Wednesday, June 24, 2009

What was said. What was heard.

(Continued from here.)

No doubt it's been bugging me. What actually happened between Ginger and Buddy that night many years ago? For me, it's not even so much about Ontario's absurd Pit Bull laws anymore, as it is about trying to suss out the facts and along the way seeing what goes on inside Ontario courtrooms. Plus, with Toronto Animal Services South closed, I've got some extra time on my hands and you know what they say about idle hands and the devil.

To recap:

First trial: Justice of the Peace Madigan, determines Ginger the Pit Bull was off leash and unmuzzled and attacked Buddy. This determination is in large part based on testimony from Buddy's owner, Jody MacDonald. Justice of the Peace Madigan orders Ginger to be euthanized.

Ginger's owner, Phillip Huggins appeals. Note that on the night of the incident it was not Huggins himself who was walking Ginger, but his mother, Bernadette Razac.

Three years later, Second trial, first part: Justice Hogan presiding, determines that Ginger was actually leashed and Buddy who was not, the opposite of what Justice of the Peace Madigan had determined. Justice Hogan then calls for a time out while she tries to figure out just what Ontario's uber vague DOLA is all about.

A few months later, Second trial, second part: Having decided that the point of DOLA is not to simply kill Pit Bulls but rather to protect the public from dangerous dogs, Justice Hogan cancels Ginger's euthanasia order based, in part, on her determination that Ginger was leashed and did not start the fight with Buddy in the first place.

Reading the newspaper accounts of the incident (National Post, Toronto Star, CTV) and the court determinations made me curious. What was it that made Justice Hogan change the ruling to back Ginger instead of Buddy? I mean it's like going into court one day and having the first judge say, "That dog is white" and then going into court another day with a different judge and having that judge say about the same dog, "That dog is black."

This would never happen on Law and Order.

I shoot off an e-mail to Nick Aveling of The Toronto Star. He's the reporter who's been covering both sides of this case and he'd just written an article over the weekend presenting MacDonald's side of the story. In my e-mail, I basically ask him if he's got some inside scoop on MacDonald's testimony, as he'd just interviewed her, and also what he thinks about the opposing judgments stemming from it.

While waiting for a response, I decide to try and find a copy of that ruling by Justice Hogan for it's in this document where it will be revealed the thought process Justice Hogan went through in deciding to support Ginger's innocence.

I look and look but, unfortunately, I can't find it anywhere and by anywhere, I mean free and on-line. Why isn't this document at my fingertips? I wonder as I pound on my desk and curse the inadequacies of the internet. I contact a couple of friends and they look everywhere as well, and by everywhere, I mean free and on-line, and they too come up empty handed.

I'm temporarily at a loss, but then, a thought. I decide to do the unthinkable: I pick up the phone and actually make a phone call.

I call Terrance Green, the lawyer who represented Huggins for those trials with Justice Hogan.

I've never talked to a lawyer before and have very little working knowledge about them aside from some memorable television experiences. I wonder how I should address him. Terrance? Too informal. Mr. Green? Too Reservoir Dogs. Terrance Green? Yeah, that's the ticket.

(The following is a dramatization of a telephone conversation I actually had but since I can't remember what was exactly said exactly, I'm just sort of making stuff up)

"Hello, Terrance Green speaking."

"Hi. Uh, may I please speak to Terrance Green please."

Pause.

"Speaking."

"Oh hi, my name's Fred and I'm doing some research for an article about Ginger? the Pit Bull? and I'm wondering if you have a couple of minutes to answer some questions about her trial? since you represented her owner? uh, Huggins? about what happened that night with Buddy? the other dog? and why did Miss, uh, Missus, uh, Ms MacDonald say one thing and the judge, uh, the justice of the peace Madigan? interprete it as something else?"

Pause.

"Umm, what's your name again?"

"Fred?"

"And what's your involvement with this?"

"I'm writing a blog?"

Pause.

"Oh."

And then we really hit it off and a few minutes later he e-mails me a couple of court documents, the first being the one I'm looking for.

