No Jail Time for Activists, But Still No Justice for Pigs

This week, the British Columbia Court of Appeal overturned jail sentences for Amy Soranno and Nick Schafer, two animal advocates who participated in a peaceful sit-in at Excelsior Hog Farm in Abbotsford, British Columbia—a factory farm that has been repeatedly exposed for severe animal abuse. 

Ms. Soranno and Mr. Schafer were convicted of criminal mischief and break and enter in 2022 following a trial, and sentenced to 30 days in jail—the first known jail sentence in Canada for a non-violent act of civil disobedience, and a sentence more severe than almost any for a farm convicted of animal cruelty. Earlier this year, the BC Court of Appeal denied an attempt by the pair to have their convictions overturned. The Court also upheld a ruling by the trial judge that blocked the two from showing the jury any evidence of animal cruelty at Excelsior, claiming it was irrelevant. 

In their decision on the sentence appeal, the Court noted that Ms. Soranno and Mr. Schafer’s jail sentences were without precedent, and instead imposed a 120-day conditional sentence (i.e., house arrest) plus one year of probation. (House arrest had not previously been available for the offences at the time of their sentencing, but had become an option due to recent legislative changes.) Under the conditions of their house arrest, they are prohibited from coming within five kilometers of Excelsior Hog Farm, or to visit any agricultural property where animals are raised for food.

Excelsior Hog Farm: A Nightmare for Pigs

In 2019, secretly-recorded video inside Excelsior Hog Farm revealed crowded pens of pigs with massive growths, bloody lacerations, and hernias; dead pigs rotting in pens and being eaten by live pigs; and some pigs, unable to walk, left to die on the filthy concrete floor. 

Additional hidden-camera footage released later that year showed owners and operators engaged in apparently criminal animal cruelty: using electric prods on the sensitive faces of pigs, repeatedly hitting and kicking the animals, and slicing off the tails and testicles of piglets without pain relief. Mothers were also seen trapped in gestation crates with dead and dying piglets. During the 2019 peaceful sit-in, conditions inside the barn were livestreamed, showing severely neglected pigs frothing at the mouth, crippled, and suffering from serious injuries. 

Most recently, video footage released by Animal Justice in November 2023 showed pigs at Excelsior kicked in the face and jabbed with rods, piglets with hernias, dead and rotting pigs and piglets, pigs with bloody wounds, and feces and blood smeared throughout the farm. 

Despite the relentless pursuit of Amy Soranno and Nick Schafer by authorities for exposing animal cruelty, Excelsior has yet to be held legally accountable—despite five years of evidence showing cruelty and neglect. Animal Justice is relieved that these two whistleblowers will not face jail time, but we are still dismayed that there has been no justice for the pigs that continue to suffer. While it is deeply troubling that Excelsior Hog Farm continues to evade justice or any meaningful consequences for their treatment of animals, it is all too common.

With no national regulations or government oversight on farms, cruelty often remains hidden on private property, behind closed doors. When abuse is exposed—generally only whistleblowers and hidden camera investigations—complaints rarely lead to charges. Even in the rare cases where charges are laid, companies responsible usually avoid jail time, and are never prohibited from owning animals in the future. Recent Canadian cases of farmed animal abuse include:

  • 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, and 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; and turkeys with illness and injury apparently left without medical treatment, including at least one bird 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.

Every step of the way, Canada’s legal system fails farmed animals. Please join us in urging the BC government to regulate and monitor farms, and to install live streaming cameras so the public can see what happens behind the closed doors of farms like Excelsior. 

Banner image: Suzanne Goodwin | We Animals Media