Rally held in Duncan to 'condemn acts of racism' amid dog abuse trial
First Nations and political leaders in the Cowichan Valley spoke out Wednesday to condemn "recent acts of racism" surrounding an emotionally charged dog abuse trial in Duncan.
The case has become known as the "Trial For Teddy," named after a dog found emaciated and chained up on a Duncan property in February 2018.
Melissa Tooshley pleaded guilty to a charge of failing to provide necessities for an animal while her co-accused, Anderson Joe, pleaded not guilty to the same charge and an additional charge of causing unnecessary pain or suffering to an animal.
Anger has boiled over in the community with many protesters showing up at the trial, which resumes Friday, to seek "Justice for Teddy."
But a neighbour of Joe's says that anger has resulted in gunfire and even a grass fire in their small First Nations community.
That prompted politicians including MP Alistair MacGregor, MLA Sonia Furstenau, City of Duncan Mayor Michelle Staples, North Cowichan Mayor Al Siebring and others to hold a rally with Cowichan Tribes Chief William Seymour to "stand together to call on the community to stop all acts of racism and let the Justice System do its job."
Seymour said there have been cases of graffiti at a church near Joe's residence, including a depiction of a person being hanged.
Comments have also surfaced on social media calling for violence and physical retribution against the accused.
"I'm here to ask everyone for calmness," he said. "We do need to ensure that justice has its say and that happens in the courtroom."
He pleaded with followers of the trial to "ratchet down" their intense feelings about Teddy until a decision is rendered in the case, something echoed by MacGregor and Furstenau.
"If we're not careful we can let these hate-filled comments move us backwards, but I think what we saw today was an effort by the political leadership to say 'No, we're not going to let that happen,'" said MacGregor.
Furstenau said those using racist and violent language are "a very small number of people behaving in a way that's not acceptable here."
For residents, the issue is still raw.
"I've seen the online threats, I've heard both sides, so it's a tough situation for people to be in," said Shawna Witala. "I myself am keeping race out of it. This is an animal that's been neglected very badly and abused by another human being, and as humans, we're supposed to be a little bit better than the animals and treat them with respect and dignity."
Joe's trial resumes Friday, March 15 at 9:30 a.m. at the Duncan Law Courts.