VERNON - An Armstrong man’s animal cruelty trial got underway today, two years after the SPCA seized seized 16 horses out of a herd of more than 100 on his farm.
Gary Roberts, 69, faces charges of causing unnecessary pain or suffering to an animal and failing to provide necessities of life. He also faces one count of uttering threats to cause death or bodily harm.
After multiple delays, Roberts’ trial began today, Dec. 14, in Vernon Provincial Court. Defence lawyer Julian van der Walle began by launching a charter argument over the validity of the SPCA’s search warrant, which was executed on Dec. 11, 2014. Van der Walle argued the SPCA left out key information in its application for a search warrant — which is used by a judge or justice of the peace to assess whether a warrant should be granted. Van der Walle called the document “one sided” and said information that painted Roberts in a favourable light was omitted.
Court heard from SPCA Constable Daniel Chapman, who visited Roberts’ property multiple times and wrote the application, called an Information to Obtain, during a voir dire (a trial within a trial used to determine if evidence can be used).
Chapman said the SPCA received a complaint in December 2013 from a woman who said roughly 100 horses on Roberts’ property were not receiving proper care. The complainant said Roberts would hide the skinny horses in hidden corrals, and said her dog brought bones back from the property.
SPCA officers found no evidence of hidden corrals or dead horses, Chapman testified. The general condition of the horses was good, although four needed to be seen by a vet.
Van der Walle pointed out there was nothing in the information to obtain a search warrant explicitly stating many of the tipster’s claims were not true and asked Chapman if he had any concerns about the woman’s reliability. He also pointed out the woman and Roberts knew each other and had a history.
“Did it ever concern you that… she may have had some type of motive to exaggerate or fabricate… based on the bad blood between the two?” van der Walle said.
Chapman responded, “that’s why we do an investigation to see if there are issues or not.” He said while many of the claims were not corroborated by the site visit, there were definitely concerns about the health of the animals. At the time, the SPCA ordered Roberts to improve the quality and quantity of feed, have some of the horses seen by a vet, and separate the larger horses from the smaller ones, among other tasks.
Over subsequent follow up visits, Chapman said Roberts complied with some but not all of the SPCA’s original orders. Roberts was advised in February 2014 things had to “start getting done.”
Chapman said the SPCA continued to receive complaints from multiple people about Roberts’ horses.
On March 11, 2014 — after multiple site visits — Roberts phoned the SPCA and said officers would not be allowed back on his property without a search warrant, Chapman said. Crown counsel Alexandra Janse only asked Chapman a short series of questions about the information to obtain a search warrant.
“Were you attempting to mislead the justice?” Janse asked.
‘No,” Chapman said.
Janse argued that Chapman provided a “full and frank disclosure” in his information to obtain and said it was “ludicrous” to say he was trying to mislead the judge.
She said while Roberts complied with some of the orders, there was an ongoing pattern of neglect during which the animals remained in distress. Even if the information van der Walle alleged was missing from the information to obtain was included, Janse argued there would still be reasonable grounds for the warrant to be issued.
The voir dire is expected to continue Wednesday afternoon before Judge Mark Takahashi.
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