Two of the “Excelsior Four” face up to 10 years in prison
ABBOTSFORD, British Columbia, Canada––Convicted by jury on July 12, 2022 on charges of breaking and entering and mischief for their part in exposing alleged animal abuse at the Excelsior Hog Farm in Abbotsford, British Columbia in April 2019, vegan activists Nick Schafer and Amy Soranno are to be sentenced on August 26, 2022.
Schafer, 36, and Soranno, 29, both of Kelowna, British Columbia, about a three-and-a-half-hour drive northeast of Abbotsford, potentially face 10 years in prison apiece.
“Certainly grounds for appeal exist”
Veteran animal rights lawyer Adam Karp, of Bellingham, Washington, a keen observer of the proceedings, has predicted to Schafer and Soranno supporters on Facebook that they may not receive “as bad a sentence as you think,” adding that, “Certainly grounds for appeal exist.”
But even in the relatively unlikely event that Schafer and Soranno get the maximum, extremely rare for a nonviolent first offense, their ham-fisted prosecution at behest of the pig industry has already lost in the court of public opinion a farce rivaling in absurdity the 1995 Michael Moore film Canadian Bacon.
BC/SPCA exposed undercover videographer but calls for video cameras in slaughterhouses
Strong supporting evidence for that contention came on July 14, 2022 when the British Columbia SPCA––having initiated the prosecution in the first place by breaking confidentiality with an undercover videographer––“released a petition calling for mandatory video surveillance in slaughterhouse facilities,” reported Coast Mountain News freelance Jacqueline Gelineau.
“Video surveillance is a powerful monitoring tool that can ensure accountability and transparency in the slaughter process,” the British Columbia SPCA said, unconvincingly denying that the petition was posted as result of the trial of Schafer, Soranno, and two codefendants, against whom all charges were dropped.
The trial had ended only two days earlier.
Farmer claims to be victim
“Calvin Binnendyk, who owns and operates Excelsior Hog Farm with his two brothers,” Agassis-Harrison Observer reporter Vikki Hopes summarized, “took the stand on June 28, 2022.”
Binnendyk opened by complaining that media coverage of violent pig handling and dead and dying piglets being hauled out of the Excelsior barns in a wheelbarrow was “saying pretty much (that) we’re criminals, and we’re just the victims really.”
One might imagine that the Canadian animal use industries might have learned from 50 years of video exposure of seal clubbing that people seen on camera brutalizing animals cannot convincingly claim to be victims, but the pig industry appears to have been slow to get the message.
Found cameras but did not clean up act
Binnendyk next “told the court that the family found hidden cameras in three areas of the farm in March 2019,” Hopes recounted. “They took them down and reviewed the footage, which showed the animals and the daily activities on the farm.”
Thus alerted that they were under surveillance, Binnendyk and family had weeks to ensure that everything they did was at least up to industry and legal standards.
On April 28, 2019, however, Binnendyk and family were apparently surprised by the arrival of protesters, many of whom occupied the Excelsior Hog Farm breeding facilities and held a media conference.
“We guide them with our feet”
Binnendyk, a BC Pork Producers Association board member, testified that the Excelsior Hog Farm population is normally 13,000 to 15,000 pigs.
Under cross-examination, Binnendyk ”said they follow Canadian Quality Assurance policy in terms of how they move and feed the animals and treat them when sick, but he didn’t know the specifics of the laws,” Hopes continued.
Asked whether workers ever kicked pigs, Binnendyk said, according to Hopes, “We will guide them with our feet, but we don’t kick them.”
Cop led Sasano into the barn
The charges against co-defendant Roy Sasano, 39, of Vancouver, were dropped on July 6, 2022.
Commented Sasano on Facebook, “This decision comes after we showed a video of my entry into Excelsior Hog Farm’s barn, which involved a cop escorting me in.”
The video was shown to the jury, Sasano said, after “we discovered that the Crown [prosecutor] failed to disclose 78 gigabytes of video footage to us. It contained three other angles of this cop coming out to find me, and then bringing me into the barn. The Abbotsford police department had this footage for about three years. We had it for about three minutes, and we found those video clips.”
“Footage from inside the barns”
Earlier, on June 25, 2022, Sasano complained that “Most details surrounding our trial are under a broad publication ban, which was first imposed, then declared automatic, at the start of pre-trial hearings on March 28th by our judge, Justice Frits Verhoeven. The ban expires on June 27,” Sasano acknowledged, “but has already deprived the public of a surprisingly dramatic story.
“Over three years ago, on April 23, 2019, “ Sasano narrated, “an anonymous whistleblower released footage from inside the barns of Excelsior Hog Farm. The footage showed injured and distressed pigs packed in filthy pens, including dead pigs being eaten by other live pigs. In other areas of the facility, mother pigs were confined in steel farrowing crates, which are barely the size of the animals’ bodies, rendering them unable to take more than one step forward or backward, or even turn around. Dead and dying piglets were scattered about.
“Meat the Victims”
Sasano, Schafer, and Soranno on April 28, 2022 “joined about 200 other activists under the banner of the animal rights group Meat The Victims,” Sasano said, “in a mass protest at Excelsior Hog Farm. Approximately 65 activists walked onto the property and attempted to get inside one of the barns. Of those, about 50 successfully entered and occupied the facility to livestream pregnant pigs held in gestation crates, which, like farrowing crates, are too small to allow the animals to even turn their heads to look around. Many of the animals were bruised or bleeding as a result of their confinement,” Sasano alleged, “or perhaps simply from neglect and abuse on the part of farm workers.
