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Judge dresses down gallery in dog-theft case
Today's court appearance for a White Rock woman facing multiple dog-theft charges was short, but the presiding judge made sure to let opponents of Janet Olson know that disrespect for the legal process won't be tolerated.
Several attendees seated in the Surrey Provincial Court gallery were wearing white T-shirts with the phrase 'Stealing pets is not rescue' on the front and 'Return our family members now' on the back.
Judge Ellen Gordon admonished them for their attire.
"For those of you that are in here, the T-shirts don't help," Gordon said. "If you want to watch… come dressed like normal people."
Olson, founder of A Better Life Dog Rescue, was one of two women arrested in November in connection with what police described as "an elaborate dog-theft investigation" into allegations a rescue group was stealing dogs from backyards across the Lower Mainland.
At the time, police said investigators observed Olson and co-accused Louise Reid enter a Coquitlam backyard and walk away with a bulldog named Samson. Olson – who has acknowledged she took Samson – was also charged with theft and fraud in connection with the alleged theft of a Jack Russell terrier in Surrey on April 13, 2011.
Last month, following a flood of tips to police, several more charges were sworn against Olson, in connection with incidents between Nov. 14, 2009, and Dec. 21, 2011 in White Rock, Surrey, Richmond and Abbotsford. A Richmond woman, Michaela Schnittker, was also announced as facing charges.
Prior to her appearance Thursday morning, Olson told Peace Arch News she only learned Tuesday of the new charges against her. While she had read about them in the news prior to that, Olson said she believes "very little" of what she sees in the newspaper.
Asked to elaborate, Olson said she'd read accusations that her organization took dogs for profit. She said she spends $50,000 a year of her own money paying vets and covering ABLDR expenses.
Olson said she has "no idea" what dogs the most recent charges refer to, and that she is still waiting for disclosure of the evidence against her.
Regarding an alleged theft on Jan. 3, 2011 in White Rock, Olson said the incident "doesn't ring a bell."
"I've never seen a chained dog in White Rock."
Samson was the last dog taken, she said.
In court, defence lawyer Craig Sicotte asked the judge for the opportunity to argue for some of Olson's bail conditions to be relaxed, in order to facilitate efforts to prepare her defence on charges she breached her bail conditions. He cited Olson's ban from using computers as a hindrance in the process.
The judge described the conditions' restrictive nature as creating a custody-like situation for Olson. She suggested two days be set aside for the trial on the breach charges alone, and that Sicotte return to court with Olson prior to that to deal with the bail conditions matter.
Afterward, Sicotte told PAN that Olson's conditions are disproportionately restrictive considering the charges against her.
"She can't email me – how about that?" he said.
Supporters and opponents of Olson both expressed frustration outside court. One supporter, a woman from South Surrey who identified herself only as Manon, said she believes both sides are trying to help dogs, but that the issue has been brought to a personal level at which Olson is being presumed guilty.
"They're doing the same thing. Some people call it stealing and some call it rescue," she said. "The ones that are trustworthy rescue dogs."
Opponent Megan Ferris, also from South Surrey, agreed the issue is partly personal. At the same time, "it's hurt the rescue community as a whole," she said.
Police have said more charges are anticipated. Sicotte noted another name is expected to be added to the list Feb. 21, the same date that Olson, Reid and Schnittker are due back in court.