The animal cruelty trial of a Chilliwack couple collapsed Friday after the Provincial Court judge hearing the case questioned both the legality of an SPCA search and the strength of the Crown's evidence.
Peter and Camille Devries each faced four counts of causing an animal to continue to be in distress and one count of failing to provide the necessities of life to an animal.
The couple's Yale Road East home was raided by the BC SPCA in April of 2010. Dozens of animals were seized from the property, including horses, dogs, cats, indoor birds and a variety of fowl.
Before Crown counsel stayed the charges against the pair, Judge Gary Cohen heard the testimony of veterinarian Philip Chris, who said the living conditions of horses, dogs and birds on the property put the animals' health at risk.
One of the five horses found on the property was emaciated, Chris said. (Earlier in the trial, the Devries said they did not own that horse.) Two of the four other horses were worryingly thin, Chris said.
A cat found in the house had an abscess on its neck that should have been treated, Chris said. And while the dogs were in good condition, two were found in an enclosure littered with what "many piles of feces," Chris said. Four other Jack Russell terriers were also found living in "extremely dirty" enclosures with no access to fresh water.
While many of the birds appeared in good shape, they lived in filthy cages—the bottom of which was "covered in filth"—in a poorly ventilated room.
One of the four cages held two budgies, one of which lay dead. Another held a Cockatiel-like bird in very bad shape.
The Devries were self-represented and did not have a lawyer. Neither took the stand in their own defence.
Nevertheless, Cohen didn't find the evidence against the pair especially convincing.
The Devries had been visited on several earlier occasions by an SPCA representative who testified earlier in the trial that the condition of the horses may have been improving.
Cohen also questioned whether many of the animals, while perhaps living in poor conditions, met the legal definition of being "in distress."
But it was the revelation that the SPCA had executed its search warrant after the time prescribed on the written warrant that led Cohen to question whether Crown counsel Brian Felt wanted to proceed with the case.
The warrant specified an entry time prior to 9 a.m. on April 20, 2010. Instead, Felt said Chris had arrived at the property after noon.
"It's a really weak case with a huge hole in the warrant. A huge hole in the warrant!" said Cohen, who also questioned the legality of earlier SPCA visits onto the property.
Cohen told the Devries that they should have pointed out the error in the warrant earlier in the case. But he also questioned whether they had been given an opportunity to do so by Felt, who had not previously cited the warrant.
"I'm not convinced the case was well-presented to the court," he said. "There is no proof before me that this was a legal entry onto this property. And now there is proof that it could be illegal."