“THEY BETTER HAVE THEIR GUNS READY BECAUSE I WILL BE GOING DOWN WITH THE HORSES”
VERNON - An Armstrong horse owner was found guilty on two counts of animal cruelty today, Dec. 19, in Vernon Provincial Court.
Gary Roberts, 69, was on trial for causing unnecessary pain or suffering to an animal and failing to provide the necessities of life. Provincial Court Judge Mark Takahashi found him guilty on both counts.
“The animals were in terrible condition,” Takahashi said.
The charges were laid after the SPCA seized 16 horses from a herd of more than 100 on Roberts’ property in December 2014. The seizure came a year after the SPCA first inspected Roberts’ property and ordered that he make improvements with regard to food, water, shelter and vet care. Takahashi said Roberts was dismissive of the orders and did not make the necessary changes. He noted that photographs shown in court demonstrated the poor condition of the horses.
“It could not be that Mr. Roberts was unaware of their condition,” he said.
Defence lawyer Julian van der Walle said earlier in the day during final arguments that Roberts was doing his best to care for the animals, but an unexpected ice storm in December 2014 made it difficult for him to follow his usual routine of feeding and watering the animals.
In his decision, Judge Takahashi said Roberts was warned a year before the apparent ice storm that the horses would be in trouble if the weather turned cold.
Van der Walle also argued 10 to 12 of the horses came back to his client’s property in poor shape after spending seven weeks under the care of another individual. Roberts didn’t know the man, but found him advertising pasture land on a horse bulletin or ‘something along those lines’ van der Walle said.
He said while Roberts may have been “foolish” for sending his horses to stay with the man, he did not intend to neglect the animals. He argued that because Roberts did not wilfully cause pain and suffering to the horses, he did not have the mens rea (intention or knowledge of wrongdoing) required for a conviction.
Last week, defence attempted to have the search warrant thrown out on grounds that it was slanted in favour of the SPCA, but Provincial Court Judge Mark Takahashi ruled against it.
“HE PUT THE RESPONSIBILITY ON EVERYONE BUT HIMSELF”
Crown counsel Alexandra Janse painted a different picture of the accused. She described Roberts as reckless in his care of the horses.
She said Roberts was given notice in December 2013 from the SPCA and his vet there were a number of concerns about food, water, shelter, and vet care with respect to his herd of horses. In the months that followed, SPCA officers checked up on the situation and found Roberts was not complying with all of the orders, Janse said.
She said it was not an acceptable excuse for Roberts to blame the stranger he left roughly a dozen of his horses with because as the owner, he had a continued duty to ensure they were being cared for.
In describing Roberts’ testimony at the trial, Janse said he was ‘argumentative,’ ‘defensive’ and ‘inconsistent.’ She said he blamed the condition of the horses on others, ‘including Mother Nature.’
“He put the responsibility for those horses on everyone but himself,” she said.
Roberts was also charged with one count of uttering threats for allegedly threatening SPCA constables and the RCMP on the day his horses were seized.
During the trial, court heard that Roberts told SPCA members and police ‘the SPCA is not taking any of my horses. I have guns.’ He was advised that’s why the police were there, Janse said. He responded: ‘then they better have their guns ready because I will be going down with the horses.’
Van der Walle argued the alleged threat could be interpreted as the accused ‘going down with the horses’ by inflicting harm on himself, not the RCMP or SPCA members.
Janse argued the officers had every reason to believe the threat was real.
Judge Takahashi acquitted Roberts on the charge of uttering threats, concluding the offence could not be proved beyond a reasonable doubt.
Following the seizure of the 16 horses, three animals died. At the time, the SPCA said the horses ranked 0.5 to 1.5 on the body condition score, meaning they were emaciated.
The rest of Roberts’ horses were sold at a court-ordered auction in Armstrong.
Roberts is expected to be sentenced in 2017.
— This story was updated at 3:37 p.m. Dec. 19, 2016 to include the judge's verdict.
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