15 charged following protests at two Alberta kennels that provide sled dog tours

CANMORE, Alta. — More than a dozen people affiliated with an animal rights group have been arrested in a protest against sled dog kennels, months after the same organization's occupation of a turkey barn prompted the Alberta government to promise a crackdown on rural trespassers.

RCMP say they were called to the Mad Dogs and Englishmen kennels east of Canmore, Alta., on Saturday morning when approximately 30 protesters allegedly broke into the kennels to protest the treatment of the dogs.

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Police say 15 people, including one young person, were arrested and face charges of break and enter to commit mischief.

A news release from the group Liberation Lockdown says protesters "locked down" the kennel as well as another, Howling Dog Tours, alleging the dogs were tethered for days at a time on very short leashes.

Liberation Lockdown also converged on the Jumbo Valley Hutterite turkey farm near Fort Macleod, Alta., on Sept. 2, spurring Premier Jason Kenney to announce that existing laws will be amended to crack down on protesters who go onto private agricultural land without permission.

No one from Mad Dogs and Englishmen could be immediately reached for comment, but a statement from Howling Dog Tours says its facility exceeds regulatory requirements and has had regular inspections from the SPCA and provincial government in recent months.

"It is unfortunate that a group of people, who know that no laws are being broken, can protest this way to push their values," Howling Dog Tours owner Rich Bittner said in the statement.

Police say all of the accused from Saturday's incident have been released and will appear in provincial court in Canmore on Jan. 15, 2020.

Trev Miller, an organizer with the protesters, said they entered the properties to "raise awareness of conditions that are perfectly legal," claiming animals frequently have sores on their necks and no hair from where collars leash them to poles.

"We're asking that inherent rights of non-human animals, including the right to live free from human exploitation on short leashes, be recognized for all individuals and that animal livestock operations be replaced with non-oppressive industries," Miller said in a news release.

The Alberta SPCA said in a statement that in cases this year where it has received complaints about the conditions of dogs used in the sled dog industry, its peace officers have not found there to be distress as defined by the Animal Protection Act.

Back in September, three adults and a 16-year-old girl were charged with break and enter to commit mischief following the sit-in at Jumbo Valley Hutterite turkey farm.

The farm operator said animal welfare standards and rules were being followed.

The Alberta government says it is looking at setting trespassing fines up to $10,000 for a first-time offence and up to $25,000 for subsequent offences, with a possible six months in jail.

Fines for organizations would be up to $200,000.

There could also be changes to health and safety rules so that farmers could recover costs if protests put the health of animals or humans at risk. Protesters who created such health risks could be fined between $15,000 and $30,000 and face up to a year in jail.

Alberta will also dedicate a Crown prosecutor to handle agricultural cases.

A spokesman for Ontario's agriculture minister said in September that the province had not ruled out similar legislation, but planned to first discuss it further with agriculture stakeholders.

Ontario mink farmers have been the target of animal rights activists, who have released hundreds of the animals from barns.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 17, 2019.

—By Rob Drinkwater in Edmonton

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