Yukon farmer asks court for more time to appeal order to get rid of goats

·4 min read

A Yukon farmer was in court Wednesday asking for more time to file an appeal to an order requiring him to get rid of his goats.

Jim Dillabough appeared before Yukon Supreme Court Justice Edith Campbell in Whitehorse, arguing that he had always opposed the order but didn't have the financial resources to formally fight it.

Dillabough's legal issues stem from the fact that he owns about a half-dozen goats, which he keeps on his property along the Klondike Highway outside of Whitehorse. He was convicted in October of failing to keep the animals in an approved enclosure, a requirement under a territorial animal control order that came into effect in 2020. The order is intended to prevent the spread of a pneumonia-causing pathogen, Mycoplasma ovipneumoniae or M.ovi, from domestic goats and sheep to wild populations.

Following his conviction, a judge ordered Dillabough to either slaughter his goats or move them outside the territory; to date, he's done neither and is also about three weeks past the 30-day deadline to appeal court decisions.

He filed an application in December asking for an extension.

Goats have 'every right' to be on property, he argues

The hearing of the application Wednesday was scheduled to take 20 minutes but went on for nearly two and a half hours, with Campbell often pausing the proceedings to explain legal concepts or procedure to Dillabough, who was self-represented.

She also took the unusual step of having Dillabough sworn in as his own witnesses, noting that he was both giving evidence and making legal arguments at the same time.

Dillabough told the court that he had opposed his conviction and the subsequent order about his goats "from the get-go," but didn't have the money to order transcripts of the trial that he needed to file a formal appeal.

He also said he couldn't afford to hire a lawyer, explaining that he had called two but both had asked him for $5,000 up-front.

"What did you do after that?" Campbell asked him.

"Well, I had to do it myself," he replied, referring to mounting a legal appeal.

Dillabough levelled a number of accusations at Yukon government animal health officials throughout his submissions, alleging that "they're trying to force some of us right out of business" and that no one would come out to check his goat fence or test his animals for M. ovi.

You people want to screw up agriculture? Don't forget you have to eat too. - Jim Dillabough, Yukon farmer

He also argued that the animal control order made no sense, questioning why anyone would spend money to build a proper enclosure only for their goats or sheep to be killed if the animals ended up testing positive for M. ovi. He claimed he had never seen any wild sheep or goats near his farm (Dillabough lives in thinhorn sheep habitat range), and that the fence he'd built around his goat enclosure was the strongest in Canada.

His goats, he argued, had "every right to be on [my] property."

"There's no way I'm going to give up my livelihood," Dillabough said. "I was out there raising animals before any of you were born."

Rules matter, Crown says

Territorial Crown Megan Seiling argued against granting Dillabough's application.

"There really needs to be special circumstances in place because the rules are there for a reason," she said, later adding that just because he doesn't like the rules doesn't mean he doesn't need to follow them.

Dillabough had plenty of time to deal with both his animal and then legal issues, Seiling argued, noting that officials had tried to work with him for months to get him to comply with the animal control order before finally charging him. He also gave no indication that he intended to appeal his conviction until the government filed a legal petition to seize his goats.

Seiling argued there was an added need to deal with the matter because it was an ongoing offence, not a one-off, and sends a poor message to the "many" other goat and sheep farmers who had suffered "significant" costs in order to comply with the control order.

"[Dillabough] waited for the consequences to come to him," she said.

"At the end of the day, the rules matter … It's not in the interest of justice to allow this appeal to be heard." Dillabough remained defiant to the end of the hearing, accusing Seiling of "bitching" about how he had filed his legal paperwork and at one point muttering, "You people want to screw up agriculture? Don't forget you have to eat too."

Campbell is expected to give her decision on Dillabough's application next month.