The Yukon Supreme Court threw out an appeal by a man convicted of keeping goats in a way that risks the health of wild sheep and goat populations.
The Supreme Court decision, finalized on Dec. 22 by Justice Edith Campbell, dealt with a small herd of eight goats kept by James Dillabough on a property near Whitehorse. Dillabough was convicted of failing to comply with regulations surrounding the enclosure of goats before they could be tested for pathogens.
The initial sentence levied against Dillabough prohibited his custody over domestic sheep and goats through the end of 2024. He was also ordered to destroy or remove goats under his care by November 2020. Any sheep or goats remaining in his care were to be forfeited to the government.
Dillabough appealed the decision.
A key issue in the appeal was a control order on the keeping and transporting of goats and sheep in the Yukon.
Control Order 2018-001 came into force on Jan. 1, 2020. According to the court judgement, the control order was imposed to stop the spread of pathogens capable of causing respiratory disease between domestic sheep and goats and their wild counterparts.
The pathogen of particular concern is Mycoplasma ovipneumoniae or M.ovi.
M.ovi has been definitively linked to pneumonia deaths among all age classifications of bighorn sheep and it is believed that it is similarly dangerous to thinhorn sheep. Thinhorns include the Dall’s and Stone sheep that live in the Yukon’s mountains.
The control order says the pathogens spread through nose-to nose contact and so enclosures are important, however Dillabough told the court that that he has lived on his property just off the North Klondike Highway since 1965 and that he has never seen a wild sheep or goat on his property.
While a control order requires testing animals for pathogens, Dillabough said his goats didn’t have to be contained prior to testing.
“Mr. Dillabough submits that, on several occasions, he requested that the Animal Health Unit attend his property to test his goats. However, according to Mr. Dillabough, they refused to test his goats or refused to commit to a date when they would attend his property to test his goats.”
As a result of this, Dillabough states he wasn’t obligated to keep his goats in an approved enclosure prior to and should not have been found guilty.
The Crown counsel submitted that it was not unfair or improper for the government’s Animal Health Unit to refuse to test Dillabough’s goats until he satisfied the enclosure requirement.
Dillabough questioned the qualifications of Yukon government staff to determine what constitutes an appropriate fence or enclosure for his animals and the conduct of government employees over the course of his interactions with them.
The judgement states that based on the evidence provided, Campbell was satisfied that the animal health unit’s policy requiring both temporary enclosure and a long-term fencing plan being provided prior to testing in order to demonstrate the owners commitment to move towards compliance. This is to show willingness to comply before expending public resources testing the animals.
The judgement describes distrust and breakdown of communication between Dillabough and the animal health unit staff.
The judgement noted that Dillabough provided new evidence on appeal including photos that confirming that he completed an enclosure for the goats sometime after the last visit to the site by government staff in August 2020 and that the goats were contained inside.
“As a result, I am of the view that the late steps taken by Mr. Dillabough to come into compliance, as evidenced by the photographs, are insufficient to turn an otherwise fit sentence into a demonstrably unfit sentence that should be overturned. This ground of appeal is dismissed,” Campbell’s judgement reads.
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