EDITORIAL: Courts won’t get to truth

Sentencing self-described dog rescuer Janet Olson is no easy task.

Sentencing self-described dog rescuer Janet Olson is no easy task.

Originally charged with 42 counts related to canine thefts from the yards of residents around the Lower Mainland and Fraser Valley in the years leading up to her arrest in 2011, the former South Surrey resident pleaded guilty last year to four charges.

Now, we have an arguably sympathetic Crown counsel calling for a conditional sentence of up to 18 months – a virtual slap on the wrist that is unlikely, as purported, to condemn “vigilantism” – and a defence attorney and admitted dog thief requesting even less.

Because of Olson’s plea, the court heard little evidence, other than one day of interpretations on why she did what she did – and the remaining 38 charges are expected to be stayed.

Olson’s testimony – which included unrelated video and images of abused dogs that she was never accused of stealing – was that she thought the pets she took were at risk, an assertion disputed by the Crown.

Given this impasse, her lawyer suggested, rather than calling witnesses, it would be enough for the judge to accept that Olson believed it to be true.

It’s not.

It makes little sense to the families deprived of their pets what Olson’s motivations were, if their dogs were never otherwise in jeopardy. And make no mistake, these families and their supporters vocally contend – even if the court is not at liberty to hear them – that their pets were well taken care of prior to the dognappings.

Conversely, and even more profoundly, if the animals were in fact abused, it makes little sense that the judge hears no evidence to that effect, and that such caregivers be allowed to potentially replace one distressed pet with another.

Unfortunately, without hearing from actual witnesses – aside from Olson herself – the courts will never know.

Olson’s admitted crimes occurred in 2009, 2010 and 2011, the year she was arrested. She breached bail conditions in 2012, entered a guilty plea in 2014 and is to be sentenced in 2015.

In cases where justice is seen to be done, we accept that our particular system is slower than most. But when such basic concepts of right and wrong are at risk of turning into a dog’s breakfast, we have to wonder if there’s a better way.