Welcome to my Crime and Justice blog! I am a 19 year old criminal justice student at the University of Winnipeg. I advocate for prisoners' rights, human rights, equality and criminal justice/prison system reforms.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Prison sentence threatened for horse deaths

A small hoof sticking out the side of a trailer was the first sign of trouble. A closer look by Manitoba border guards revealed a more gruesome sight -- 14 badly injured, dying and already dead horses collapsed inside a cramped, blood-soaked space.
The man who drove the animals to their violent end was hoping to walk away with a fine after pleading guilty earlier this year to charges under the federal Health of Animals Act.
But Judge Carena Roller told Steinbach-area trucker Geoffrey Giesbrecht, 27, she's having doubts about the Crown's request for a financial penalty.
"I am seriously considering a jail sentence for you," Roller said. She cited the facts of the November 2007 case, including photographs she called "horrific" which depict the conditions inside Giesbrecht's truck.
Officials with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency found a total of 22 horses were being transported from the United States to Canada for slaughter in an improper vehicle that was stopped at the Emerson border crossing. They were also suffering severe dehydration and many had collapsed from exhaustion and pain, only to be trampled by some of the others. Fourteen were already dead or had to be put down. The other eight were sent to various farms in the United States to be nursed back to health.
"Horses will always try to get up. The fact they were staying down shows they were suffering, they were just waiting to die," said Crown attorney Jeremy Akerstream. He requested a $7,500 fine for Giesbrecht -- based on other non-custody precedents across Canada -- but Roller said that may not be a strong enough punishment.
Giesbrecht -- who is acting as his own lawyer -- was stunned.
"Why would I go to jail for saving people's lives?" he asked. Giesbrecht claims the injuries were caused when he swerved to avoid hitting a car stopped with a flat tire on a Minnesota highway. He had just picked up the horses and was driving them to Pincher Creek, Alta., where one of Canada's three federally regulated horse-slaughter plants is located. The meat would then be processed and sold to Asia and Europe.
"You're going to put me in jail for killing horses instead of people?" said Giesbrecht. Roller urged him to consider hiring a lawyer before she hands down her sentence.
"I would feel better if you had representation... the consequences could be severe," she said. "There might be a legal argument here that a lawyer could make on your behalf."
Giesbrecht, who is married with five young children, claims he can't afford a lawyer.
"What kind of a jail are we talking about here? Is this where I would be in a cell for the whole day?" he asked the judge.
"This is not a negotiation, sir," replied Roller. A representative from Legal Aid was brought to court Wednesday to discuss the case with him. Giesbrecht was granted a two-week adjournment to see if he qualifies for free legal help. The maximum penalty allowed by Canadian law is a six-month jail term or a $50,000 fine.
5133831 Manitoba Ltd. -- which also does business as Shadow Creek Transports -- is also facing federal charges for its alleged role in the case, along with the owner, Bobby Joe Koop. They remain before the courts and are presumed innocent.
Officials with the CFIA have reported an increase in horse abuse cases in Canada since the United States passed a bill in 2007 to remove federal inspection services for equine slaughterhouses, which eliminated their ability to operate. Officials say the horses now have to travel much further distances to be killed -- such as Canada or Mexico -- creating more potential for negligence and abuse.
According to federal statistics, between 40,000 and 60,000 unwanted horses were being shipped every year to U.S. processing plants to be turned into human or pet food.

This article is biased when it says, "hoping to walk away with a fine" which implies that that type of a sanction would be too lenient, when in reality, prison time is not necessary in a case such as this and a fine IS appropriate.

