The man accused of slaughtering more than 50 sled dogs in Whistler in 2010, has pleaded guilty to causing unnecessary pain and suffering to an animal.
Robert Fawcett, 40, entered a plea in North Vancouver provincial court Thursday afternoon, while a dozen protestors stood on the steps waving placards and calling for jail time.
Little was said during the brief hearing before Judge Steven Merrick accepted the plea and ordered a psychological report on Fawcett, which will be used in deciding his sentence. Fawcett is due back in court for a sentencing hearing Nov. 22.
The maximum penalty for the crime is five years in prison and a $75,000 fine, but it is too soon to speculate what sentence the Crown will seek for Fawcett, said Crown spokesman Neil MacKenzie.
In addition to the psychological assessment, Merrick will have to consider details of the crime, Fawcett’s background and sentences already given in similar animal cruelty cases said MacKenzie, noting, however, that this case is far from typical.
“The position the Crown takes in this matter will be a principled and fair position that is based on the circumstances of the offense, the seriousness of the offense but also takes into account the circumstances of the offender,” he said.
Fawcett and his lawyer Greg Diamond avoided the phalanx of cameras and protestors waiting for him outside the court after the arraignment.
The case was originally going to be heard in Pemberton but was moved to North Vancouver in May after Fawcett reportedly received threats. The Crown argued North Vancouver would be a better venue for security, and that it was better equipped to handle the large crowds expected to gather.
An international outcry erupted last year after grisly details of the sled dog killings were leaked from a claim Fawcett filed with WorkSafe BC. Fawcett shot and slit the throats of the dogs and buried them in a mass grave after being told to dispense with them by his employer. He claimed he was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder as a result.
Outside the court, protestor Ingrid Katzberg said Fawcett had no choice but to plead guilty. “He (had) to, definitely. He did it. He admitted it. He got money for the killing, so yes, he had to plead guilty,” she said. Katzberg said even the maximum penalty wouldn’t be enough to satisfy the protesters.
“But it’s the best we can do, and at least it gives the message to other people that the courts are going to punish you if you do something like that,” she said.
Only a few cases of animal cruelty in B.C. history have resulted in jail time, according to MacKenzie.