“The activists negotiated to have media allowed inside, which they were,” Sasano said, “although the owners of the farm, the Binnendyk family, were careful to keep cameras away from the most distressed animals.”
BC/SPCA: “We don’t really have a case”
Neither the Abbotsford police department nor the British Columbia SPCA took any action against the Excelsior Hog Farm in response to extensive activist video of alleged abuses.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals in April 2019 posted video clips from the activist videos.
“British Columbia SPCA chief enforcement officer Marcie Moriarty said without the co-operation of the person who recorded the video, there’s little investigators can do to build a case,” reported Andrew Weichel of CTV News Vancouver on May 29, 2019.
“The person who took the video has not come forward,” Moriarty told Weichel. “Crown counsel would not approve charges without evidence backing up the video––time, date, method, all of that sort of thing––so we really don’t have a case to present.”
BC/SPCA promised confidentiality, then turned videographer over to cops
Resumed Sasano, “In July 2019, an anonymous whistleblower, now identified as Geoff Regier, went to the British Columbia SPCA to claim responsibility. In accordance with their confidentiality policy, the British Columbia SPCA agreed to protect Geoff’s identity unless it was required to recommend animal cruelty charges, or if they were served with a warrant.
“Shortly after, more footage from Excelsior Hog Farm was released publicly, this time revealing workers hitting and kicking pigs, electric-prodding pigs in the face, and castrating piglets without any pain relief. One distressed pig was shown dying, unattended, over the course of at least 18 hours,” Sasano alleged.
“In an about-face, the British Columbia SPCA said they could not recommend charges because they determined that the video evidence was obtained illegally, and would therefore be inadmissible in court. On top of that, they made the decision to ignore their confidentiality policy, and turned Geoff over to the Abbotsford Police, despite having no legal obligation to do so. On September 20, 2019, Geoff was arrested,” Sasano continued.
21 felony counts
“Almost a year later,” Sasano said, “amid calls from the Abbotsford mayor [Henry Braun] to prosecute Meat The Victims activists, the Crown announced criminal charges against Geoff, along with the three of us,” Schafer and Soranno as well as himself.
“Activists named us The Excelsior 4,” Sasano wrote. “Our charges were surprisingly serious – a combined total of 21 indictable felony breaking and entering charges, and indictable mischief charges.”
All charges against Regier were dropped, Sasano said, “after our lawyers revealed what the British Columbia SPCA did [in revealing his identity], arguing that it was an ‘abuse of process.’ This is certainly a win,” Sasano assessed, “but it allows the British Columbia SPCA to escape any further scrutiny within the trial.
BC/SPCA “must step down”
“Organizations such as the Vancouver Humane Society and the Animal Protection Party of Canada have been pointing out,” Sasano explained, “the British Columbia SPCA’s repeated failure and unwillingness to hold animal agriculture industries accountable when it comes to animal cruelty.
“The British Columbia SPCA itself has admitted that it does not have the capacity to enforce cruelty laws on farms,” Sasano recalled. “If the private charity itself even admits their deficiencies, then they must step down so that a more accountable and transparent government agency can take over.”
That is unlikely But even if it was likely, Sasano observed, “None of this adequately addresses the underlying issue. Most of the horrific animal cruelty within animal agriculture is legal.”
“Their biggest fear is cameras”
Anticipated Schafer, who admitted to having become an extreme exercise addict while awaiting trial, “No matter what the system throws at us, it will pale in comparison to what animals inside factory farms endure on a daily basis. I will once again be able to have my freedom. Those animals never get to experience any of that.”
Fumed Soranno, “It’s hard to process that the whole reason why we are in this situation is because the public is not allowed to see how animals live and die to become food.
“Consumers are not allowed the opportunity to connect with farmed animals, or see them as individuals who are suffering. They hide the animals away in windowless factories, they fire employees who take pictures, they lobby for ‘ag gag’ laws, they criminalize people who film.
“Their biggest fear isn’t activists trespassing,” Soranno finished. “Their biggest fear is cameras.”
Cedar Valley Farms
A further demonstration of why factory farmers are afraid of cameras came on November 5, 2021 when the animal rights group Compassion For All posted video of alleged abuse of milk cows.
The video clips were clandestinely obtained from an “organic dairy farm in British Columbia,” Cedar Valley Farms, “owned and operated by Rich Vanderwal, a veterinarian and animal welfare consultant for the police. He was one of the vets,” Compassion for All charged, “who attended Excelsior Hog Farm in 2019, claiming that the suffering of pigs who were bleeding to death was acceptable.”
Reported Patrick Penner for the Langley Advance Times, “Cesar Alonso, a former employee of Cedar Valley Farms, said he was fired after he repeatedly tried to report animal abuse to the owners. He has filed a wrongful termination suit.
“He said it was his first job in Canada after immigrating from Mexico, and he was shocked to see baby male calves being killed right in front of their mothers, botched killings of adult cows with 22-caliber bullets, beatings and other numerous incidents of brutality.”
Animal advocates often speculate that if animal agribusiness facilities had glass walls, most people would be vegan.
Such is not the case in Mexico, or anywhere else in the developing world, where slaughter and milking commonly occur in public, at curbside; but observing examples of routine animal handling in the developing world that are as violent as undercover videos from inside industrialized U.S. and Canadian farms consistently reveal is relatively rare.