In first for Canada, zookeeper in Quebec charged with criminal animal cruelty

An owner of an unaccredited zoo in Quebec has been arrested and charged with neglect and cruelty to animals.

The SPCA in Montreal said Tuesday that St-Edouard zoo owner Normand Trahan faces two charges under the Criminal Code — one count each of criminal animal neglect and criminal animal cruelty.

Sophie Gaillard, a lawyer and spokeswoman for the SPCA, said it’s the first time that animal cruelty charges have been laid by way of indictment in the province. That means tougher potential sentences — a maximum of five years behind bars and a lifetime ban on owning animals in the current case.

She also said that to her knowledge, it was the first time in Canada that a zoo owner has been charged with criminal animal cruelty.

The charges stem from a visit in August 2018, when the SPCA said it noted several alleged violations. In a subsequent visit in October, officials seized two alpacas that were in poor health and found four deceased animals, including two tigers.

According to charges filed in court in Trois-Rivieres, Que., the alleged infractions are alleged to have taken place between May 2016 and October 2018. A clerk at the Trois-Rivieres courthouse said Trahan was released under several conditions and his case will return to court on June 21.

Humane Society International/Canada, Friends of HSI, and HSI global — with help from the Eric S. Margolis Family Foundatio are working alongside the Montreal SPCA in the seizure of animals from a roadside zoo in St-Édouard-de-Maskinongé, Quebec.

The owner of the unaccredited facility, Zoo de St-Edouard, has been arrested and charged with neglect and cruelty to animals under the Canadian Criminal Code. If convicted, the accused could face a five-year prison sentence and a lifetime ban on having custody or control of any animal.

Experts from HSI’s Canadian and global affiliates will provide specialized care for more than 100 wild and exotic comprising dozens of different species as of the date of the seizure, as well as transport of all wild animals to a network of partner sanctuaries throughout North America. A number of the animals are listed on Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

Rebecca Aldworth, executive director of HSI/Canada, stated:

It was disturbing to see this facility. Many of the animals were confined in dark, barren, dilapidated enclosures. Others were living with entirely inadequate shelter with minimal protection from the elements. Some of the animals did not even appear to have access to water or proper food and appeared to be suffering from a variety of medical conditions. Some of the animals were showing signs of significant psychological distress including compulsive, constant pacing. Notably, dead and ill animals have been removed or seized from this property in recent months. This case underscores the importance of strong animal welfare provisions in Canada’s Criminal Code, particularly as they apply to situations of gross neglect.”

Eric Margolis, founder of the Eric S. Margolis Family Foundation, said:

Our foundation supports organizations that provide care for abused, neglected and abandoned animals, both wild and domesticated. We will always support the work of organizations like HSI/Canada and Friends of HSI, who defend those who cannot defend themselves.”

HSI/Canada has campaigned for over a decade to achieve meaningful improvements to the animal welfare provisions in Canada’s Criminal Code. One of the primary deficiencies in the Criminal Code is the need for enforcement authorities to prove willfulness on the part of neglectful owners before they are able to lay criminal charges and seize animals.

This results in protracted suffering and can prevent appropriate application of the Criminal Code in situations of neglect.

On Tuesday, officials began the task of removing the animals from the site — a list that also includes zebras, primates, camels and kangaroos.

No animals had been moved as of Tuesday afternoon, but a veterinarian was documenting the animal’s living conditions and health status.

Michel Lebrun, Trahan’s lawyer, told reporters in Trois-Rivieres that his client needs to verify what is going on with the property.

We will take stock of all this, and after that, we’ll let you know our position,” Lebrun said with Trahan by his side. “We prefer not to comment at the moment.”

The zoo’s website says Trahan has been the owner since 1989 and has held a zoo permit for exotic animals since 2015.

 

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