The former owner of a Quebec zoo pleaded guilty to four animal welfare offences at the Trois-Rivières, Que. courthouse Wednesday morning, but will avoid criminal charges.
Normand Trahan pleaded guilty to four infractions under Quebec’s Animal Welfare and Safety Act after the Crown dropped the criminal charges against him from 2019.
The Montreal SPCA confirmed the plea in a press release saying Trahan will have to pay fines nearing $7,000 and is prohibited from owning animals for five years, unless they are domestic animals kept at his home for non-commercial purposes.
Charges of animal cruelty and neglect were first brought against Trahan, then-owner of the Saint-Édouard Zoo, in May 2019 following a criminal investigation carried out by the Montreal SPCA’s Investigations Division.
The investigation, which began in August 2018, was prompted by a complaint filed by visitors to the zoo, located about 120 kilometres east of Montreal in Saint-Édouard-de-Maskinongé.
Animal protection officers, which have similar powers to police officers, were granted a search warrant and descended on the zoo in a bid to execute the warrant and seize the zoo’s animals.
At the time, Trahan launched an unsuccessful court challenge to block the seizure.
Eventually, over the course of several weeks, more than 200 wild and exotic animals were removed from the zoo, including lions, tigers, kangaroos, wolves and primates.
The SPCA said it managed to obtain ownership of all the animals and that they have since been relocated in “qualified facilities where they receive all the specialized care they need.”
The Montreal SPCA said it was “satisfied” with Trahan’s “admission of guilt.”
“The offences to which Mr. Trahan pleaded guilty relate to the conditions in which the animals were kept at the Saint-Édouard Zoo, including inadequate and unsanitary facilities, as well as lack of veterinary care for injured or ill animals,” said Chantal Cayer, director of the Investigations Division.
The SPCA also pointed to the important role of animal protection charities, such as the SPCA, in enforcing animal welfare laws.
“The result obtained in court today shows how essential this work is,” said Montreal SPCA executive director Élise Desaulniers, adding the organization had accomplished the mission it set out to do, “to protect the Saint-Édouard Zoo’s animals and ensure their welfare.”
Trahan’s lawyer, Michel Lebrun, told reporters in Trois-Rivieres, Que., Wednesday that his client was ready to turn the page.
“I would tell you that Mr. Trahan is relieved and very happy to move on and be able to consider a peaceful retirement,” he said following the hearing.
The zoo was sold earlier this year.
–With files from The Canadian Press’ Sidhartha Banerjee