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Pre-trial in sled dog killing moved to August

Protesters demand justice for sled dogs outside North Vancouver courthouse



POOCH PROTESTERS Protesters gathered outside the North Vancouver courthouse to express anger at animal abusers.

The vast amount of evidence in the sled dog massacre court case has pushed its pre-trial hearing back to August.

The late summer date to hear a plea from accused Robert Fawcett, along with pre-trial motions, was set on June 19 in provincial court in North Vancouver.

Fawcett, who is accused of shooting and stabbing up to 54 sled dogs near Whistler, did not appear in court at this latest hearing.

But a handful of protesters did show up at the courthouse. They came to speak out against animal cruelty carrying placards, which declared: "Jail, a must for dog killer," and "Justice for sled dogs."

"We're tired of seeing animal abusers walk away with a slap on the wrist," said protester Marley Daviduk of the Vancouver Animal Defense League, outside the courthouse.

This was the second hearing in connection with the cull of sled dogs near Whistler in April of 2010. The first one was held in Pemberton last month. At that time a motion was made to move the case to North Vancouver for security reasons.

At the hearing Tuesday, Crown Counsel Nicole Grégoire told North Vancouver Provincial Court Judge Joanne Challenger that the soonest she would be available to attend court on the matter was the third week of August.

Grégoire noted that defense lawyer Greg Diamond has 3,000 pages of documentation to read through, so she suggested a September date.

But Challenger expressed concern for the length of time that has already passed. "The offence dates back to 2010," said Challenger. "We have to move this matter along."

While Diamond has a lot of evidence to digest, he didn't protest the judge's suggestion to meet again in August.

"My client doesn't want to hold this trial up," Diamond told the court.

The judge ruled that the next court date would be August 16.

Fawcett is charged with causing unnecessary pain or suffering to an animal. If found guilty he could be fined up to $10,000 and spend up to five years in jail.

He was the general manager of the Whistler-based Howling Dog Tours at the time of the sled dog cull.

The BC SPCA spent more than $200,000 to investigate after it was discovered that Fawcett had given WorkSafe BC details of the cull when he applied for benefits as he dealt with post traumatic distress.

Details of the killings were leaked to reporters in January 2011 after Fawcett was awarded WorkSafe BC benefits. The gruesome details led to an international outcry, and calls to ban dog sledding outright.

The BC SPCA submitted a 1,000-page investigative report to Crown Counsel in September of 2011. Earlier, the BC SPCA uncovered the remains of 54 sled dogs from a mass grave at the company's sled dog operations site near Whistler, though the original allegations suggested that up to 100 dogs were killed.

Grégoire indicated in May that the trial is expected to take ten days with about 15 witnesses.

Meanwhile, sled dog companies operating in Whistler are looking for homes for dogs that won't be pulling sleds next winter. Sue Eckersly of Sled Dog Co. and the Sled Dog Foundation said at least ten Sled Dog Co. dogs are available for adoption through Whistler Animals Galore (WAG).

Sled dog operator Jaime Hargreaves, who mainly works with Canadian Snowmobile, also has dogs for adoption, as does Tanner Moody, the sled dog provider for Blackcomb Snowmobiles.

The dogs can be challenging to adopt so sled dog companies work to match the owner and the dog. "We work closely with the new owners in making the transition as easy as possible for both people and the dog," said Hargreaves.

Once a match is made, Hargreaves noted that dog owners who adopt dogs from her company get access to a ten per cent discount at the Animal Clinic of Whistler for veterinary services. They also provide lifelong training advice, and will take back any dogs.

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