Thursday, July 18, 2024

Napanee horse farm owners fined in plea deal over animal welfare charges

Amanda Dowdall and Ryan Leduc, the operators of Count Your Blessings Farm in Napanee, pleaded guilty in the Ontario Court of Justice to one of the six counts against each of them in a plea-bargaining agreement that saw the other five charges thrown out.

Both owners were represented by defense attorney David Crowe in the Napanee Courthouse on Thursday, Sept. 7, 2023, but neither spoke at the hearing, which concluded swiftly due to a pre-arranged plea bargain.

After a brief interruption due to un-muted microphones of spectators on Zoom creating too much noise, Municipal Prosecutor Darren Petras spoke first, addressing Justice of the Peace Roger King. Petras explained that the case involved six counts of information (charges) and that the accused parties were going to plead guilty to count three.

As previously reported by Kingstonist, Dowdall and Leduc each faced six charges, which had been laid by Inspector Lori Lamb of Animal Welfare Services with regard to violations of the Provincial Animal Welfare Services Act alleged to have occurred between June 14, 2022, and September 19, 2022. Those charges, numbered for clarity, were:

  1. Permitting an animal to be in distress;
  2. Failure to comply with the prescribed standards of care for horses;
  3. Failure to comply with an order served on July 6, 2022;
  4. Knowingly or recklessly causing an animal to be exposed to undue risk of distress;
  5. Failure to provide a pen or other enclosed structure or area, where any surfaces, structures and materials in it are made of and contain only materials that are of a texture and design that will not bruise, cut or otherwise injure the animal;
  6. Failure to produce any animal or thing required by the Inspector in the course of the inspection, and providing any information relevant to the inspection in response to the inspectors’ questions.

The co-accused’s first court date occurred on Thursday, May 4, 2023, followed by a brief hearing on Wednesday, Jun. 7, 2023, to facilitate a discussion between the prosecution and defence attorneys.

Following a judicial pretrial hearing in July, the two parties — the prosecution and the defence — had come to a plea-bargaining agreement, the attorneys explained in the Thomas Street East courthouse on Thursday.

“Unless Mr. Crowe has some submissions to make, I think… both parties would be entering a guilty plea to count three,” said Petras, the court clerk indicating that could be arranged from a paperwork standpoint. However, Crowe said that he understood that the fine being requested by the prosecution was “a certain amount.”

“I’d understood that it would be that amount against just one of the accused, or it could be split between the two,” he said.

Petras agreed that the total fine requested would “reflect both individuals,” so Crowe suggested the fine be against Leduc, and that the court could note that “he and his partner are basically joint operators of the business.”

With that in mind, Petras submitted to the court that they “still do the guilty plea for Miss Dowdall. But we could suspend sentence with respect to the fine for Miss Dowdall and do simple amount for Mr. Leduc.”

Both attorneys agreed on those terms.

Court clerk Michele MacDonald outlined the case, saying that Leduc and Dowdall were charged on June 14 and September 19 of 2022 at their Beechwood Road farm in Napanee of committing the offence of “being the persons who own or have custody or care of an animal” — specifically horses — and who “did fail to comply” with an order served on July 6, 2022, contrary to the Provincial Animal Welfare Services Act (specifically contrary to Section 30, subsection 4). In doing so, Leduc and Dowdall thereby committed an offence contrary to the Act (specifically contrary to Section 49, subsection 1, subsection A, subsection IX), the clerk explained.

“How do you plead on behalf of your clients, guilty or not guilty?” MacDonald posed to Crowe.

“Guilty on behalf of each of our clients,” Crowe responded.

Petras then stated “with respect to the facts” that on July 6, 2022, an order was made by Animal Welfare Services Inspectors “with respect to having the paddocks free of twine, wood debris, hay, scrap metal, and fence debris.” A follow-up visit from inspectors “found that that order had not been complied with,” he said.

“Those are the facts,” the prosecutor underscored.

“Those facts are acknowledged, sir,” Crowe said.

“Thank you very much,” Justice King began in response.

“So there will be a finding of guilt and conviction registered for both individuals on Count 3,” he continued, Count 3 being failure to comply with the July 6, 2022, order.

“The remaining counts, Mr. Petras?” King posed.

“They can all be withdrawn,” the prosecutor responded.

It is important to note that the withdrawing of charges is not the same thing as the dismissal of charges: withdrawing charges means setting those charges aside and not pursuing them — essentially, throwing those charges out. Dismissing charges results in the accused parties being found not guilty. (More information on plea bargaining in Canada can be read here.)

Justice King then requested the submission of penalty, those penalties to be faced by Leduc and Dowdall.

Petras explained there was a joint submission for a fine to be imposed against Leduc of $1,000 plus court costs. He noted that a court order under the Act was necessary. That order included:

  • That the co-accused “limit the number of horses on the farm” at 132 Beechwood Road in Napanee to “no more than 100.”
  • That the co-accused “allow for regular appointments with Animal Welfare Services Inspectors,” which can be pre-set by Animal Welfare Services “as convenient.”
  • That the co-accused “shall maintain records for each animal” in their care and provide those records to Inspectors “upon request.”

The court allowed the suggested $1,000 fine against Leduc, while Dowdall received a suspended sentence, with Petras reiterating the two are “joint owners” of Count Your Blessings Farm.

Leduc was given 90 days to pay the fine and court costs, and Dowdall received a 90-day suspended sentence on the same fine. However, all parties acknowledged that the $1,000 fine was likely to be paid by both of the couple, as they are “joint owners.”

After momentary discussion around the filing of the court documents and who needed to receive copies, Court clerk MacDonald took the floor once again, saying, “Ladies and gentlemen, any persons present in the court room regarding the Leduc and Dowdall matter, you’re welcome to sign off. This matter is closed.”

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