City coun­cil ob­jects to vet­eri­nar­ian charges be­ing dropped

The Standard (St. Catharines) - - FRONT PAGE - KARENA WAL­TER STAN­DARD STAFF

St. Catharines city coun­cil is adding its voice to com­mu­nity mem­bers who are un­happy that an­i­mal abuse charges were dropped against a lo­cal vet­eri­nar­ian.

Coun­cil­lors unan­i­mously passed a mo­tion Mon­day night to send their ob­jec­tions to crim­i­nal charges be­ing with­drawn against Dr. Ma­havir Rekhi to On­tario’s Min­istry of the At­tor­ney Gen­eral.

They are also ask­ing for a writ­ten ex­pla­na­tion from the Crown as to why the charges were dropped.

“In this par­tic­u­lar case, we have a sit­u­a­tion where there is no ques­tion about this in­di­vid­ual’s guilt — a dozen videos show­ing him mis­treat­ing an­i­mals,” said Port Dal­housie Coun. Car­los Gar­cia, who made the mo­tion in coun­cil.

Gar­cia said the Col­lege of Vet­eri­nar­i­ans of On­tario it­self found Rekhi guilty, as it gave him a sus­pen­sion.

“My fear is that this in­di­vid­ual, if he con­tin­ues to have a li­cence, can eas­ily just move out of St. Catharines af­ter caus­ing all the trou­ble that he caused here, change his name or start an­other prac­tice and do the same thing else­where,” Gar­cia said.

“I’m hop­ing that by voic­ing our ob­jec­tions we can en­cour­age the Min­istry of the At­tor­ney Gen­eral to look into this mat­ter, and per­haps there is a way some­thing can be done, be­cause I think it would be really sad if what I’ve just said hap­pens.”

Rekhi was sus­pended by the ve­teri­nary col­lege on Aug. 20, 2016, af­ter for­mer em­ploy­ees at his Sky­way An­i­mal Hos­pi­tal on Wel­land Av­enue filed a com­plaint about his treat­ment of an­i­mals. They sub­mit­ted sur­veil­lance videos to the col­lege as ev­i­dence, show­ing dogs be­ing punched and choked and a cat swung by its tail.

The for­mer em­ploy­ees went pub­lic with the videos in Septem­ber 2016 in re­sponse to the col­lege’s pun­ish­ment, which they be­lieved was too le­nient.

The case drew na­tion­wide at­ten­tion, led to pe­ti­tions and many protests at the clinic.

Kevin Strooband, an in­ves­ti­ga­tor with the On­tario So­ci­ety for the Prevention of Cru­elty to An­i­mals and ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Lin­coln County Hu­mane So­ci­ety, launched an in­ves­ti­ga­tion that month when he learned of the case from the me­dia.

He charged Rekhi with eight counts of caus­ing un­nec­es­sary pain or suf­fer­ing to an an­i­mal and eight counts of fail­ing to pro­vide suit­able and ad­e­quate care for an an­i­mal re­lat­ing to abuse at Rekhi’s clinic in 2013.

Those charges were with­drawn in St. Catharines court by Crown at­tor­ney Michal Sokol­ski on Nov. 3.

More than 16,800 peo­ple have signed a pe­ti­tion on change. org since then call­ing on On­tario’s at­tor­ney gen­eral to over­turn the Crown’s de­ci­sion.

Rekhi re­opened his prac­tice af­ter his li­cence was re­in­stated on Feb. 20 of this year. He ful­filled con­di­tions set by the col­lege, which in­cluded some re-train­ing and men­tor­ing, and is sub­ject to three sur­prise in­spec­tions each year for the next two years.

St. An­drew’s Coun. Joe Kush­ner said the mo­tion by Gar­cia Mon­day was con­sis­tent with a mo­tion that city coun­cil sup­ported in Oc­to­ber 2016. At that time, coun­cil unan­i­mously and of­fi­cially ex­pressed “dis­ap­point­ment” with the ad­e­quacy of the penalty im­posed by the Col­lege of Vet­eri­nar­i­ans of On­tario in the Rekhi mat­ter. It also called on the col­lege to strengthen its penal­ties against an­i­mal-abus­ing vets.

Kush­ner said the in­ves­ti­ga­tion by Strooband was very thor­ough.

“The re­port by the in­spec­tor was ex­tremely com­pre­hen­sive,” Kush­ner said. “Specif­i­cally, as lay peo­ple, we con­sider it to be cru­elty and we’re out­raged at what we saw. At the same time, Mr. Strooband went fur­ther than that.”

Kush­ner said Strooband called upon Canada’s fore­most ex­pert on an­i­mal cru­elty at a Bri­tish Columbia univer­sity to re­view his work. She agreed the charges were valid and sug­gested there could be more, Kush­ner said.

City coun­cil’s ob­jec­tion to the charges be­ing dropped will be sent to Ni­a­gara’s four MPPs in ad­di­tion to the min­istry.

As well, St. Pa­trick’s Coun. Mat Sis­coe asked that coun­cil for­mally re­quest a writ­ten ex­pla­na­tion from the Crown as to why the charges were dropped.

“I think there’s still a lot of lack of un­der­stand­ing in the com­mu­nity.”

Ni­a­gara Falls MPP Wayne Gates has al­ready pub­licly said he’s call­ing for an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into why the Crown dropped the charges.

A spokesman for the min­istry said in an email to Post­media that they were dropped be­cause the Crown de­ter­mined there “was no rea­son­able prospect of con­vic­tion.”

Rekhi could not be reached for com­ment.

— with files from Post­media News kwal­ter@post­ twit­ kare­na_­s­tan­dard




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