Judge skewers Yellowknife’s bylaw department as dog attack trial comes to an end

Photo of Territorial Court Judge Donovan Molloy courtesy of NWT Dept. of Justice

The public won’t hear the verdict for more than four months in a dog attack trial that wrapped up in territorial court in Yellowknife Thursday.

But the judge in the case made one thing abundantly clear, city bylaw officers failed in their duty to properly investigate the incident before laying two charges against a Yellowknife lawyer.

Doug McNiven’s dog viciously attacked a smaller dog last summer leading to that dog having to be euthanized by a veterinarian.

“It was certainly was not the gold standard,” Judge Donovon Molloy said of the bylaw officers’ investigation. “It was a generally poor investigation. There was a total lack of an investigation by the city.”

Prosecutor for the city, Keith Sulzer, told the judge during his closing submissions that the lack of an investigation “was not relevant” to the case.

Molloy told Sulzer that he disagreed with that assertion.

Despite not really investigating the incident, city bylaw officers still charged McNiven, a civil lawyer in the city, with allowing his dog to run loose and bite two people.

It appeared that virtually no evidence was introduced during the trial that was collected by the bylaw department which is also known as the Municipal Enforcement Division (MED).

It’s believed officers never went to the scene of the crime – they took no crime scene photos – they didn’t fully interview any independent witnesses and no bylaw officers ever testified at the trial.

Both charges fall under the city’s dog bylaw.

The charges were laid after Aboriginal Day last year when McNiven’s dog bit a neighbour’s dog in the midsection and would not let go in the horrifying mid-day attack.

Photo of Abby courtesy of William Chueng

The dog that was attacked belonged to McNiven’s neighbour, William Chueng, who lives around the corner from McNiven’s Finlayson Dr. home.

He testified he was walking his three dogs on leashes that day when McNiven’s “pitbull-type” dog Aloha “barrelled” out of the home, latched on to his dog with it’s jaws and wouldn’t let go.

Chueng’s dog Abby – an eight year old Australian Shepherd-Poodle mix – weighed about 15 pounds, court heard.

Chueng testified that Abby survived for a couple of days with a serious stomach wound but eventually was euthanized by vet Dr. Michel Hughes who had treated Abby after the attack.

Both Chueng and passerby Dan Schofield suffered cuts to their fingers as they tried to pry the dog’s jaws apart.

Chueng’s testimony was that the dog was running loose before it attacked.

McNiven testified that the his dog was on a tether in his front yard prior to the attack and broke its collar immediately before biting the other dog while they were on the sidewalk.

Doug McNiven hides his face as he leaves court Thursday John McFadden/CKLB photo

Court heard that McNiven also cut his fingers as he tried to get his dog to release its grip on the other dog.

The judge said the onus was on the city to prove that McNiven did not perform his due diligence to make sure the dog didn’t get loose.

McNiven’s lawyer Jay Bran told the judge that McNiven should be found not guilty of the dog biting charge because the dog technically did not bite any people – they were hurt when they put their hands in the dog’s mouth while trying to get it to let go of the other dog.

Judge Molloy said that issue boils down to the definition of the word bite.

Court heard that Aloha had a history of being aggressive towards other dogs.

McNiven himself admitted that and said he almost never tethered the dog in the front yard except for the day it attacked.

It’s believed that Aloha is currently in Alberta, but its exact whereabouts never came up during the trial.

If convicted, McNiven faces a fine of up to $2,500.

According to Kerry Penney, a lawyer for the city and co-prosecutor in the case, the judge also has the ability to order Aloha be put down.

The bylaw also provides for three months jail for a convicted offender, but Penney told CKLB they are not seeking jail time for McNiven.

She had no comment when asked by CKLB why the bylaw investigation was so shoddy.

Molloy is to deliver his verdict on July 17.

CKLB contacted Yellowknife City Councillor Niels Konge for his reaction to the judge’s comments about the bylaw department.

“I’m not sure how bylaw officers are trained but the city needs a robust training program for all city employees, Konge said. “We need to do better.”

CKLB asked the city if it intends to look into why no real investigation took place into the incident.

We are waiting to hear back.

The is currently no manager and no acting manager for the city’s bylaw department according to someone who works in that department.

About the Author

John McFadden
John has been in the broadcast journalism industry since the 1980s. He has been a reporter in Yellowknife since 2012 and joined CKLB in January of 2018. John covers the crime and court beat as well as reporting on other areas including politics, business, entertainment and sports. He won seven national community newspaper awards while he was a journalist with Northern News Services Limited (NNSL). John worked in Ontario before coming North including stints as a TV sportscaster in Peterborough and senior news writer for CBC and CTV in downtown Toronto.