A woman is looking for justice after seeing her case thrown out of court due to lack of representation.
The incident occurred at the Calnash Ag Event Centre July 9, 2015, explained Denise Unwin after a barrel racing event. Her daughter Ryley, who was four at the time, had their friend’s Jack Russel terrier on a leash when two dogs, a bull mastiff and a German shepherd attacked the terrier, said Unwin.
Ryley was caught up in the middle and was so scared she lost control of her bladder. “I have never felt so helpless … to give her that piece of mind, to say that it was ‘OK,’” said Unwin of the experience.
Police arrived on the scene and issued a Town of Ponoka bylaw ticket to the dog owners, said Unwin. Almost one year to the day, July 14, 2016, Unwin attended court to get the matter dealt with, and the judge threw the case out. Unwin said the judge stated he was making an example of the town for not having any representation.
“Now that I have no foot to stand on it doesn’t do me any good,” stated Unwin.
“They were laughing in front of us,” she added of the owners of the two dogs.
Since then Ryley, now five, is fearful of dogs, which is a new challenge for the family who has a close friend and neighbour who rescues dogs. Unwin wants to see the Town of Ponoka learn from this issue, which has removed their chance at any kind of legal action and appears to have caused Ryley some long term stress.
At the time of the court date, there was a crown prosecutor in attendance but no one to represent the town. Unwin wants justice and as she has no recourse from the current case, she wants to see changes in how the town deals with these cases and other tickets. “I want a guarantee that things are going to change.”
Town CAO Albert Flootman apologized for the issue and said the town is looking at preventing this from happening again. The day the judge threw out the case Flootman was notified by the RCMP. Shortly after he met with Unwin. “She definitely expressed her concern about the fact that there was no one to prosecute this bylaw ticket.”
No one on the town staff knew of the incident, added Flootman.
Using a municipal bylaw ticket rather than a criminal code ticket can be more effective, he said, but since no one at the town had knowledge of the ticket there was little that could be done. Previously a crown prosecutor would take the town’s cases, although they are not obligated to do so, and that individual was no longer at that post. Seeing no representation, the judge threw it out.
This issue comes after many years of the town not having a bylaw officer to issue tickets, added Flootman. This appears to have left a bit of a learning curve on what to do and shows a need to have some form of plan in place to deal with tickets. The new peace officer was only recently hired and he had no knowledge of the incident, said Flootman.
Where the disconnect is between the town being notified and taking action with representation is unclear, said Flootman. That being said, he wants to move forward and ensure this doesn’t happen again. “We need someone in place who’s going to ensure regular communication is in place with the police and the court clerk, to be aware of what’s coming forward and to be in tune with what’s going on.”
Those steps have been taken. The town is in negotiations with a lawyer for representation on a case-by-case basis to deal with any tickets that come to court. “It certainly highlighted the need to have these processes in place.”
He added that the town takes animal control issues seriously and Flootman wants residents to feel safe on Ponoka streets.