The owners of the Chilliwack dairy farm that was the subject of undercover video documenting violent abuse of cows pleaded guilty in court Friday morning.
Chilliwack Cattle Sales (CCS) President Kenneth Kooyman pleaded guilty to three charges of animal cruelty on behalf of the farm itself and his brother Wesley, a CCS director, pleaded guilty to one charge personally.
The charges under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act (PCAA) came as a result of undercover videos filmed by animal welfare group Mercy For Animals between April 30, 2014 and June 1, 2014.
Crown counsel Jim MacAulay and defence lawyer Leonard Doust issued a joint submission of a $75,000 fine for each of the three charges CCS pleaded to, and a $75,000 for the one Wesley Kooyman pleaded to.
CCS was also be ordered to pay a victim fine surcharge of $33,750 and Wesley $11,250.
Judge Robert Gunnell accepted that joint submission and handed down the fines.
Wesley is also forbidden from owning or being in the care of cattle for one year, with the exception that he can continue to feed the animals in the presence of others. He can also not act as a director of the company in that time.
Both men addressed the court after defence submissions.
“We deeply regret what has happened and we promise this will never happen again,” Kenneth said.
“On behalf of all the directors, I am sorry,” Wesley added.
Friday morning the court watched video clips of young men kicking, punching and otherwise violently abusing cows in the milking parlour in 2014.
“This is more fun than milking,” one young man is heard saying in a video that depicts him hitting a cow with a cane.
“I just hit that cow like 50 f–ing times,” said another.
The videos were the main exhibit in the sentencing hearing.
The company and four of the Kooyman brothers who act as directors each faced 20 charges under the PCAA. This was later reduced to 16 charges, and in court Friday, Wesley Kooyman pleaded guilty to one charge on the file while CCS pleaded to three.
The court heard how MFA volunteer “Matthew” applied to various dairy farms in the area. He began work at CCS on the night shift on April 30, 2014 when he started filming undercover videos.
He was told the basics of the job, shown where the coffee maker was, but did not receive animal welfare training nor did he see a company handbook.
“[The Kooymans] were in a position to prevent certain activities and failed to do so,” MacAulay told the court.
Other incidents shown to the court included: a man swinging a chain with a hook into the back of a downed cow over and over; someone ripping tail hair out of a cow in the rotary milking parlour; a cow being lifted by its neck with a chain attached to a tractor.
“This video is absolutely horrific,” Ontario-based vice-president of Mercy for Animals, Krista Hiddema said. “[It was] some of the most horrific animal abuse that I have ever seen.”
Hiddema added after the sentencing that she doesn’t accept the claim that the owners of the company were unaware of what was going on. She said she was satisfied to see the highest possible fine handed down in this case.
Doust painted a picture of a family farm that grew from 30 head of cattle when patriarch Leonard took over in 1963 to what it is today. All seven brothers involved live within one mile of the farm and all take an interest in its operation. These are “salt of the earth” farmers, according to Doust, whose very trustworthiness was what got them into trouble allowing negligent employees to engage in the “egregious mistreatment” of cows.
Doust pointed to the “shame, embarrassment and public condemnation” of the incident as being particularly challenging since 2014 because of media coverage. There were TV, radio and print reporters in the gallery for the sentencing hearing Friday.
“These events were a major wake-up to the family,” Doust said, later adding that while Wesley attended the barns at 3:30 a.m. every day for feeding, the employees clearly knew this and were able to hide their behaviour.
“He had no knowledge of any mistreatment of animals during the night shift or he would have put a stop to it.”
The Kooymans did not speak with the media after the sentencing but a representative issued a statement signed by Wesley Kooyman that read, in part, how animal care of primary importance on the farm, reiterating that the “shocking” events from 2014 were a wake up call for the company.
“On behalf of the Kooyman family, I accept the judgment of the Court and we vow to do everything we can to prevent anything like this from happening again,” he said.
While the abuse by employees was “at the extreme shocking” end of the spectrum, according to MacAulay, the Crown said the defendants were co-operative from the beginning and the farm has made great strides to ensure the behaviour never happens again.
Still, MacAulay said with a herd of 2,800 dairy cows, there should have been more training and oversight of young employees, and the owners were therefore culpable.
“With great numbers comes great responsibility,” he said.
As far as mitigating factors, new cameras focused on the milking parlour that all owners have access to on their phones is one step. Working with well-known animal science expert Dr. Temple Grandin is another.
Aggravating factors included that the farm is so large, one of the biggest in Canada, and yet the abuse recorded by MFA was not one incident but was several over several days by different perpetrators.
“The company unwittingly had permitted a culture of abuse to thrive,” MacAaulay told the court.
As to the video and the abuse perpetrated by the young men involved: “Particularly disturbing is the active involvement of more than one worker or at least passive acquiescence.”
Employees Brad Genereux, Travis Keefer, Cody Larson, Jonathan Talbot, Chris Vandyke, Jamie Visser and Lloyd Blackwell are also charged.
In September, a 12-day trial for most of the men was scheduled starting May 29, 2017, with a pre-trial conference six weeks before that.
Visser, VanDyke and Keefer, however, are now scheduled to plead guilty April 13, 2017.
The pre-trial conference for Talbot, Larson, Genereux and Blackwell is scheduled for April 10 with the trial to run 12 days, May 29, 30, 31, June 1, 5, 6, 7, 8, 12, 13, 14 and 15.