A woman who admits to stealing dogs has told a judge that she has suffered enough.
Former South Surrey resident Janet Olson, 61, attended a sentencing hearing Friday at Surrey Provincial Court, which heard submissions from Crown counsel Michelle Wray and both Olson’s lawyer, Craig Sicotte, and Olson herself.
Olson, now a Langley resident, has admitted to stealing two dogs and attempting to steal a third in what she claims were acts of compassion toward mistreated animals.
Wray, arguing that principles of “denunciation and deterrence” must be paramount for admitted criminal acts – to discourage “vigilantism” – is asking the court for a conditional sentence of between a year and 18 months to be served in the community.
Judge Melissa Gillepsie is scheduled to render sentencing on Feb. 24.
In an agreed statement of fact, Olson has acknowledged she took two dogs, from residences in Chilliwack and Richmond in 2009 and 2010, and was in the act of stealing a bulldog in Coquitlam when arrested in November 2011.
Wray told Peace Arch News during a break in proceedings that the Crown intends to stay 38 other dog-theft-related charges against Olson at the conclusion of sentencing.
The Crown introduced Olson’s own journal of the incidents and emails between her and other members of her organization, A Better Life Dog Rescue (ABLDR), as supporting evidence.
For Olson, it was a chance to defend her actions in court, after more than three years since her original arrest.
In videos and photos of other cases in which severe mistreatment of dogs chained and confined outside was demonstrated – and in her own emotional, sometimes-tearful statement – Olson attempted to show she had been driven to taking the law into her own hands by seeing animals perish, and in the apparent inability of the BCSPCA to intervene or investigate complaints by neighbours.
She said she believed that rather than breaking the law, she was acting to enforce existing animal-protection laws.
The Crown, however, maintained it did not accept that the animals taken by Olson were in fact in distress.
Over the course of ABLDR activities, Olson and Sicotte said, tips on mistreated dogs had come from both SPCA members and police officers who felt limited in the actions they could take.
The defendant and her attorney also chronicled emotional distress, physical harm and financial hardship she has suffered, and noted she has already spent a week in jail awaiting a bail hearing.
The court heard she had been subject to harassment and death threats following an RCMP news release that described her organization’s actions as stealing dogs which were later sold for profit – an assertion Olson vehemently dismissed.
“There isn’t anything worse you could say about me, or more of a lie,” she told Gillespie.
As a result of the police statement, Sicotte said, volunteer and financial support for ABLDR had collapsed, preventing the saving of hundreds of dogs that would otherwise have been brought into Canada from “kill shelters” in the U.S.
Olson has been found guilty of breaching bail conditions by arranging for a dog adoption since her arrest, which has resulted in a criminal record for her.
Sicotte cited Olson as a “stable” individual who has been married for 32 years and had a long and distinguished record in community service and as a pilot with Air Canada before taking an early retirement two years ago.
Wray, who indicated the Crown has no problem with Olson continuing her work with legal dog rehabilitation and adoption activities, said it was accepted that Olson “genuinely believed that what she was doing was for the benefit of the animals.”
But, Wray said, “despite the nobility of her beliefs, these are not matters that can be condoned by the court.”
Submissions indicated both sides were far apart in their opinion of the condition of the animals in the cases in which Olson has admitted guilt.
Sicotte and Olson said that in each case neighbours had complained of severe mistreatment of the animals, while Wray said the Crown did not accept this version as fact.
Sicotte suggested that, rather than calling witnesses on both sides, it might be enough for Gillespie to accept Olson acted because she was convinced the animals were in distress.