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Guilty verdicts stand for 2 Abbotsford hog-farm protesters

Amy Soranno and Nick Schafter now plan to appeal 30-day sentence
Amy Soranno and Nick Schafer spoke outside the Abbotsford Law Courts on Oct. 12, 2022 prior to their sentencing. (Jessica Peters/Abbotsford News)

The B.C. Court of Appeal has upheld the break-and-enter convictions of two animal-rights activists who participated in a 2019 protest at an Abbotsford hog farm.

Amy Soranno and Nick Schafer of Kelowna say they now plan to appeal their sentences of 30 days in jail and one year of probation.

The Court of Appeal decision was issued Friday (Jan. 12), with all three justices agreeing that the trial judge did not err when he excluded evidence about the alleged mistreatment of animals at the Excelsior Hog Farm.

“The evidence of animal mistreatment was irrelevant in determining whether the protesters had disrupted ‘lawful’ activities,” the appeal ruling states.

The justices also agreed that expert evidence regarding general biosecurity risks should not have been put before the jury and the trial judge should have given “limiting instruction” about the evidence.

“However, the error in allowing the jury to consider this evidence was harmless,” the ruling states.

Soranno and Schafer were among four people initially charged in relation to the protest on April 28, 2019. The group – who dubbed themselves the “Excelsior 4” – faced a total of 21 charges.

Charges against Geoff Regier were later stayed, and Roy Sasano was acquitted at trial.

Soranno and Schafer, who are spouses, were convicted of break-and-enter in October 2022, but they were granted bail after announcing they would appeal the decision.

The pair formally launched the appeal in May 2023 on the grounds that the trial judge had wrongfully blocked them from presenting a “full defence” at their trial by refusing to allow the jury to see secretly obtained footage of animals on the farm.

RELATED: Abbotsford hog-farm protesters appeal break-and-enter convictions

RELATED: Awaiting decision on appeal for re-trial of convicted B.C. hog farm activists

They alleged that the footage showed “unlawful animal abuse” and provided context for why they – and others from the Meat the Victims group – protested at the farm on April 28, 2019, and why about 50 members entered a pig barn on the property.

A press release issued on Friday morning from the Animal Justice group indicates that Soranno and Schafer will appeal their 30-day jail terms.

“(It is) the only known jail sentence in Canadian history for peaceful, non-violent civil disobedience,” the release states.

“Farms are seldom prosecuted for illegal cruelty, even in egregious cases. But even when they are prosecuted, farmers almost never face jail time, even for acts like ripping the wings off of live birds, sexually abusing animals, or beating animals to death with shovels.”

Lawyer Camille Labchuk, executive director of Animal Justice, referred to the conviction as “unprecedented punishment simply for exposing the ugly truth about animal abuse on farms.”

The BC SPCA investigated the 2019 allegations into Excelsior Hog Farm, but no animal-cruelty charges resulted.

The farm became the target of more animal-abuse allegations in November 2023 by Toronto-based Animal Justice, which released video they say was secretly recorded between April and June 2023.

At the time, the BC SPCA said it was planning to investigate the allegations.

The Binnendyk family, who owns the farm, has denied all claims of animal abuse and previously said that much of the footage released in 2023 was previously used in 2019.

The family has stated that the SPCA was invited on the farm after the 2019 allegations, reviewed their practices and standards, and no action resulted.

They have stated that they are in compliance with all national food safety and animal care programs and they believe the true motive of the activists is “to seek to eliminate all animal farming and animal protein consumption.”

RELATED: Abbotsford hog farm faces more animal-cruelty allegations