A former South Surrey woman who admitted to stealing dogs has been told she will receive a 90-day conditional sentence.
Janet Olson, 61, learned of her impending penalty Tuesday morning in Surrey Provincial Court.
But while happy her punishment is to be what she considers “a fair sentence,” Olson said if she could go back in time, she wouldn’t change a thing.
“Yes. These dogs were suffering,” Olson told reporters outside court.
Judge Melissa Gillespie adjourned the imposition of sentencing – delaying actual sentencing until next month, after Olson is to return from a family reunion in Toronto – following submissions last month from Crown Michelle Wray and defence counsel Craig Sicotte.
At that time, in an agreed statement of facts, Olson acknowledged she tried to take a dog from a residence in Chilliwack in 2009, took a dog from a home in Richmond in 2010 and was in the process of stealing a bulldog in Coquitlam when she was arrested in November 2011.
In the months that followed, dozens of dog-theft-related charges mounted against the retired Air Canada pilot.
Olson told the court last month that she believed that rather than breaking the law, she was acting to enforce existing animal-protection laws.
But while Gillespie accepted Olson was passionate about her cause, she did not accept her logic for justifying the crimes she committed.
“No matter how noble the cause is, the law must be obeyed,” Gillespie said Tuesday, in her reasons for sentence.
“While Miss Olson’s actions may have been noble, the manner in which she carried them out were illegal.”
Several times, Gillespie quoted from a journal of Olson’s that police seized while executing a search warrant. The statements, she said, make it clear that Olson knew she was stealing dogs, had planned each theft extensively and was aware of the potential consequences.
In one entry, written after the Chilliwack incident, Olson writes, “If the police caught me, I was at risk of losing my organization and my job.”
Other entries include details of using fake licence plates to avoid having her vehicle linked to the crimes; carrying out the so-called rescues at night to further avoid detection; and parking her van so that it looked like she was visiting a neighbour, but was “close enough to make a fast escape.”
Olson also wrote, “‘Aside from stealing other people’s dogs, I’m a very honest and upstanding citizen’,” Gillespie quoted.
Evidence of the latter points were among mitigating factors that Gillespie said she took into account in determining an appropriate sentence.
She cited more than 20 letters of support received for Olson that describe her as a passionate, selfless and generous person who spent a lot of her own money on dog-welfare efforts. Olson’s sister said Olson “guided her to be an upstanding human being.”
Gillespie also noted that Olson was involved in her community and was highly regarded in her profession – which she had to take early retirement from after her actions led to a criminal record.
While Gillespie found Olson was not remorseful for her actions, she said she did not consider her lack of remorse an aggravating factor in the case.
Aggravating factors included that the offences were committed over a lengthy period of time, involved “a high degree of planning and co-ordination” and that the risk of harm to others “was not insignificant.”
“The accused has chosen to take the law in her own hands and as a result, acted as a vigilante of sorts,” Gillespie said.
“The actions were deliberate, planned, and Miss Olson knew… that she was breaking the law.”
In the months following her arrest, dozens of dog-theft-related charges mounted against Olson. She pleaded guilty to four, and the remainder are expected to be stayed.
Olson said outside court that she continues to receive threats against her in connection with a statement made about her in a media release issued by the RCMP following her arrest, which indicated she had been taking the dogs for profit.
(Gillespie, in her reasons, noted there was “no evidence that there was ever any money made by Miss Olson for doing this.”)
And while Olson said she has filed a complaint against the police, “they will never be held accountable for that statement.”
Olson – who said she had to sell her house as a result of charges, and has since moved to Langley – pledged to return to legitimate dog-rescue efforts, and to focus on changing cruelty-to-animal rules at the legislative level. As well, she said she has written a book, Gone to the Dogs, that she hopes to one day see made into a movie.
Noting “hundreds and thousands of taxpayer dollars” had been spent on her case, Olson said it will be “up to the public to decide if this was a really valid use of their money.”