THIS week, Delta Police Trauma K9 “Caber” made courthouse history in British Columbia. For the first time in B.C. legal history, a courthouse dog was used in a courtroom, in this instance, to assist a child sexual assault victim testify at trial.
Prior to the trial Crown lawyers had to apply to the judge for Caber to be allowed into the courtroom as a support for the victim. Presently, the Criminal Code allows witnesses under the age of 18 to have a “support person” present, but prior to this ruling there was no provision for that “support person” to be accompanied by an accredited courthouse dog.
Surrey Crown Counsel Winston Sayson, a trial prosecutor and pivotal in the successful application to the judge to allow Caber in court, said of the ruling, “This judgment is an important acknowledgement by the court that the Criminal Justice System can continue to evolve and be innovative in accommodating children and vulnerable victims so their access to justice is enhanced. At this trial, Caber provided the unique kind of support that helped the child witness give a full and candid account of what of happened to her.”
Of his behaviour in court, Caber’s handler, Victim Services Coordinator Kim Gramlich said, “During his appearance in court Caber provided an invaluable service that allowed the witness to get through her highly traumatic and emotional testimony. While testifying, the child bent down several times to pet Caber which appeared to refocus and calm her.” While on breaks, the young girl played with Caber and lay down on the floor next to him to cuddle.
Caber, a seven-year-old yellow Labrador retriever, was trained by the Pacific Assistance Dogs Society for his role as a Canine Assisted Intervention dog. He has been with the Delta Police since August 1, 2010, based in Victim Services.
In 2012 the Delta Police Victim Services Program began a pilot project with the Surrey Crown Counsel office. In doing so, Caber began attending pre-trial interviews with victims of crime and also spent hours at court providing support to witnesses as they prepared to testify. Prior to this week, that support was only able to be given outside the courtroom. This week’s court appearance was the final milestone of success in this initiative.
The first ever use of a dog in a courtroom to support a victim occurred in Calgary in December 2014 with “Hawk”, also a dog trained by the Pacific Assistance Dogs Society. Since then, a dog has also been allowed in the courtroom in a case in Edmonton this March.