The suspect arrested in connection with stabbing a Vancouver police dog last Friday night will be the first person in the city to face charges under new provincial legislation that makes it an offence to injure a law enforcement animal.
Neil Mackenzie, a spokesman for Crown counsel, said a charge of harming a police service animal was approved this week against Kyle Scott Martin, 20, in connection with the stabbing of Teak, a German shepherd.
Martin will be prosecuted under the province's Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, which was amended in June 2011 to include offences related to police dogs and horses.
Police allege Martin, a suspect in a failed robbery of a gas station, stabbed Teak in the neck during an arrest at 52nd and Fraser streets.
Teak, who was a few weeks from retirement, was discharged Sunday from an animal hospital and is recovering at home under the watch of his handler.
The Act, which the provincial government says is the toughest in the country, now has provisions for penalties up to $75,000 and jail terms of up to two years.
Previously, the Act stated that a person convicted in a first offence of "causing animals to be in distress" could be fined up to $5,000 or imprisonment of up to six months, or both.
The amendment was made after Const. Jason Whittaker of the Saanich police department successfully lobbied the provincial government for tougher penalties for incidents involving police dogs.
The amendment came coincidentally at the same time the provincial government's Sled Dog Task Force made several recommendations regarding cruelty to animals in B.C. The task force was created in response to the mass killings of approximately 100 sled dogs by an employee of an outdoor adventure tourism business in Whistler.
So far, the new legislation was tested at least once in B.C. - coincidentally in Saanich - when a 16-year-old boy received a 12-month conditional sentence order in connection with a series of charges related to theft from automobiles, assaulting a police officer and breaching previous conditions.
Sgt. Steve Eassie, a media liaison officer with the Saanich Police Department, said police dog Taz was punched and kicked by the boy during an arrest in June 2011. Eassie wouldn't comment on the sentence given to the boy, whose conditions include reporting regularly to a youth worker.
Const. Sandra Glendinning, a former handler in the Vancouver police's dog squad, said officers welcome the changes to the Act but want to see the federal government toughen up the Criminal Code as it pertains to police dogs and horses.
While a section of the Criminal Code contains animal cruelty provisions, the laws are limited in scope and are generally not used in cases where police animals are injured or killed.
"We just want to get that recognized in the Criminal Code of Canada," said Glendinning, noting a charge of mischief used to be recommended when a dog was injured. "Which is the same charge for somebody breaking a window."
Ontario NDP MP Joe Comartin introduced a private member's bill in Ottawa in April 2012 to amend the Criminal Code. It has received first reading.
In introducing the bill, Comartin told Parliament it was "quite straightforward," according to a transcript of his speech provided by the Library of Parliament.
"It is to address the reality that our criminal law dealing with animal cruelty has not been changed for over 100 years," Comartin said. "This bill would bring us into the 21st century where other countries, which I would argue from a criminal justice standpoint are not nearly as advanced as Canada is, have moved on this issue."
The bill says a person could be liable to imprisonment for a term of not more than five years and a fine not exceeding $10,000, or both.
The Vancouver police dog squad has 18 dog teams working 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The teams are trained to catch suspects and in the detection of drugs, guns and explosives.
Eight Vancouver police dogs have died in the line of duty since the dog squad formed in 1957. Nitro was the most recent dog to die while trying to catch a suspected car thief in January 2006.
No charges were laid related to Nitro's death.