Man at centre of sled dog slaughter near Whistler to undergo psych assessment  

Robert Fawcett pleads guilty in sled dog case, one year after SPCA completed its investigation

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Robert Fawcett, the man at the centre of the brutal sled dog killings near Whistler, pleaded guilty to one count of animal cruelty in provincial court in North Vancouver Aug.30.

Though Fawcett appeared, along with his lawyer Greg Diamond, he said nothing during the proceedings.

Crown Counsel Nicole Grégoire told Judge Steven Merrick that she and Diamond were both available for a sentencing hearing on Nov. 22. When Merrick questioned why the hearing couldn't take place sooner Grégoire explained that a psychiatric assessment would be done in advance of the next hearing and that would take some time.

"It takes six to eight weeks for the report," said Grégoire adding that only one day would be needed for the hearing.

The court proceedings revealed no new information about the cull. It is not clear if the 54 exhumed dogs were all killed in the April 2010 cull.

While Fawcett appeared inside, a small group of animal right advocates gathered outside the courthouse. Some brought their dogs and a few were holding signs calling for justice for the sled dogs.

At the conclusion of the hearing Fawcett went into a courthouse interview room and emerged at 3 p.m. to a crowd of reporters anxious to talk to him. He briskly walked past the reporters without saying anything and got into a waiting vehicle and drove away from the photographers and reporters.

The case was moved to North Vancouver from Pemberton over security concerns earlier this summer.

Fawcett was the general manager of the Whistler-based Howling Dog Tours at the time of the sled dog cull north of Whistler.

The BC SPCA spent more than $200,000 to investigate after it was discovered that Fawcett had given WorkSafe BC details of the cull when he applied for benefits as he dealt with posttraumatic distress.

"We hope this plea results in swift and appropriate justice in this very disturbing case," said Marcie Moriarty, general manager of cruelty investigations for the BC SPCA.

"While the scope and cost of the sled dog investigation were unprecedented in BC SPCA history, to ignore such disturbing allegations was not an option."

Moriarty said the BC SPCA also recognized that the case would have far-reaching implications for working animals in B.C. and across Canada.

"This investigation was about uncovering the facts in a particular case of alleged animal cruelty that shocked people around the world," she said. "But it was also about ensuring that all sled dogs and other working animals are protected from suffering and abuse. Only by fully investigating these allegations could we send a clear message that we are a humane society where brutality and violence against animals will not be tolerated."

News of the cull led to the B.C. government creating a Sled Dog Task Force, which resulted in amendments to B.C.'s Prevention of Cruelty to Animals act. The laws around animal cruelty in B.C. are now the toughest in Canada.

Details of the killings were leaked to reporters in January 2011 after Fawcett was awarded WorkSafe BC benefits. The gruesome details led to an international outcry, and calls to ban dog sledding outright.

The BC SPCA submitted a 1,000-page investigative report to Crown Counsel in September of 2011 — the contents of which are unknown. Earlier, the BC SPCA uncovered the remains of 54 sled dogs from a mass grave at the company's sled dog operations site, though the original allegations suggested that up to 100 dogs were killed.

Fawcett could face up to five years in jail, a fine of up to $75,000 and a lifetime ban on owning animals.

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