News

Council unanimously objects to vet charges dropped

By Karena Walter, The Standard

Dr. Mahavir Singh Rekhi of the Skyway Animal Hospital in St. Catharines was caught on camera abusing animals in his care. Standard Photo

Dr. Mahavir Singh Rekhi of the Skyway Animal Hospital in St. Catharines was caught on camera abusing animals in his care. Standard Photo

St. Catharines city council is adding its voice to community members who are unhappy that animal abuse charges were dropped against a local veterinarian.

Councillors unanimously passed a motion Monday night to send their objections to criminal charges being withdrawn against Dr. Mahavir Rekhi to Ontario’s Ministry of the Attorney General.

They are also asking for a written explanation from the Crown as to why the charges were dropped.

“In this particular case, we have a situation where there is no question about this individual’s guilt — a dozen videos showing him mistreating animals,” said Port Dalhousie Coun. Carlos Garcia, who made the motion in council.

Garcia said the College of Veterinarians of Ontario itself found Rekhi guilty, as it gave him a suspension.

“My fear is that this individual, if he continues to have a licence, can easily just move out of St. Catharines after causing all the trouble that he caused here, change his name or start another practice and do the same thing elsewhere,” Garcia said.

“I’m hoping that by voicing our objections we can encourage the Ministry of the Attorney General to look into this matter, and perhaps there is a way something can be done, because I think it would be really sad if what I’ve just said happens.”

Rekhi was suspended by the veterinary college on Aug. 20, 2016, after former employees at his Skyway Animal Hospital on Welland Avenue filed a complaint about his treatment of animals. They submitted surveillance videos to the college as evidence, showing dogs being punched and choked and a cat swung by its tail.

The former employees went public with the videos in September 2016 in response to the college’s punishment, which they believed was too lenient.

The case drew nationwide attention, led to petitions and many protests at the clinic.

Kevin Strooband, an investigator with the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and executive director of Lincoln County Humane Society, launched an investigation that month when he learned of the case from the media.

He charged Rekhi with eight counts of causing unnecessary pain or suffering to an animal and eight counts of failing to provide suitable and adequate care for an animal relating to abuse at Rekhi’s clinic in 2013.

Those charges were withdrawn in St. Catharines court by Crown attorney Michal Sokolski on Nov. 3.

More than 16,800 people have signed a petition on change.org since then calling on Ontario’s attorney general to overturn the Crown’s decision.

Rekhi reopened his practice after his licence was reinstated on Feb. 20 of this year. He fulfilled conditions set by the college, which included some re-training and mentoring, and is subject to three surprise inspections each year for the next two years.

St. Andrew’s Coun. Joe Kushner said the motion by Garcia Monday was consistent with a motion that city council supported in October 2016. At that time, council unanimously and officially expressed “disappointment” with the adequacy of the penalty imposed by the College of Veterinarians of Ontario in the Rekhi matter. It also called on the college to strengthen its penalties against animal-abusing vets.

Kushner said the investigation by Strooband was very thorough.

“The report by the inspector was extremely comprehensive,” Kushner said. “Specifically, as lay people, we consider it to be cruelty and we’re outraged at what we saw. At the same time, Mr. Strooband went further than that.”

Kushner said Strooband called upon Canada’s foremost expert on animal cruelty at a British Columbia university to review his work. She agreed the charges were valid and suggested there could be more, Kushner said.

City council’s objection to the charges being dropped will be sent to Niagara’s four MPPs in addition to the ministry.

As well, St. Patrick’s Coun. Mat Siscoe asked that council formally request a written explanation from the Crown as to why the charges were dropped.

“I think there’s still a lot of lack of understanding in the community.”

Niagara Falls MPP Wayne Gates has already publicly said he’s calling for an investigation into why the Crown dropped the charges.

A spokesman for the ministry said in an email to Postmedia that they were dropped because the Crown determined there “was no reasonable prospect of conviction.”

Rekhi could not be reached for comment.

— with files from Postmedia News

kwalter@postmedia.com