R v Chen (2021 ABCA) Decision Released

For the first time, an appellate court has articulated the sentencing principles for criminal animal cruelty offences. Writing for the unanimous Court, Paperny JA began by highlighting the enforcement gap and the conclusion that sentences in animal cruelty offences often do not reflect the gravity of the offence, and that Parliment’s action of increasing the sentences for animal cruelty in 2008 meant that the courts should give harsher penalties than were given before the amendment. Concluding that animal cruelty is a crime of violence, Paperny JA stated “I agree that animals, sentient beings that experience pain and suffering, must be treated as living victims and not chattels. Smashing a pet through a window is not the same as smashing a window” (para 27). The Court found that deterrence and decunciation are primary considerations in sentences in animal cruelty because “[a]nimals feel pain and suffer, they are not merely property” (para 39). The Court continued: “All animals not living in the wild, including companion animals, livestock, and animals in industrialized production settings, are under the complete dominion of human caretakers and are extremely vulnerable to mistreatment and exploitation at the hands of those caretakers. They are at the mercy of those who are expected to care for them and, unlike some other victims of crime, are incapable of communicating their suffering” (para 39). Read more here, including a link to the decision.