Guilty pleas entered by Chilliwack, B.C., company in chicken abuse case
A Chilliwack-based chicken-catching company has entered two guilty pleas in connection with a case stemming from an investigation into abuse allegations at multiple B.C. farms.
The Public Prosecution Service of Canada said Elite Farm Services pleaded guilty on Monday to two counts under the Health of Animals Act. A sentencing date has not yet been set.
In 2018, 38 charges were laid against the company, along with its owner Dwayne Paul Dueck, and Ontario-based Sofina Foods Inc., following an investigation by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. Sofina, which sells chicken under the Lilydale brand, had hired Elite to catch the poultry.
The probe was sparked after animal activists released undercover video in 2017 that allegedly captured farm workers mistreating chickens, slamming them against crates and even tearing the leg off a live bird.
Elite fired six employees shortly after the video surfaced, including a crew supervisor, and said it was "sickened" by the footage.
CTV News Vancouver has reached out to the company for comment, but so far has not received a response.
Former vice-president for Mercy For Animals in Canada Krista Hiddema was with the organization when one of their investigators shot the video.
“It was some of the most egregious cruelty footage I had ever seen,” she said. “While there were only two charges, which is unfortunate, it is a step forward.”
Hiddema said the case also demonstrates why concerns have been raised over agriculture protection legislation in other provinces which activists say could keep them out.
“We cannot bring charges when we don’t have eyes and ears on the ground,” she said. “Transparency is the only way to conduct ethical business.”
Animal law lawyer Rebeka Breder says more needs to be done to ensure oversight and transparency in animal agriculture.
“We need to have government inspectors that are funded by the government have the ability to go in unannounced as many times as they like throughout the year,” she said. “I hope that with these charges and hopefully very high penalties it sends a strong message that such outright abuse, or any abuse for that matter, is illegal.”
On Elite's website, a response posted in 2018 to the charges being laid said since the video emerged, it has "worked hard to make sure we have a company culture that is based on respect for the animals under our stewardship."
"We are educating our employees in respectful animal handling and transport practices and working to create an atmosphere of transparency and trust, so our employees will feel safe if they see anything that needs to be addressed in any of our practices," Elite said.
The case is scheduled to be back in Chilliwack court on Oct. 14.
This is a developing story. More details to come.
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