Two people who were convicted for their roles in a 2019 protest at an Abbotsford hog harm have been sentenced to 30 days in jail and one year of probation.
In sentencing Amy Soranno and Nick Schafer Wednesday morning (Oct. 12) in B.C. Supreme Court in Abbotsford, Justice Frits Verhoeven said the two were receiving jail time because “breaking the laws for political purposes is unacceptable.”
“The offenders are unrepentant and have not renounced their views that personal moral principles supersede their obligation to obey the law,” he said.
Soranno, 29, and Schafer, 36, were each sentenced on a charge of break-and-enter. They also each had a mischief charge, which was stayed at sentencing.
The two were involved in what Verhoeven referred to as a “mass invasion and occupation” on April 28, 2019 at the Excelsior Hog Farm on Harris Road.
He said several weeks prior to the event, animal rights activists broke onto the property and “covertly recorded” activities on the farm. The footage, which purported to show animal abuse, was sent to PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), which released it to the media.
Although Soranno and Schafer, who are spouses, were charged in relation to those previous activities, those charges were stayed.
Verhoeven said Soranno and Schafer were among the key people who “recruited and organized” approximately 200 supporters from the Meat the Victims group to go the hog farm on April 28, 2019.
The justice said that, in group chat messages, the activists discussed whether police or security personnel would be on scene and how they could obtain maximum media exposure.
Verhoeven said, on the day of the protest, about 50 people made their way onto the property and broke into a pig barn. Approximately another 150 people lined the road in front of the property.
Police were called, but the group refused to vacate the property until a media tour was allowed.
Verhoeven said, during these activities, Soranno directed the activists where to go and what to do, while Schafer filmed and photographed the events.
Four people were charged following the event, leading to them dubbing themselves the “Excelsior 4.” Roy Sasano also went on trial but was acquitted.
Geoff Regier had his charges dropped before trial.
Verhoeven said several letters of support were submitted to the court for both Soranno and Schafer.
He said Soranno was described as “an intelligent, compassionate and kind person who cares deeply and sincerely about animal rights and welfare.”
Verhoeven said Schafer was described as “a person of integrity and compassion, dedicated to non-violent activism on behalf of the animals.”
But the justice said the aggravating factors in the case outweighed the mitigating ones.
He said, in sentencing the pair to jail time, he considered their roles in planning the event, “including the incitement of many other persons to break the law.”
Verhoeven said other aggravating factors included the potential for violence, their “repeat refusal to leave the property upon demand,” the impact to the farming operation and the farmers, and the expenditure of police resources.
The mitigating factors included that Soranno and Schafer have no prior criminal records and their interactions with police were “polite and cooperative,” he said.
Verhoeven denied the defence recommendation for an absolute or conditional discharge in the case. Crown had recommended a 90-day jail term.
Soranno and Schafer have also been ordered to submit a sample of their DNA to the national data base, which can match forensic evidence at a crime scene to an offender.
“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 behaviour,” Verhoeven said.
Soranno and Schafer go into custody on Oct. 21 and will be allowed to serve their sentences intermittently.