Defendants in the Fraser Valley undercover chicken catching abuse case were in BC Supreme Court in Chilliwack on Thursday.
The appearance scheduled for Chilliwack-based Elite Farm Services Ltd., the company’s owner Dwayne Paul Dueck, and Ontario-based Sofina Foods was for a pre-trial conference in advance of a jury trial in the fall.
After several delays, the defendants elected trial by judge and jury in front of provincial court Judge Gary Cohen back in August 2019.
The charges date from 2017 when California-based animal rights activist group Mercy For Animals released undercover video filmed at multiple Fraser Valley farms showing employees ripping live birds apart, stomping and throwing chickens.
Specifically, the charges relate to incidents in Chilliwack, Lindell Beach, Abbotsford, Aldergrove, Langley and Surrey.
More than a year later Elite, Dueck and Sofina were each charged with 38 counts under the Health of Animal Regulations in connection with the alleged abuse. Employees were fired, the companies expressed dismay at the actions of those employees, and the BC Chicken Marketing Board expressed disgust at the practices seen in the video.
The video is the crux of the case and has been the source of numerous delays as defence counsel said they were uncertain they had received unedited video. This led to arraignment delays as the accused said it could change whether they wanted to be tried by judge alone or judge and jury.
At the July 30, 2019 appearance, the issue was made clear that if the video evidence was manipulated, then defence would likely want the case heard in front of a jury. If an expert who examines the video evidence determined no editing had been done in ways beyond already admitted, then the case would be simpler and better suited in front of judge alone.
All along Judge Cohen expressed concern about the delays, particularly as it relates to the Supreme Court of Canada’s Jordan decision that mandates trials in provincial court need to be resolved in 18 months, and 30 months in Supreme.
Cohen essentially forced them to arraign on August 28, 2019 or he said he would make an election for them.
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