up the puppy by his muzzle, repeatedly struck him, then slammed him against the wall in a baseball motion. He then continued to slap and punch him. The puppy suffered significant injuries, a profoundly swollen neck, a hemorrhage in his eyes, and required a total hip replacement. The probability of recovery to normal function remains unlikely.

The Crown seeks a 9-to-12-month custodial sentence, a prohibition order, and restitution in the amount of $1,817.60. The defence submits that a six-month conditional sentence is the appropriate sentence, or in the alternative, a 90-day intermittent jail sentence.

The aggravating factors are that Mr. Vassell was in a position of trust to the puppy and the severity of the injuries. It was found to be mitigating that Mr. Vassell entered a guilty plea, does not have a criminal record, and that the behaviour is completely out of character based on character letters from friends and family.

The judge referenced similarities to R v Chen in the sentencing decision:

I find that the facts of this case most closely resemble the facts of the case of R. v. Chen, C-H-E-N, of the Alberta Court of Appeal in 2021. That defendant was also a first offender who had entered a guilty plea to the offence.  The court found that a conditional sentence was not appropriate given the brutal and prolonged attack and the moral blameworthiness of the defendant.  The court stated that animals are at the mercy of those who are expected to care for them and, unlike some other victims, are incapable of communicating their suffering.  The court found that sentences for animal cruelty must reflect these realities and the primary focus must be on deterrence and denunciation.

I find myself coming to the same conclusions.  I find that a conditional sentence is inappropriate in the circumstances of this case, which involved an unexplained, prolonged, and brutal attack on a 17-week-old puppy who sustained serious injuries.

After evaluating the possible sentences with respect to section 718 of the Criminal Code, the judge determined that given Mr. Vassell’s clean record and the potential financial consequences for his family during the ongoing pandemic, serving the sentence in the community would not endanger the safety of the community and would still be in line with denunciation and deterrence.

Mr. Vassell was sentenced to an intermittent sentence of 90 days, probation for 18 months, conditions when not in prison, a 10-year animal prohibition order and a restitution order of $1,817.60 to be paid to the Windsor/Essex Humane Society.