No jail time for North Okanagan woman convicted of animal cruelty | Vernon News | iNFOnews

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No jail time for North Okanagan woman convicted of animal cruelty

The Irish Creek Road property March 15, 2019.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED/Adam Proskiw
July 30, 2020 - 4:10 PM

A North Okanagan mother and daughter charged with animal cruelty after dozens of animals were seized by B.C. SPCA officers from their property will not see any jail time.

B.C. Provincial Court Judge Andrew Tam sentenced Carla Christman at the Vernon courthouse today, July 30, to four months of house arrest, along with a 10-year ban on keeping animals.

The court heard how B.C. SPCA officers who raided her property in March 2019 found pigs eating the remains of horse carcasses, emaciated horses, and no food or shelter at the property.

Christman's case had been scheduled for a week-long trial later this year, but instead, Christman pleaded guilty to one charge of failing to provide necessaries for animals. Charges of causing unnecessary pain or suffering to an animal, as well as obstructing a peace officer and dangerous operation of a vehicle were stayed by Crown counsel. The Crown stayed the same charges against Christman's 27-year-old daughter, Chelsea Beluse-Christman.

"While a jail sentence is generally called for in animal neglect or abuse cases, especially for an offender with a previous history for the same offence, allowing Ms. Christman to serve this sentence would not endanger the safety of the community," Judge Tam said.

Christman appeared in court by telephone, and several times throughout the sentencing had to be told by the judge to find a quieter place for the call as children and noise could be heard in the background.

Christman and her daughter Beluse-Christman made headlines in March 2019, after B.C. SPCA officers seized 42 horses, four dogs and four pigs from their property on Irish Creek Road, outside of Vernon.

The court heard how Christman had been cooperating "fairly well" with the B.C. SPCA since she was found guilty of animal cruelty in 2012 when 73 animals, including 39 dogs, 28 horses, four cats, one pig and a llama, were seized from her property. Christman pleaded guilty and received a two year suspended sentence as well having restrictions put on her for the types and amounts on animals she could have.

However, B.C. SPCA officers visited the property several times in February 2019 and were concerned with what they saw. A month later they returned with a warrant and seized dozens of animals, some living in "decrepit" conditions. A veterinarian described the case as the "the worst situation" she'd seen in 30 years in an earlier court decision.

Crown counsel Alexandra Janse described to the court what the SPCA officers found on Christman's ranch.

"Numerous hazards around the property, piles of rotting garbage, delaminated buildings, two sharp knives lying on the ground, broken glass, several dead animal carcasses, pigs feeding on horse carcasses," Janse said. "No feed was visible, (the) vet said the horses' bodies had suffered a consistent lack of food, (there was) no shelter on the property, no food available for the pigs except the horse caresses they were feeding on."

Janse said while the B.C. SPCA were searching the property, Christman sat in her vehicle honking her horn, purposely making the animals anxious and the job more difficult for the officers.

"Ms. Christman was warned by both the police and the SPCA that she was interfering with the execution of a warrant and continued to sit or stand outside the fence line yelling at B.C. SPCA veterinary officers," she said.

Janse said Christman now recognized she was not capable of adequately caring for animals. The lawyer also said the Crown was not trying to prove Christman deliberately meant to hurt the animals.

"(In animal cruelty cases) generally speaking, the starting point is a jail sentence, certainly given that this is Ms. Christman's second conviction a jail sentence is appropriate," Janse said. "However, given her personal circumstances, Crown is content with the conditional sentence order."

A joint submission between Crown and the defence requested a conditional sentence of house arrest for four months, followed by a 10-year ban on keeping animals

Defence lawyer Graham Kay laid out the circumstances Christman was in at the time.

"This family has somewhat of a tragic history. Mental illness has been present in multiple generations," Kay said.

Kay said Christman had bipolar disorder and autism and had suffered severe anxiety as a teenager. At 18 years old she had attended the University of Victoria and had a degree in sociology before moving back to the family ranch. She is currently in a wheelchair and relies on oxygen. The court heard how Beluse-Christman lived with her mother and her children were also on the autism spectrum. Both women suffer from PTSD, he said.

Kay said Christman's father, who lived with her, had died in March 2019 and nine days later their house burned down. Days later, the SPCA seized the animals. 

Judge Tam said it was aggravating that Christman had been convicted of the same charge previously.

"One would expect that someone that was in the business of operating a working ranch and had previously been sanctioned by the court to know better," he said. "In fairness... for the most part, she had been cooperative with the SPCA."

The judge said he accepted the lawyers' joint submission.

"Suffice to say it would have been challenging for her to care for herself and her family during this time period, caring for animals in addition to that would have been extremely difficult," he said.

Christman was sentenced to four months house arrest, with a curfew from 8 p.m. until 8 a.m. Judge Tam also banned her from keeping animals for 10 years, with the exception of five dogs, which he named individually. Christman was also ordered to have one of the dogs spayed within six months. Beluse-Christman had all four of her charges stayed by the Crown.

Correction: This story was corrected at 8:40 a.m. Friday, July 31, 2020. The defence lawyer's name is Graham Kay, not Graham Ray as originally reported.

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