Written by: Heather Clemenceau
The Darwin monkey trial is now over (pending a decision from Justice Mary Vallee). In this blog post, I’m not going to re-hash issues that have been more than adequately covered by the media; for some time I’ve wanted to expand upon a previous blog post about the behind-the-scenes train wreck that has raged for months between former owner Yasmin Nakhuda supporters and Story Book supporters. The “Darling Darwin Monkey” Facebook page has been a place where Ms. Nakhuda’s supporters have threatened to arrest everyone on earth who has responded negatively to their posts. It’s a place where this group has proclaimed that no one takes them seriously and if you disagree with them, they will threaten to report you to the Secret Service AND the fashion police. It’s a place where rainbows and unicorn farts are taken as a sign that Darwin will be returned to the plaintiff, rather than by the legal precedent of case law. And lastly, if you decide to visit this magical Facebook page, be prepared for accusations of physical battery should you endeavour to explain the temperance movement’s expression “the right to swing your arm ends when it hits my face,” (generally credited to Oliver Wendell Holmes). Those “live free or die” property fanatics will resist any authority that attempts to deny them their perceived right to be a monkey-mom.
Oftentimes it is difficult to believe that all that has transpired is over the possessory interest in an illegal Toronto monkey. During examination, Sherri Delaney, operator of Story Book Farm Primate Sanctuary (the defendant) discussed the harassment and threats she and the volunteers received via the supporters and followers of Yasmin Nakhuda’s Facebook page. The phone calls and internet based threats to kill Ms. Delaney and burn down or otherwise destroy the sanctuary came to the forefront of her testimony. Someone threatened to bring a “piece” to the first day of court and someone else took pics of supporters inside the courthouse and posted them on the internet. As a direct result of these behaviours, three people were barred from attending the ongoing custody trial, despite the plaintiff asserting that these individuals had done nothing objectionable.
Story Book Farm supporters have always been compliant with regard to courtroom behaviour, but this courtesy has not always been similarly granted to us by some of the supporters for the plaintiff. Additionally, people who say it’s their automatic constitutional right to be in court have probably been paying a little too much attention to the arguments put forth by property rights enthusiasts in the US who have flocked to support across-the-board monkey ownership in Canada. When we come to court we have an expectation that we will be safe and our privacy respected. When people publish photos taken in a courthouse then we certainly feel that our rights have not been respected and our privacy invaded. You must have respect for the court and all its participants, that includes refraining from publishing or taking pictures inside the courthouse, which absolutely did happen on May31st and it included Ms. Delaney as well as several of her supporters.
Let me paint faces on some of Nakhuda’s supporters who caused this vitriol – these are people who make shit up and maliciously repeat false information that has been disproven in court or is just plan wrong. Please read comments and accusations made to the supporters in the gallery below. Fake profiles were used to commit character assassination with impunity. Hiding behind one such fake profile, Nakhuda supporters uploaded bestiality photos on the sanctuary supporters’ Facebook page. Others made vindictive accusations designed to bully and undermine the sanctuary. Other times people supporting the return of Darwin from the sanctuary handed out photocopies criticizing animal advocates to reporters on the court steps. Virtually without fail, the comments on their page and elsewhere on the internet descend into virulency; to the casual reader, lies and truth are difficult to separate. These are issues that journalists covering the Darwin story haven’t touched upon and were not privy to.
The tension between the two polarized groups was seen in the trial as well, which is not about who can better care for Darwin, but who rightfully owns him. At the core of the trial are the issues of whether Darwin is a wild or domestic animal and whether Ms. Nakhuda knowingly surrendered him to Toronto Animal Services. While Kevin Toyne was considerate and polite in his examinations, without raising his voice, Ted Charney addressed Sherri Delaney with disdain, in a manner that I considered to be rude and presumptive. Of course some of the DDM supporters take a cue from this and somehow arrive at the conclusion that it’s acceptable behaviour to insult and threaten to pull people’s hair in court.
Plaintiff counsel Charney has maintained that Darwin is not a wild animal as he is wearing a coat and diaper. Charney’s co-counsel said that Nakhuda did sign a form at animal services surrendering her ownership of Darwin, but the bylaw officers didn’t clearly explain its purpose and she thought she was surrendering the monkey just so they could perform public health tests. It seems incredulous that a real-estate lawyer did not understand that the surrender form she signed was a conveyance of property, which is what Darwin is in this trial – property or chattel. If she did not understand the context of a “surrender” form, why also did the plaintiff ask to see Darwin at Toronto Animal Services, “one last time?”
In his closing arguments, lawyer for the sanctuary Kevin Toyne stressed that Darwin is a wild animal and, under a doctrine called ferae naturae, can only be owned by the person who possesses him at the time. “The second Darwin got out of the car, Ms. Nakhuda no longer owned him,” he said. Because of the unusual nature of the case, Toyne relied in part on century-old case law, in particular a case of a fox that wandered off its owner’s property and was shot dead by a neighbour. The court determined that the owner lost title to the animal when it left his property, as Darwin left Nakhuda’s property when he escaped at IKEA. But like “Angry Baby” from the Simpsons, some of Nakhuda’s supporters whined that Darwin had been stolen, despite being sent to Story Book by Toronto Animal Services, and being assigned by Justice Brown to stay there until conclusion of the trial. You need an Allen key (that’s an IKEA joke) to navigate through their “logic.”
Mr. Toyne also pointed out discrepancies in her stories of how she acquired the monkey. Initially, she called Darwin a “gift,” before acknowledging that she paid $5,000 (deep discounted from the original $10,000) to buy him from a mysterious Montreal exotic animal seller. She originally claimed she was looking for a hyacinthe macaw, but was quoted on the internet elsewhere as being enthralled with Japanese macaques after seeing the now infamous Japanese monkey waiter video.
But who would spend even $5,000 on a pet without a health guarantee and a receipt? Apparently there were no health or vaccination records, and despite this and Darwin’s propensity for nipping and biting, he was still taken “everywhere” including a Quiznos restaurant. In my opinion, these actions, or lack of them, show disregard for the health and safety, not only of Darwin, but of anyone around him.
A recent HuffPo article by PeTA’s Ingrid Newkirk reveals that cyberbullying can result in tragic consequences. The sanctuary supporters and volunteers deserve support, not cyberbully spite. I have no problem debating facts, but how to deal with people who respond to facts with personal insults and libel?
If you can’t wait for the South Park episode, read on. Be advised that some of these posts contain objectionable or even outrageously offensive content. Shit gets real here: