2017 Harvest

2017 Harvest

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Alberta Court upholds acquittal in mistreatment of cattle case

The Crown appealed the acquittal of James Muhlbach (Muhlbach) of a charge laid under the Animal Protection Act, R.S.A. 2000, c. A-41 (the Act) for mistreating cattle on his farm near Stettler, Alberta.  Muhlbach owns and operates a cattle farming operation, and in 2007, the Alberta Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) investigated various concerns about cattle treatment on the Muhlbach farm. As a result of those investigations, Muhlbach was charged with one count of permitting animals to be in distress contrary to sec. 2(1) of the Animal Protection Act.

According to the Court of Queen's Bench on appeal, in order for the Crown to have been successful in convicting Muhlbach of the charge, it had to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, the actus reus of the offence that Muhlbach caused or permitted an animal or animals to be in distress. The nature of this charge is quasi-criminal requiring the higher standard of proof, beyond a reasonable doubt, or as the Trial Judge put it, the criminal standard of proof. Given that the charge is strict liability, the Crown is not required to prove the mental element of the offence, but Muhlbach is entitled to a raise a defence of due diligence. This defence is described in the Act at s. 2(2) as:
This section does not apply if the distress results from an activity carried on in accordance with the regulations or in accordance with reasonable and generally accepted practices of animal care, management, husbandry, hunting, fishing, trapping, pest control or slaughter. [emphasis added]
Muhlbach lead a defence of due diligence.  He claimed and lead evidence that his practices were in accordance with reasonable and generally accepted practices of care of cattle. Muhlbach had only to prove this on a balance of probabilities to raise a reasonable doubt. The Trial Judge found that Muhlbach had successfully made out that defence and acquitted him.  On appeal, the Court of Queen's Bench found that the acquittal was reasonable:
To say that the Trial Judge’ acquittal was unreasonable is to say that his conclusions did not fit with the evidence put before him. That cannot be said in this case. It is clear from my review of his oral decision that he was alive to the requirements and standards of proof under the Animal Protection Act, that he considered the evidence carefully, and that he applied the evidence to the test in a reasoned way. Therefore, it cannot be said that the acquittal verdict was unreasonable.
Read the decision at: R. v. Muhlbach.