I scan the document and find the information I want, well sort of. From "Ontario Court of Justice, Old City Hall, Toronto Region. Between Her Majesty the Queen and Phillip Huggins. Before Justice M. L. Hogan. Ruling released on December 15, 2008", Justice Hogan:

In this case I do find that some of Justice of the Peace Madigan's evidentiary conclusions were clearly wrong and not supported by the evidence and thus find he did make palpable and overriding errors. The most significant example is his finding that the dog "Buddy" was leashed and the dog "Ginger" was not. Clearly, the evidence was exactly the opposite and I base this finding on the following excerpts from the transcripts: Examination in chief of J. MacDonald, June 8, 2006 at p.14, line 20, p. 15 lines 30, 31, p. 39 lines 6,7 and the cross examination of J. MacDonald June 8, 2006 at p. 47, lines 25 to 27, 40, p.48, lines 1,2, and p. 51 lines 14 to 16 and discussion between the Court and J. MacDonald at p. 52 lines 14 to 31. I find this evidentiary finding to be critical to his ultimate decision in the case and one that taints the rest of his evidentiary findings.

Ah ha! So, Justice Hogan is basically saying that the testimony given by MacDonald in the first trial actually corroborates the claim that Ginger was leashed and Buddy was not, the opposite of what Justice of the Peace Madigan had determined.

But what exactly was that testimony? How could two different judges interpret the same piece of testimony so differently?

I want to see the testimony for myself.

The next day, I e-mail Terrance Green again to ask if he might be able to forward me the testimony but he writes back that his hard copy has already been sent forward to Huggins' new lawyer on the case, Ruby Clayton.

I try the Ontario Court of Justice and the Ministry of the Attorney General's websites to see if I can obtain a copy of the testimony through them but the websites aren't not much help except for a phone number.

Once again into the breach, I dial the phone number.

I explain my situation and the kindly woman on the other end puts me on hold and after a while I wonder if she's just gone back to watching reruns of Ally McBeal.

But no. It turns out she was trying to track down where exactly I could go to get the trial transcripts.

Clerk: DOLA is a provincial law but it's administered by the city so you'll have to go down to the court office at .... (the address isn't a secret, I just don't have it with me at the moment) ... and ask them to see if they can get you a copy, which you'll have to pay for, or they can tell you where you have to go to find it.

Me: Okay, maybe I'll just e-mail them first.

Clerk: No, you can't do that.

Me: Oh? Why?

Clerk: They don't have e-mail.

Me: No, e-mail? That's kind of ...

Clerk: No, e-mail.

Me: Oh, okay. What's their phone number?

Clerk: No. No phone number.

Me: What?

Clerk: They don't have a phone.

At this point, I check my wall calendar to make sure it says 2009 and not 1909.

Me: So, if I want to talk to someone there, I absolutely have to go see them in person?

Clerk: Yes.

I find that a very dissatisfying answer but I say thanks anyway and hang up. I mean it's not the clerk's fault that she works for an organization that makes access to information so bloody difficult. I'm surprised they haven't actually located the office in some subterranean cavern with the only access being a long, dark, nasty tunnel protected by a troll.

Actually, maybe they have put the office in a deep cave. I don't know. I haven't gone yet. At this point my enthusiasm for this mythic quest is starting to fade.

I have an internal debate about making the trip downtown to the lair of the court records and the thought of all that bureaucracy starts making me sleepy when I notice that Nick Aveling, the Star reporter has e-mailed me back.

He says that as far as he knows, MacDonald's testimony has remained consistent. According to MacDonald, Ginger was indeed leashed, but only initially, until she broke her own leash when she charged at Buddy. MacDonald says this is what she testified in court. Somehow, the first judge, Justice of the Peace Madigan, misunderstood her, and interpreted this as Buddy being leashed while Ginger wasn't.

Justice Hogan, though, in her latest ruling, sees it that Ginger was leashed and thus could not have provoked the attack and since she has the final say on this, legally, on record, this is what happened.

But not according to MacDonald's testimony.

A Dalmatian is brought into a room. One person says the dog is white. The other says the dog is black. Who is right?

