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News Crown Prosecutor Speaks Up for Vulnerable, Voiceless Animals

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Crown prosecutor speaks up for vulnerable, voiceless animals

Crown prosecutor Christian Lim makes friends at the Edmonton Humane Society on Feb. 13, 2014. Photograph by: John Lucas , Edmonton Journal




EDMONTON - Kick a dog or choke a cat and Christian Lim will see you in court.


The Edmonton Crown prosecutor has handled all the city’s animal cruelty cases for years, using strengthened legislation to bring more offenders to court and send more to jail.


It’s a wild area of law, but nothing surprises Lim anymore. He has prosecuted bizarre and sad cases involving cats, dogs, rattlesnakes, ferrets, birds and, once, a house packed with more than 1,000 rabbits. He’s not a lawyer turned animal lover, or vice versa. He’s even allergic to cats.


"I’ve never had a pet. Well, I had some fish when I was younger," he says. "This job is more about being passionate about life. You become a voice for the voiceless and protect a vulnerable part of society. These are defenceless creatures and society is judged by the treatment of its weakest."


Before Lim eagerly advocated for the creation of the city’s animal protection portfolio in 2010, only a handful of animal cruelty cases reached courts each year. Now, more than 30 are prosecuted annually. The rate of animal cruelty didn’t increase, just the number of charges.

Lim is helped by a public who often see themselves as watchdogs for crimes against animals, Lim says. Neighbours report neighbours, and shoppers in frigid parking lots call police when they pass a vehicle with a pet inside.


Lim knows the public is often angrier about an abused animal than a beaten human. He anticipated the "amazing public outrage" that gripped the city after police dog Quanto was killed during a suspect pursuit in October 2013. Such emotion is commonplace in his work.

In May 2010, Lim’s phone rang soon after 65 guinea pigs were fed poison-laced oranges at the Edmonton Valley Zoo. A 10-year-old boy wanted to express his disgust after watching news coverage of the unsolved killings.


"You realize that it’s not only adults, but kids are looking at these cases and we need to set good examples," he says. Interest in animal cases is so high that Lim is recognized on the street. He’s been approached walking down Whyte Avenue, during an Ultimate Frisbee game, inside a grocery store and during a weekend gig singing with his Christian band.

"You’re the animal guy," people say.


Many people tell Lim they consider their pets full members of their family. Offenders, though, often see pets as property to be used as a punching bag or even a weapon. Abusers are shocked when they first realize they could be jailed for cruelty charges. Lim is often told, "it’s just an animal." That thought fades quickly in front of a judge.


In the last year, three Edmonton men have received jail sentences for abusing domestic animals. Those cases are proof that Edmonton’s judges now take such cases seriously, Lim believes.


"If you abuse animals who are defenceless, cannot speak for themselves and are vulnerable, you will face a significant response," provincial court Judge Michael Stevens-Guille said while sentencing one of the men.

A decade ago, animal abusers had little fear of jail time.


In 2004, while in the prosecutors’ general pool, Lim was assigned his first animal file. A city man tied an injured puppy inside a plastic bag, hung it from a tree and left it to freeze to death. The man’s dog had given birth and the puppy was born with its intestines outside its body. The man couldn’t afford veterinary bills, court heard.


The puppy’s owner was prohibited from owning animals for six months, a decision that left Lim frustrated and the owner in tears. At the time, animal protection officers told Lim they needed a single prosecutor to focus on animal cases.


"This is really a specialty field and not many have the expertise," says Bronwyn Taylor, an animal protection officer. "Cases used to slip through the cracks."


That same year, in another prosecutor’s case, a woman was fined $200 for scalding her border collie Violet with boiling water and letting her suffer for at least two days. Lim was appalled at the small penalty.


"That’s what made me realize we needed to work on this, we needed to do more. We’re now educated more, we’re more enlightened."


Though he had "absolutely no idea" his law career would turn to animals, Lim leaped at the chance to explore a new area of law.


Over the next few years, he trained Edmonton Humane Society officers and police to investigate animal cruelty cases. He explored areas of the provincial Animal Protection Act and a strengthened Criminal Code that allowed for pet seizures, restitution orders and harsher penalties for pain and suffering. Lim also began to push for jail time in the most serious cases.


Now, Taylor said, animal protection officers ask his advice before laying charges and later present a stronger case in court. Through Lim’s work, Taylor believes higher fines and jail times provide stronger deterrence for potential abusers and more reason for witnesses to report such crimes.


Still, there will always be difficulties in prosecuting abuse cases with a victim that can’t speak.


"We don’t have a Dr. Doolittle on staff," Lim laughs. "If you do know someone who can talk to animals, let me know."


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Great guy! We need more champions like him! 

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Great guy! We need more champions like him! 


No kidding ......he should start giving courses for the rest of the numbskulls across Canada.

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