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Sled dog case moved due to security concerns

Accused does not appear for initial court hearing in Pemberton



The case against Robert Fawcett, who is accused of inhumanely killing up to 54 Whistler sled dogs, is moving to North Vancouver fro security reasons.

"Administratively, if is difficult to staff this courtroom," said B.C. Justice Douglas Moss Thursday May 24 from the bench at the Pemberton courthouse. "It only sits once or twice a month, therefore, in a balance of convenience exercising the court discretion that I have, reluctantly, I'm prepared to transfer this to North Vancouver."

Fawcett did not appear in court for the first of what is expected to be a series of hearings connected with charges of animal cruelty and inhumane treatment of dogs his company used in the operation of a sled dog company.

Fawcett's lawyer, Greg Diamond, appeared on behalf of the accused. Diamond told Justice Douglas Moss that he supported Crown Counsel Nicole Gregoire's application to move the hearings from Pemberton to North Vancouver.

The hearing took about 30 minutes as Gregoire outlined the Crown's desire to hold future hearings in North Vancouver.

Gregoire said the North Vancouver court is better suited because of the security infrastructure at the larger facility and she also pointed out that Court Room Two in North Vancouver has a gallery that will hold 70 people while the courthouse in Pemberton holds only 35.

According to Gregoire, four sheriffs were brought to Pemberton specifically to address security concerns with the initial Pemberton hearing.

"We don't know what to expect following this hearing," Gregoire told Justice Moss.

She noted that Fawcett has received threats and the international attention the sled dog cull caused has generated a significant amount of news media interest.

Neil MacKenzie, the Communications Counsel with the Justice Branch, spoke to reporters gathered to cover the hearing and confirmed the judge's decision.

"The Crown made a change of venue application today based on the consideration that the case could be managed more effectively at the courthouse in North Vancouver taking into account a number of factors," he said.

Fawcett was the general manager of the Whistler-based Howling Dog Tours at the time of the sled dog cull. If he is found guilty he could face up to five years in jail and/or up to a $10,000 fine.

The BC SPCA spent more than $200,000 to investigate the dog cull 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 and the gruesome details created an international reaction from people upset by the news.

The BC SPCA submitted a 1,000-page report for Crown Counsel in September of 2011 and now, more than two years after the dogs were killed, the matter is coming before the courts. The BC SPCA uncovered the remains of 54 sled dogs, though the original allegation suggested up to 100 dogs were culled.

Gregoire indicated a trial is expected to take ten days with about 15 witnesses.

Diamond pointed out at the end of the hearing that his client hasn't entered a plea yet.

Fawcett's next appearance is scheduled for June 19 in North Vancouver.