Edmonton

Quanto's Law: punishment may not fit the crime, critic says

A new law that offers harsher penalties for injuring service animals — including police dogs — might do more harm than good, critics say.

Quanto's Law, which came into effect last month, named after Edmonton police dog killed in 2013

Quanto's law was introduced after the Edmonton police dog was fatally stabbed while chasing a suspect in October 2013. (RCMP)

A new law that offers harsher penalties for injuring service animals — including police dogs — might do more harm than good, critics say..

Quanto's Law, named after an Edmonton police dog that was stabbed while chasing a suspect in 2013, created a new criminal offence making it illegal to kill or injure a service animal.

The new charge carries a maximum sentence of five years; but also provides for a six-month mandatory minimum sentence if the animal was intentionally injured.

Supporters of the law argue it is necessary to protect police animals in the line of duty. However, Ottawa reporter Tyler Dawson criticised the law in a column in the National Post, saying the new law doesn't take into account what people do when faced with an aggressive animal.

"The law misunderstands how people react," Dawson told CBC's Edmonton AM Wednesday.

Hear the debate on Edmonton AM

Dawson sees the law as well-intentioned. The issue, he said, is that it lumps together both those who intentionally harm service animals with suspects that might instinctively lash out when being attacked by dog.

If a person is being chased by a human officer, he said, lying down and surrendering is almost always a possibility.

"But when you're dealing with an animal — a dog that is trained to hurt you and is better at hurting other animals and creatures than you are — when it gets to you, you can't just lay down and give up the same way," he said.

"The reaction is going to be ... to defend yourself against the animal."

Dawson pointed to a study by a legal advocacy society last year that suggested a person in British Columbia was injured every two days by police dogs.

The study raised concerns over how most police forces in Canada train canines; it said current methods leave suspects no chance to surrender without being bitten.

Police dogs need better protection, officer says

The officers who work with animals, on the other hand, say the law is long overdue.

Staff Sgt. Troy Carriere, who works with Edmonton's canine unit, said police dogs are doing the same kind of work as human officers — and they should have similar protection.

"These animals put themselves in harm's way on a nightly basis. They go into situations that we certainly would not want to put ourselves into," he said.

Before Quanto's Law, a person who killed a police dog could be charged with, at most, animal cruelty; that's the charge that Paul Vukmanich, the man who stabbed Quanto, was convicted of last year.

Carriere said that didn't quite fit the crime. He argued that the new legislation gives police more flexibility to punish those who attack police dogs.

He said it was pretty common for dogs to be punched, kicked or cut during chases. More serious injuries and deaths, however, are more rare.

Carriere did join Dawson, however, in saying that people reacting instinctively to protect themselves should be treated differently than those who intentionally hurt police dogs to escape arrest.

"There are times where we see, of course, someone's natural reaction. There's an animal biting them, they're going to fight back," he said.

"When you're a handler and you've been doing it for a few years, you can usually see the distinction between the two."

He said before anyone is charged under the law, investigators should do everything they can to determine if the animal was injured intentionally.

However, Dawson is not convinced every police agency will be as careful as Carriere suggests.

While he thinks Quanto's Law will make some people "think twice" about attacking a police dog, it is far more likely to punish those who react naturally to being bitten.

He suggests that injuries to service animals should be dealt with in civil court instead.

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