Activist couple also get year on probation. Factory farmers get apoplexy.
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, husband-and-wife vegan activists Nick Schafer and Amy Soranno were on October 12, 2022 sentenced to each serve 30 days in prison, followed by one year on probation.
Soranno and Schafer are also required to submit personal DNA samples to the Canadian national forensic data base on criminal offenders.
The outcome of the Soranno and Schafer case contrasted with the October 8, 2022 acquittal by jury of Direct Action Everywhere founder Wayne Hsiung and co-defendant Paul Darwin Picklesimer for allegedly stealing two piglets from Circle Four Farms in Milford, Utah, in 2017.
Locked up for Halloween
“Soranno and Schafer will begin their sentence on October 21, 2022 at the Okanagan Corrections Centre,” said their spokesperson, Kris Hermes.
“Both were also sentenced to a year on probation and a prohibition on making contact with Excelsior, its owners, or any animal farm during this period,” Hermes said.
“Soranno and Schafer are appealing their conviction and sentence,” Hermes added. “Their legal counsel will also be filing an application for bail pending appeal. If the bail application is granted by the British Columbia Court of Appeal, Soranno and Schafer may have their sentence deferred until after the appeal is heard.”
“Breaking the laws for political purposes in unacceptable” says judge
Schafer, 36, and Soranno, 29, both of Kelowna, British Columbia, about a three-and-a-half-hour drive northeast of Abbotsford, potentially faced 10 years in prison apiece, but the prosecution asked only that they be given 90 days prison time each.
“Breaking the laws for political purposes is unacceptable,” declared British Columbia Supreme Court Justice Frits Verhoeven in his sentencing statement.
“Meat the Victims”
Verhoeven denounced what he termed a “carefully planned and orchestrated mass invasion” led by Soranno and Schafter, whom Verhoeven said “incited and encouraged many others to break the law” when they “recruited and organized” about 200 other supporters from a group called “Meat the Victims “ group to visit the Excelsior Hog Farm with them on April 28, 2019.
Approximately 50 of the demonstrators joined Soranno and Schafer in entering the Excelsior pig barns, Verhoeven said.
Soranno directed the demonstration, Verhoeven recounted, while Schafer videotaped the proceedings.
“Polite & cooperative”
Verhoeven acknowledged receiving letters describing Soranno and Schafer as “intelligent, compassionate and kind,” caring deeply and sincerely about animal rights and welfare, and “dedicated to non-violent activism on behalf of the animals.”
Verhoeven also acknowledged some mitigating factors favoring Soranno and Schafer, including that they have no prior criminal records and were “polite and cooperative” in dealing with the police who arrested them.
But Verhoeven alleged that Soranno and Schafer had engaged in activities with potential for violence, including “repeated refusal to leave the [Excelsior] property upon demand,” had caused harm to Excelsior Hog Farm and the owners’ families, and had caused expenditure of police resources.
“Offenders have not disavowed belief that their conduct was morally right”
Verhoeven denied a defense recommendation that Soranno and Schafer should receive an absolute or conditional discharge.
“I know that the offenders have not disavowed the belief that their conduct was morally right or indicated that they would never again engage in illegal behavior,” Verhoeven concluded, but ended up giving Soranno and Schafer only a third of the prison time that the prosecution wanted.
At that, the case and the sentencing appeared likely to be appealed even before spokesperson Hermes confirmed that it would be.
Soranno and Schafer objected that Justice Verhoeven did not allow them to show the jury any of their video footage of alleged animal cruelty at Excelsior Hog Farm, and prohibited them from presenting a “defense of necessity” argument that their actions were undertaken to try to prevent illegal animal abuse.
Soranno posted to https://excelsior4.org/amystatement a statement that she was prevented from reading in court at her sentencing hearing on August 26, 2022.
“Rife with official negligence & misconduct”
“The Excelsior 4 case is rife with official negligence and misconduct,” charged Hermes on behalf of Soranno and Schafer. “The Abbotsford police lost important video evidence and destroyed multiple cameras found inside the hog farm, which formed the basis of the breaking-and-entering charges.
“Instead of recommending charges against Excelsior after being provided ample video evidence of animal cruelty, the British Columbia SPCA turned [videographer] Geoff Regier—a whistleblower—over to police, in violation of its confidentiality policy. And, the Crown withheld key evidence until the trial, putting the defense at a considerable disadvantage.”
“Certainly grounds for appeal exist”
“Certainly grounds for appeal exist,” offered veteran animal rights lawyer Adam Karp, of Bellingham, Washington, a keen observer of the proceedings.
Meat the Victims demonstrators rallied at Excelsior Hog Farm soon after Soranno and Schafer were sentenced, dozens “to keep attention on the animal cruelty that activists argue should have been the focus of this case,” Hermes said.
While Schafer and Soranno were convicted, and may serve the 30 days each to which they were sentenced, the ham-fisted Crown 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.
British Colombia SPCA speaks out of both sides of mouth
The British Columbia SPCA appeared to recognize that on July 14, 2022.
Having initiated the prosecution in the first place by breaking confidentiality with undercover videographer Regier, the British Columbia SPCA––only two days after Soranno and Schafer were tried––“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.
Charges against co-defendants dropped
Charged with Schafer and Soranno were fellow activists Regier and Roy Sasano, 39, of Vancouver.
“Activists named us The Excelsior 4,” Sasano recounted. “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.’”
All charges against Sasano were dropped on July 6, 2022, Sasano announced then, “after we showed a video of my entry into Excelsior Hog Farm’s barn, which involved a cop escorting me in.”
Crown “failed to disclose 78 gigabytes of video”
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.”
The Regier video, Sasano summarized, “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.”
“We guide them with our feet”
Despite the video, which the court did not allow to be posted to social media until after Soranno and Schafer went to trial, Excelsior Hog Farm owner Calvin Binnendyk contended in courtroom testimony that he and his family were “just the victims really.”
Under cross-examination, Binnendyk claimed to “follow Canadian Quality Assurance policy” in pig care and handling, but admitted he did not know “the specifics of the laws.”
Denying that Excelsior Hog Farm workers roughly handle pigs, Binnendyk said, “We will guide them with our feet, but we don’t kick them.”