EDMONTON - Edmonton police say there needs to be a special criminal law to protect animals that work with officers after one of their service dogs was killed by a fleeing suspect.
Police say Quanto, a German shepherd with four years of decorated service and more than 100 arrests to his name, was stabbed repeatedly Monday as he and his handler, Const. Matt Williamson, tried to take down a man who had fled a car with stolen plates.
Paul Joseph Vukmanich, 27, faces charges including possession of stolen property, dangerous driving, criminal flight and resisting arrest.
But when it comes to the death of the dog, Troy Carriere, acting staff-sergeant of the Edmonton police canine unit, said cruelty to an animal is the strongest charge that can be laid.
"It's been our intent to have that changed," Carriere said. "We need to adjust the Criminal Code at some point in time and this is obviously a good time to do that."
Sgt. Murray Pollock, head of the Calgary police canine unit and a director with the Canadian Police Canine Association, said the protection of police dogs in the Criminal Code is an issue officers have wanted to see addressed for quite some time.
Some provinces have laws protecting services dogs.
A section of Saskatchewan's Animal Protection Act, for example, carries a penalty of up to two years in jail for anyone who harms a service dog, which includes dogs working with police.
Penalties for animal cruelty in the Criminal Code were recently increased, with the maximum sentence being five years behind bars.
But Pollock said a Criminal Code section dealing with service dogs, which would be applicable across Canada, would make for a much stronger deterrent.
"Absolutely. That's where we would like to go," he said.
"In a case like Edmonton today, they would be facing the most serious of charges, not dissimilar to assaulting a police office — it's what we would like to see. We believe strongly that our dogs are police officers."
A private member's bill proposing an amendment to the Criminal Code was introduced by Ontario Conservative MP Costas Menegakis earlier this year. It says anyone "who knowingly or recklessly poisons, injures or kills a law enforcement animal," including a horse or dog, could be subject to the same five-year maximum sentence.
"We are aware of a Conservative private member's bill being proposed on this topic and I'm personally very supportive and look forward to more discussion on this issue," federal Justice Minister Peter MacKay said in an email Monday.
Williamson and Quanto were called to a report of a stolen vehicle shortly after 5 a.m. The vehicle fled, but quickly crashed into the median in front of a gas station near the city's downtown.
Police said the driver ran. Quanto was sent after him and was stabbed.
Williamson rushed the dog to the emergency veterinary clinic where the animal was pronounced dead. The suspect dropped the knife when other officers arrived and he was arrested.
Police said Vukmanich was already wanted on charges of armed robbery in both Winnipeg and Thunder Bay, Ont.
Quanto is the fifth Edmonton police dog to die in the line of duty. A police dog named Caesar was the last animal killed in 1998.
In 2010, Court of Queen's Bench Justice Eric Macklin scolded Edmonton police for using excessive force when they shot a man, Kirk Steele, four times after he stabbed a police dog.
Macklin called the shooting "an unconscionable use of excessive and aggressive force in the circumstances."
Both Steele and the dog, Wizzard, survived and a disciplinary charge of unnecessary use of force against the handler, Staff-Sgt. Bruce Edwards, was dismissed.
Quanto, who placed third in a recent Canadian Police Canine Association competition in Regina, did what he was supposed to do Monday morning, Carrier said.
"There's no question that had he not been deployed to apprehend this subject, who was highly motivated to get away, we most likely would have seen one of our own members hurt or killed," Carriere said.
"He made the ultimate sacrifice. That was his job and he did it well."
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. Edmonton police have corrected the spelling of Vukmanich's last name.