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Charter breach applications rejected for accused in Fraser Valley chicken abuse case

Chilliwack chicken-catching company pleaded guilty, while Ontario-based Sofina may still go to trial
Elite Farm Services workers seen throwing chickens at a Chilliwack farm in undercover video filmed by Mercy for Animals in 2017. (Submitted)

The accused in an ongoing Fraser Valley chicken abuse case have now twice tried and failed to have the case thrown out of B.C. Supreme Court for alleged breaches of charter rights.

Elite Farm Services Ltd., company owner Dwayne Paul Dueck, and Ontario-based Sofina Foods, each originally faced 38 charges under the Health of Animals act in connection with the case involving undercover videos shot by California-based animal rights activist group Mercy For Animals back in 2017.

Elite Farm Services Ltd. entered guilty pleas to two of the charges on Sept. 27, 2021 in court in Chilliwack, thereby likely ending the involvement in the case for both Elite and Dueck.

Prior to that, however, the three parties alleged a violation of their section 8 charter rights, against unreasonable search or seizure. Then they made an application claiming a section 11(b) charter breach against their right to trial within a reasonable time.

READ MORE: B.C. chicken farmers respond to videos of violent abuse of birds at Chilliwack farms

The section 8 application didn’t get heard by Justice Thomas Crabtree, being thrown out at a prior stage at what is called a Vukelich hearing brought forward by the Crown to dismiss the application as without foundation. In a decision posted on Oct. 21, Crabtree agreed the defence had failed to establish enough standing to even raise the charter 8 infringement.

The case has now shifted to Justice Martha Devlin and she rejected the charter 11(b) argument – a so-called Jordan application – attributing enough of the delay to defence to come under the legal ceiling of 30 months.

Defence argued the 30 months allowed for upper court hearings had been exceeded and further trial dates will just add to that delay. Crown took the position that enough of the delay should be attributed to defence to come under the 30 months, they also argued that Jordan should not apply to a corporate accused, namely Elite and Sofina.

Justice Devlin concluded that while the 30-month ceiling for superior court trials does apply to corporate accused, enough delay could be attributed to defence or “discrete events” to mean the net delay is under 22 months so far.

Now the question is whether Sofina will change its plea or go to trial. Crown counsel Jessica Lawn said Sofina remains before the courts having entered not guilty pleas at the outset of the proceedings.

The parties held in-court conferences this week to discuss whether trial dates would be confirmed or to determine if a resolution remains possible.

The parties are next due in court Dec. 13.

READ MORE: Chilliwack chicken-catching company pleads guilty to animal abuse

READ MORE: Chilliwack company’s guilty pleas to chicken abuse ‘represent progress,’ says animal welfare group

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