Hawk, Calgary police dog, to help child witnesses in sex abuse case
Potentially precedent-setting motion granted by judge
The Calgary Police Service's victim assistance dog, Hawk, will be allowed to sit with two child witnesses when they testify at an upcoming sexual assault trial.
The request was made by Crown prosecutor Rose Greenwood in a pre-trial application Wednesday and the defence lawyer did not oppose the idea, which will see the four-year-old black Labrador comfort the children in December.
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Justice Bruce Millar granted the application and addressed Hawk directly, highlighting the potentially precedent-setting nature of the decision.
"You might be the first dog in Canada, Hawk, to be a court-ordered comfort dog," said Millar.
Hawk is used by police to calm people in times of stress and trauma and first joined the force about a year ago.
Greenwood says comfort — or support — dogs have been used in court in the United States, but he believes this is the first time such a thing will happen in Canada.
"In the last few years, there's been a significant amount of cases from the U.S. where they've been using support dogs in court not only for child witnesses but vulnerable witnesses as well," said Greenwood.
One of the child witnesses is a seven-year-old girl whose father is accused of sexually assaulting her.
Her nine-year-old brother will also testify.
The children have visited Hawk twice for "play dates" to get acquainted with him.
Hawk helped after Brentwood stabbings
One of Hawk's handlers says the decision to allow the dog in the courtroom is important for improving the justice system.
"Anything we can do to make the justice system more open and we can create, as best we can, a comfortable, a confident witness — that aids in the success of our justice system. It's very exciting," said Sgt. Brett Hutt. "I love it."
Greenwood said she hopes comfort dogs like Hawk will be used more in the future, adding that she'll likely make the request again.
Hawk has been used in schools where traumatic events have taken place.
He even accompanied several witnesses in the Brentwood stabbing case back to the home where the five students were killed in April.