Not seeking treatment if injured horses, may mean jail
A Manitoba truck driver is facing a possible jail sentence after he neglected to seek medical treatment for several horses injured during a trip to the slaughterhouse.
Geoffrey Giesbrecht, 27, previously pleaded guilty to one count of violating the Health of Animals Act, specifically continuing to transport animals after they have been injured without seeking timely medical attention.
Fourteen horses died or were euthanized following the Nov. 7, 2007, incident.
At a hearing Wednesday, Judge Carena Roller urged Giesbrecht to secure a lawyer, warning him she was considering jailing him for the offence. The maximum penalty for the offence is a $50,000 fine and/or six months in jail.
“If you are going to throw me in jail for killing horses instead of people, then I don’t have the money to pay a lawyer,” said Giesbrecht, a father of five.
Giesbrecht claimed the animals were injured Nov. 7, 2007, after he swerved to avoid hitting a car that had stopped abruptly on the highway.
“Why would I go to jail for saving people’s lives?” he said.
Giesbrecht ultimately agreed to meet with a Legal Aid lawyer. A date for sentencing has not been set.
Giesbrecht picked up a load of 22 horses in Minnesota and was bound for Pincher Creek, Alta., when border officials stopped him at the Emerson crossing. Inside Giesbrecht’s trailer, border officials found several injured horses trapped under the bodies of dead horses and other horses so exhausted or seriously injured they could not stand.
A veterinary with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency was called in and several of the animals were euthanized on the spot.
At a hearing last February, Crown attorney Jeremy Akerstream said he would be seeking a $7,500 fine. Akerstream said Giesbrecht had ample opportunity to seek medical treatment for the animals prior to arriving at the Emerson border crossing.
“These were horses that were badly in need of medical care and died a horrible death,” Akerstream said. “Investigators at the scene were shocked and so were the veterinarians.”
Giesbrecht said he was only following instructions of his dispatcher.
“I could have (stopped to seek medical attention) but I did as I was told,” he said.
Akerstream said the animals had been tied to the walls of the trailer, leaving them unable to protect themselves from each other following the accident. Several of the horses were found in an “advanced state of shock” trapped under other horses or unable to rise on their feet.
Many horses were so dehydrated they were drinking urine from the trailer floor.
Several of the downed horses suffered stamping injuries from those horses still standing.

If this man gets sentenced to prison simply because he could not afford a lawyer, is a clear example of sentencing discrimination, based on wealth and social class. This man does not need prison!! How will that help him? It won't. While I love animals and it saddens me to see animals suffer and die, they are still just animals. In my eyes, this isn't even a crime. I believe what this man said about swerving around something, which could have caused their deaths. 

He is not a risk to the safety of society and prison would help him in any way, therefore, he should receive a fine. I would suggest $7500, what the Crown suggested, and give this man a longer period to pay it off. Prisons should only be reserved for the most dangerous and violent offenders, such as serial killers and multiple murderers. This man is not violent or dangerous and is just going to cause more prison overcrowding. He didn't harm any human being and prison is not necessary. He also has a large family which he needs to support, which also means prison isn't necessary. The Judge could use a fine, which is a less restrictive method to be held accountable for his actions. The courts need to stop over-relying on prison as a solution to all problems and stop being "tough on crime" because it's ineffective.  

For a man who cannot afford a lawyer, and who has a large family to support, $7500 is quite a bit of money and it would definitely have an impact on his life. Prison should be reserved for only the most dangerous and high risk offenders to society. This man is not one of them. We need less reliance on prisons as a way to hold people accountable for their actions. There are alternatives. Besides, the prospect of punishment does not deter potential offenders. Only the certainty of being caught does.

Some people argue that imposing a prison sentence would send a message to potential criminals that we are "getting tough on crime." In reality, they would be getting STUPID on crime! Prison is NOT needed for this man, as it has a negative influence on individuals. There are LEAST RESTRICTIVE METHODS that the Judge could impose instead, such as a fine. This man is NOT dangerous to society. I feel that we need to rely LESS on prison sentences and start shifting society from one based on punishment (which clearly is not working) to one based on restorative justice and rehabilitation. 

Our criminal justice system still seems to be underpinned on the philosophical ideas of Rational Choice Theory, stating that humans have free will, fear punishment, weigh the pros and cons of their behaviour and that punishment is a deterrence to potential law breakers. This is merely a THEORY and is NOT based on ANY scientific evidence or support. This is what the tough on crime measures are relying on. No wonder it's not effective.   

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