Two animal advocates, Nick Schafer and Amy Soranno, have been found guilty by a jury of mischief and break and enter, after helping to expose appalling animal suffering at Excelsior Hog Farm in Abbotsford, BC.
Schafer and Soranno are two of the so-called “Excelsior 4”, who were originally charged with a combined 21 criminal offences in relation to obtaining footage of animal abuse at the pig farm. Roy Sasano, a third individual, was acquitted by the jury. Prosecutors stayed all charges against a fourth individual, Geoff Regier, before the trial started.
The Excelsior 4 story began in 2019, when video footage recorded inside Excelsior Hog Farm revealed crowded pens full of thousands of pigs suffering from hernias, bloody lacerations, and golf-ball-sized growths. Some pigs couldn’t even walk, so they languished and slowly died on the filthy concrete floor. Dead pigs were found rotting in pens with live pigs eating their dead bodies. Additional hidden camera footage was later released, showing the owners and operators of Excelsior Hog Farm engaged in what appears to be criminal animal cruelty, including electric prods on the sensitive faces of pigs, repeatedly hitting and kicking the animals, and cutting off the tails and testicles of screaming piglets with no pain relief.
Members of the public, including Schafer and Soranno, later participated in a peaceful demonstration at the farm, live-streaming the conditions inside the barn which showed severely neglected pigs, seen frothing at the mouth, crippled, and suffering from serious injuries.
Shockingly, Excelsior and its owners have never faced legal accountability for the sickening conditions shown on camera. Instead, authorities have focused on prosecuting animal advocates over how the footage had been obtained, instead of addressing the illegal animal abuse shown at the farm. One whistleblower, later identified as Geoff Regier, was even turned over to the police after coming forward to the BC SPCA with video evidence from the farm.
The criminal trial was originally scheduled for four weeks, but was cut short and lasted only two weeks after Justice Fritz Verhoeven issued rulings that severely curtailed the legal defence the Excelsior 4 planned to present. The judge’s rulings effectively blocked the defendants from showing any footage of animal suffering to the jury, and prevented them from arguing that the pig farm had engaged in unlawful animal abuse.
Lawyer Bibhas Vaze, who represented Schafer, has also raised concerns about ”diversity of views and how they’re being reflected in the criminal justice system.” Vaze pointed out that the defendants faced an all-white jury, and one jury member was seen wearing a red sweatshirt stating “Make Canada Great Again”.
A sentencing date will be set soon, and Schafer and Soranno have stated that they are committed to appealing the verdict.
Although Canadians are increasingly concerned about the treatment of animals raised and slaughtered for food, factory farms keep consumers in the dark when it comes to how animals raised for meat, eggs, and dairy are treated. With no national regulations governing animal welfare on farms and virtually no government oversight on farms, one of the only ways abuse and mistreatment of farmed animals comes to light is through whistleblower and hidden camera exposés. In addition to prosecuting animal advocates who expose cruelty on farms, many provinces are also passing so-called “ag gag” laws that make it illegal to go undercover on a farm. Meanwhile, farms are seldom held to account for troubling conditions.
Preventing journalists and animal advocates from exposing animal abuse restricts freedom of expression, one of the most important human rights in Canada. Animal Justice is working to block Canadian ag gag laws from being passed and is challenging Ontario’s ag gag law in court. Learn how you can help.
Banner image credit: Excelsior 4