An Upward Trajectory: Considering the Camardi case in the context of Canadian animal cruelty sentencing decisions

The recent case of Nicolino Camardi is one of those poignant instances of shocking animal cruelty that truly capture the public’s attention. It is also one of the most recent judicial decisions that portrays the continuing willingness on the part of Canadian courts to take animal abuse seriously, and sentence accordingly.

The Camardi[1] case began when a dog was discovered dead in a back alley in a southeast suburb of Calgary with her mouth taped shut.[2] A short time later, a cat was discovered nearby under similar circumstances, with tape covering her mouth and nose.[3] An investigation led police to Mr. Camardi, then 19 years old.

Mr. Camardi and his girlfriend had purchased the two year-old dog and six month-old kitten in October of 2013, and kept them for approximately three months before they were found dead. Mr. Camardi pled guilty to the charges of wilfully causing unnecessary pain, suffering or injury to an animal, contrary to the Criminal Code of Canada, in December of 2014. According to a Statement of Agreed Facts, read out in court, Mr. Camardi accepted responsibility for the prolonged torture and killing of the two animals in his care. He indicated that he physically abused and neglected the dog throughout the three month period before her death, and that he physically abused the kitten for a number of days, ultimately resulting in her death.[4]

After accepting his plea of guilt, the sentencing judge, Justice G.J. Gaschler, ordered Mr. Camardi to a total sentence of 22 months in jail. Having already served 16 months of pre-trial custody, Mr. Camardi would be made to serve an additional six months.[5] A probationary term of three years was imposed, to follow his release, with conditions including mandatory counselling.[6] Additionally, Mr. Camardi was handed a life-time prohibition from owning, having the custody or control of, or residing in the same premises of an animal or bird.[7]

Differences of opinion emerged with regard to whether the sentence was appropriate. Some argued that the sentence was too light; while others noted that the sentence was among the harshest of sentences imposed for an animal cruelty case in Canada. This disparity in opinion reflects the disparity in sentencing decisions that exist for animal cruelty and neglect cases across Canada.

In Camardi, Justice Gaschler reviews some of the sentencing jurisprudence that he relied upon in making his decision. He first noted that the Criminal Code was amended in 2008 to increase the range of sentences available in cases of animal cruelty – allowing for the choice between a maximum 18 months in jail upon summary conviction, or five years upon indictment.[8] Later case law described the amendment as a signal that Parliament was determined to deter and punish those who engaged in acts of cruelty to animals,[9] and judges began to observe that sentences for acts of animal cruelty were, in fact, increasing after the amendment.[10] The judge in the unreported 2013 Alberta case of R v Chailler remarked that, “offences of animal cruelty are seen in a far more serious light today than they were in previous years. This is in part due to our better understanding of how cruelty to animals presages other more chilling possible adult behaviours”.[11] The judge in R v Habermehl, 2013 ABPC 192, stated that the sentencing amendments “gave effect to widespread concerns that the Criminal Code provisions concerning cruelty to animals had fallen drastically out of step with current social values and thus restructured the sentences available”.[12]

In Camardi, Justice Gaschler went on to summarize several recent animal cruelty cases and the sentences that were handed down in those situations:

