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Guilty plea in 'shocking' animal abuse case at B.C. dairy farm
Published Friday, December 16, 2016 10:17AM PST Last Updated Friday, December 16, 2016 3:37PM PST
CHILLIWACK, B.C. -- A company that owns a dairy farm in British Columbia's Fraser Valley and one of its directors have pleaded guilty in a violent cattle-abuse case that was the first of its kind in the province.
Chilliwack Cattle Sales Ltd. pleaded guilty on Friday to three counts of causing an animal to continue to be in distress, while Wesley Kooyman pleaded guilty to one count.
Crown lawyer James MacAulay told the judge that the company must be held accountable for failing to adequately train or supervise its employees, who were shown beating and tormenting cows in video recorded by an animal-welfare group.
"It appears that the company unwittingly had permitted a culture of abuse to develop and thrive," MacAulay told the judge, but he added that the company had taken steps to fix the problem.
"The Crown is satisfied the culture has come to an end."
MacAulay and Len Doust, the defence lawyer, made a joint submission for penalties to the court, which included a fine of $225,000 for the company and $75,000 for Kooyman, as well as prohibiting the man from owning or having custody of dairy cattle for one year.
He would be allowed to work at the farm under supervision, but would not be allowed to be a manager or director of the company for the year-long period.
Twenty charges were laid against the company and seven of its employees following an undercover video investigation by Mercy for Animals, an animal advocacy organization. The SPCA said it was the first time a B.C. company has been held accountable for acts of cruelty on a farm.
A Mercy for Animals employee sought a job at the dairy farm, which is one of the largest in Canada with 2,800 cows. After he was hired in spring 2014, he was given minimal training and was not given an animal-welfare guide, the court heard.
He wore a hidden camera inside a milking parlour between April and June 2014. Portions of the video were shown in court Friday.
The video appears to show employees repeatedly kicking and punching cows, beating them with canes, ripping out their tail hair. It shows a cow being lifted by a chain around her neck using a tractor. An employee can also be seen attaching milking equipment to the testes of bulls.
Some employees appeared to be enjoying themselves, cheering and laughing, while some watched, apparently without intervening.
"This is way more fun than milking," one employee can be heard saying during one violent incident.
Several of the farm's employees have are scheduled to appear in court in the spring and a trial is set to begin in late May.
Doust told the court that the Kooyman family has owned the farm for three generations and had no knowledge of what was taking place inside the milking barn when the video was being recorded.
He said Wesley Kooyman would check the barn once a day at 3:30 a.m., which was not satisfactory because the workers knew exactly when to expect him and adjusted their behaviour accordingly.
If any of the Kooymans had any knowledge of what was occurring, they would have taken immediate steps to stop it, Doust said.
"No rational, right-thinking person, much less a person whose livelihood depends on the dairy cattle in his care, would ever tolerate this kind of activity."
He said the extensive publicity has brought "shame, embarrassment and public condemnation" to the family.
Doust told the court that the farm's employees now undergo significant training on proper animal handling and care. A supervisor is now tasked with overseeing the milking parlour and all seven of the Kooyman brothers have access to a 24-hour live feed of the barn on their cell phones.
Wesley Kooyman and his brother Ken Kooyman, chairman and president, both delivered apologies in the courtroom.
"On behalf of our family and our company, I would like to take this opportunity to apologize to the courts, the public at large and the industry for the incident which occurred on our farm in spring 2014," said Ken Kooyman.
"We promise that something like this will never, ever happen again."
Judge Robert Gunnell is expected to deliver a sentence later Friday afternoon.