What do I think? I think I feel sorry for Buddy that he had to suffer through Ginger's attack and that according to the law, he was made out to be the aggressor. But I also feel sorry for Ginger that she had to spend more than three years in a cage and now still has a death sentence hanging over her head.

The law may be binary but the truth isn't black and white.

In the end, I never got the trial transcripts so I still don't know what was said, exactly. Maybe I never will. Maybe it's one of those mysteries better left unsolved. Maybe to solve it would require so much effort and in the end that search for truth might still be overshadowed by the unfathomable idiosyncrasies of the human mind. Maybe ...

Oh, time to let the dogs out. Rocky's farting like a garbage truck on fire.

9 comments:

Falen said...

How can they not have a phone? before the advent of cell phones, how would they have called in an emergency if there was, like, a fire or a crazy man with a gun? They'd just sit there and lament the fact that they had no phone? Ridiculous.

Fred said...

Well, maybe they do have a phone but maybe it's a top secret number that the clerk didn't want to give me.

janice said...

Fred, I'm thinking that perhaps Justice Hogan is simply applying the innocent until proven guilty logic that should be a cornerstone of our judicial system. Since it can't be proven that Ginger was the aggressor (guilty), she has to be innocent. Since Buddy isn't charged with anything, her ruling doesn't impact him.

I agree, I feel very sorry for both owners.

Ian said...

Does this case definitely end at the next level for Ginger one way or another or can it go any higher?
This really is a terrible law.
Surely more people will start to realize that.

Fred said...

I guess they can keep arguing up to the Supreme Court of Canada. I think that's the way it works (??).

Ian said...

Man,this could get even crazier than it already is and this is just one case.
Does anyone know if dogs or humans were significantly injured in this?
I read Mrs MacDonald`s account and I know she feels Buddy never got over it and I kind of get the impression that she feels Buddy may have passed on a bit earlier because of it.
Were there stitches,surgeries,major Vet Bills,reconstructive surgeries for a human or was this a bit of a dust up between 2 dogs with some snapping and one of the humans got bit when trying to stop that?
I know no one here was at the incident in question but are there any reports that I missed that specify injuries?
I know this legal case is more than it needs to be because Ginger is considered to be a pit mix under this law but if this had happened between Lassie and Rin Tin Tin, would both people just have said I`m sorry and taken their dogs home?
That`s what I`m wondering about?
Has it sort of become a "badge of courage" in some strange way for someone to have had an encounter with a pit and lived to tell the story?
When I read that story with Mrs MacDonald,I thought how strange that a Reporter would even do such a story.
I don`t think a Reporter would call Lassie`s owner and do a story if the other dog was Rin Tin Tin.
But maybe I`m the only person who`s kind of wondering about these things.

Fred said...

I could be wrong, but I seem to remember reading somewhere that the vet bill for Buddy was a few hundred dollars so my guess is that the physical injuries probably weren't too serious, ie. not immediately life threatening. Again, I could be wrong about that.

As for the interest in this case, yes it all has to do with the fact that Ginger is a Pit Bull. The final decision on this case is going to have huge repercussions in the dog owners community because it will either uphold the cull on Pit Bulls in Ontario or it will set a precedent which says that each dog must be judged on its own behaviour regardless of breed.

Ian said...

Well that`s all quite interesting.
No wonder there are so many Media Stories about this case.
Poor Ginger.
I hope for the best for her and her family.
They must be relieved to have her home but so worried.

Anonymous said...

Being one of the organizers at a recent rally/protest called "Enough is Enough" at Queens Park in July this year I must say it was a pleasure to meet Ginger.

We had about 35 DOLA dogs there as well as "other" types and breeds.

I found Ginger to not only be very people friendly but also very dog friendly. She was introduced to MANY dogs that day and I saw NO dog aggression at all come out of her.

After meeting Ginger, watching and hanging with her for hours that day in the hot sun and with lots of other dogs around, personally, I would have to REALLY question who the instigator was in the squabble between Buddy and Ginger.

Ginger just didn't get along with a couple of the dogs, Ginger got along WELL with ALL of the dogs.

I hope this lovely little lady lives and a long and fruitful life.