Monday, August 16, 2010

Humane Society Charges Dropped

The Crown dropped all charges against former Toronto Humane Society president Tim Trow and other former THS leaders Monday morning in an Old City Hall court.
Crown attorney Christine McGoey told the court that the search warrant obtained by the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals for its raid on the THS, and the manner in which the OSPCA executed it, involved “several serious breaches” of the Canadian Charter of Rights’ protection against unreasonable search and seizure.
McGoey said that, given the problems with the warrant and its execution, continued prosecution would have brought the “administration of justice into question.”
She also said the problems meant that there was no reasonable prospect of conviction.
The unexpected move came nearly nine months after OSPCA agents and Toronto police officers raided the THS shelter on River St., handcuffed Trow and the other four men charged, and led them into police cars in view of reporters and photographers the OSPCA had notified about the raid.
Trow, former business manager Romeo Bernardino, former operations manager Gary McCracken, and former shelter supervisor Andy Bechtel were charged with criminal animal cruelty, conspiracy to commit an indictable offence, and obstruction of a peace officer. Former chief veterinarian Stephen Sheridan was charged with animal cruelty and conspiracy to commit an indictable offence.
A sixth former THS leader, Vijay Kumar, was charged with animal cruelty months later. In addition, the charity’s entire board of directors was charged with non-criminal animal cruelty.
The charges followed a series of newspaper articles that suggested THS animals were suffering because of Trow’s reluctance to euthanize them, his alleged micromanagement of veterinary decisions, and an alleged shortage of food, medication and staff.
The articles set in motion a chain of events that resulted in the May 2010 election of the current THS board of directors, a group of Trow critics which ran under the name “Faces of Change.”
Outraged animal lovers responded to the articles by demanding an investigation by the OSPCA, a charity empowered by the province to enforce animal cruelty laws. To obtain the search warrant for the November 2009 raid, the OSPCA submitted more than 75 pages of testimony from THS veterinarians, animal care workers and volunteers.
Many of the people quoted in the document said THS animals were indeed suffering. Nonetheless, the raid and the highly visible manner in which it was conducted were criticized by the THS and supporters of its leaders. They alleged the OSPCA was unjustly attempting to destroy a fundraising rival with which it had a long history of conflict. They also said Trow was being attacked merely for holding a conservative stance on euthanasia.
The raid was further disputed on legal grounds. Frank Addario, the lawyer for the THS board, filed a court challenge to the OSPCA’s search warrant, which did not include an end date.
The investigation that followed the raid was questioned when the OSPCA acknowledged its lead investigator, Kevin Strooband, had begun dating a THS employee. An OSPCA spokeswoman told the Toronto Sun that the employee, who was eventually laid off, did not “have anything to do with the investigation” and that the OSPCA did not believe “there was any compromising whatsoever of the situation.”
The OSPCA became embroiled in a controversy of its own in May when it euthanized 99 animals after an outbreak of ringworm at its York Region shelter in Newmarket. Last week, it announced that former Ontario Veterinary College dean Alan Meek and former Ontario Superior Court chief justice Patrick LeSage would lead a review of its handling of that case.
*Taken from the Toronto Star.

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