A shocking 30-day jail sentence was handed down today by a BC judge to two animal advocates. Amy Soranno and Nick Schafer were each convicted of one count of mischief, and one count of break and enter after entering a pig farm in Abbotsford in 2019 that had previously been exposed for inflicting sickening cruelty onto pigs.
This is the first known Canadian case in which peaceful animal advocates have been jailed for an act of non-violent civil disobedience. The Excelsior 4 case has exposed serious problems with the lack of oversight on Canadian farms, the unwillingness of authorities to hold the farm industry accountable for serious animal cruelty, and the vastly different treatment of farms that inflict animal suffering, compared to advocates who attempt to shine light on the suffering.
Throughout the case, Ms. Soranno and Mr. Schafer were treated far more severely than nearly every Canadian farm that has been convicted of animal cruelty. Farms typically walk away with a fine or probation when they are caught abusing animals, even in the most horrific of cases. If Ms. Soranno and Mr. Schafer had been responsible for wings being ripped off of chickens, turkeys being beaten to death with shovels, or animals being left to suffer with untreated injuries, they likely would have received a far lighter sentence.
The footage from Excelsior Farm showed mother pigs trapped in gestation crates with dead and dying piglets; pigs prodded in the face with electric current; untreated injuries; and workers castrating piglets without anaesthesia. Although the footage was provided to law enforcement officials, no charges were laid against the farm. Instead, four animal advocates were charged with dozens of offences for allegedly entering the farm to expose suffering.
Shockingly, the Excelsior farm 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 vast majority of complaints of cruelty to farmed animals do not result in charges. However, the following are examples of recent Canadian cases of farmed animal abuse with lower sentences than those received by Ms. Soranno and Mr Schafer:
- Elite Farm Services and Sofina Foods, BC – Workers shown in 2017 hitting, kicking, and throwing birds; smashing birds into walls; live birds having their wings ripped off; sick and injured birds without medical treatment; and sexual abuse of birds. Companies received only three years of probation, and a $300,000 fine. No jail.
- Millbank Fur Farm, Ontario – Undercover footage from 2018 showed filthy conditions; animals confined in tiny barren cages; animals suffering from untreated wounds and infections, including animals missing body parts. Milbank pleaded guilty to one charge and was sentenced to a $5,600 fine. No jail.
- Hybrid Turkeys, Ontario – Undercover footage from 2014 showed turkeys kicked, beaten with shovels, and thrown; botched euthanasia of a turkey resulting in prolonged suffering as the animal was beaten to death; turkeys with illness and injury apparently left without medical treatment, including at least one birds whose organs were dragged along the floor behind their body. The company pleaded guilty to one charge and was fined $5,600. No jail.
- Chilliwack Cattle Sales, BC – Employees caught on camera in 2015 kicking, punching, and beating cows with canes, chains, metal pipes, and rakes. Several employees sentenced to jail time. Company and one director pleaded guilty and fined $258,700 and $86,250, respectively. This is the only known Canadian case where jail was handed down for farmed animal abuse.
Their sentence for exposing animal cruelty is more severe than almost any recent animal cruelty sentence in Canada. Pointing a camera at a suffering animal resulted in a more serious charge than what has been given for ripping the wings off of live birds, sexually abusing animals, or beating animals to death with shovels.
Take Action for Animals
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.