  1. R. v. Chailler, supra: Killing the family dog to demonstrate to a girl that had spurned him that he was serious and ought not be ignored. A single but calculated act – 16 months [incarceration].
  2. R. v. Habermehl, supra: In a failing relationship and exasperated with the family cat’s behaviours, the accused inflicted blunt force trauma, leading to the cat being euthanized – 90 days [incarceration] and one year probation.
  3. R. v. Anderson, ABPC 29 November 2012, unreported (110049731P1): The accused was frustrated by the family dog yipping, defecating and urinating. When the accused reached for the dog, the dog snapped at him; the accused grabbed the dog and in frustration threw it from a second floor window; outside the accused approached the dog, which was injured and yipping and kicked it to death – 10 month Conditional Sentence Order.
  4. R. v. Chalmers, ABPC 23 April 2013, unreported, (110779394P1): Frustrated by being awakened by a family cat knocking something off a counter, the accused grabbed the cat, choked it, put it under water and threw it 15-20 feet against a wall. The cat required surgery. A second family cat was hit against a wall with such force as to have broken the drywall – 9 months [incarceration] and 15 months of probation.
  5. R. v. McKinnon, ABPC 7 October 2014, unreported (140370248P1): The accused, age 19, visited a home where he had been formerly a resident and employing a ruse stole the family cat. His intention was to kill and cook the cat. The cat was stabbed, it’s neck broken and the body dismembered. The accused was discovered by smoke from a small fire, with a frying pan – 10 months [incarceration] and 3 years probation.
  6. R. v. Connors, 2011 BCPC 24: The accused was asked to care for a friend’s dog which was at the time suffering from an infection. The dog was not well trained and was defecating inside. Fueled by anger, alcohol and steroids, the accused exploded with violence to the dog that died from broken ribs, internal injuries and bleeding caused by blunt force trauma – 6 months [incarceration] and two years probation.
  7. R. v. Munroe, 2012 ONSC 4768: The accused over a period of approximately one month tortured and injured his girlfriend’s dogs, causing numerous injuries and the death of one dog – 12 months [incarceration] and probation.
  8. R. v. Tremblay, 2012 BCPC 410: The accused looking after his girlfriend’s dog while he was under the influence of heroin was seen kicking the dog and hitting it with a dish. The next day, the accused was seen hitting the dog repeatedly with a hammer to the dogs toes, head and body ignoring the dog’s cries of pain and attempts to flee. The dog survived – 6 months [incarceration] and 30 months probation.
  9. R. v. Rodgers, 2012 OJ No. 6287: Following an argument with his girlfriend, the accused threw a 12 week old puppy down stairs, then picked up the puppy and threw it to the ground. The puppy was killed as a result of a skull fracture – 8 months [incarceration] and 2 years probation.
  10. R. v. Helfer, 19 June 2014, unreported, Ontario Court of Justice: Following an argument with his mother, the accused pulled the family dog out of the home, kicked her, lifted her up by the chain around her neck, hit her with a rake, then repeatedly hit her with a shovel until the dog lay motionless and bloody. The accused threw the body in the dumpster, the dog survived – 2 years [incarceration] and 3 years probation.
  11. R. v. Alcorn, ABPC December, 2014, unreported, (130018757P1): The accused acquired a cat for the purpose of killing the cat in the context of a sexual engagement with a partner, whose participation was clouded by intoxication. The cat was hung from the rafters, stabbed multiple times and bled out. The body of the cat was displayed for viewing while the accused and his partner had intercourse – 20 months [incarceration] and 3 years probation.[13]

The average sentence for the cases outlined above was approximately 10.5 months of jail; and only one of the convicted persons received no jail time whatsoever (R v Andersen). The longest sentence was two years in jail for kicking and beating the family dog with a rake and shovel (R v Helfer). The dog survived in that case. Compare this to Mr. Camardi’s shorter 22-month sentence for torturing and killing two animals. Crown counsel argued that the aggravating factors in the Camardi case justified a harsher penalty. The extended period of time the animals were tortured and the fact that they died lends credibility to this assertion. Furthermore, while some judges have commented on the connection between animal abuse and killing and the threat that violent individuals pose to human safety, arguably many shorter sentences fail to truly reflect the seriousness of the acts – which are often the calculated torture and murder of living, sentient beings and companions.

Despite this, it is becoming apparent, and has been observed by the courts as outlined above, that overall sentences for acts of animal cruelty are becoming increasingly more harsh right across Canada since the 2008 amendments to the Criminal Code.

It appears that as society becomes more and more cognizant of animals’ ability to feel and experience pain and pleasure, happiness and stress, we become less and less willing to tolerate acts of blatant cruelty to animals, especially to companion animals. This intolerance is reflected in sentences that put great weight on an animal’s suffering and the importance of punishing those responsible for causing it. Increasingly harsh sentences for perpetrators of animal cruelty provide judges with precedent to provide stronger sentences in the future. The courts’ increasing willingness to acknowledge the seriousness of animal cruelty, and the absolute repugnance society has for such acts, provides the impetus for increased protection for animals in Canada.

The text of the R v Camardi decision can be found at the following link:

https://www.canlii.org/en/ab/abpc/doc/2015/2015abpc65/2015abpc65.html?autocompleteStr=r%20v%20camardi&autocompletePos=4

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Written by Sarah Ure – BA, JD – Articling Student for Animal Justice Canada

This blog and the contents herein are for informational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice. Readers are advised to seek legal counsel prior to acting on any matters discussed herein. The opinions expressed are those of the author.

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[1] R v Camardi, 2015 ABPC 65 [Camardi].

[2] The Canadian Press, “Starved dog with mouth taped shut found dead in Calgary alley”, online: CTV News <http://www.ctvnews.ca/canada/starved-dog-with-mouth-taped-shut-found-dead-in-calgary-alley-1.1642799>.

[3] “Husky, kitten found dead, muzzled in Calgary alley”, 2014 January 16, online: CBC News <http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/calgary/husky-kitten-found-dead-muzzled-in-calgary-alley-1.2499280>.

[4] Camardi, supra note 1, at Appendix A.

[5] Ibid, at paras 38 – 39.

[6] Ibid, at para 30.

[7] Ibid, at para 31.

[8] Ibid, at paras 21 + 23.

[9] Camardi, supra note 1, at para 22; R v Wright, 2014 OJ No. 5659.

[10] Camardi, supra note 1, at para 22; R v Chailler, 26 Aug 2013 unreported (121450597P1).

[11] Camardi, supra note 1, at para 22.

[12] Ibid, at para 23.

[13] Camardi, supra note 1, at para 27.