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Pre-trial hearing underway for activists charged after B.C. pig farm video prompted protest


A 10-day pre-trial hearing began Monday in New Westminster, B.C., for four people charged with breaking and entering and mischief after a video prompted a protest at an Abbotsford pig farm in 2019.

The video, which was released by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, sparked an SPCA investigation. It showed a number of dead piglets, as well as a pig corpse that appeared to be in an advanced state of decomposition.

Some pigs in the video appeared to have growths, and one seemed to have trouble standing. PETA said the video had been provided anonymously and had been captured at Excelsior Hog Farm in February and March of 2019.

Days after the video was made public, a protest was held at the farm. At the time, Abbotsford police said around 50 people entered the facility, and one person was taken into custody.

The SPCA did not end up recommending charges, and said while what was depicted raised concerns, they could not come to any legal conclusions that an offence had taken place, particularly without the co-operation of the person who recorded the video.

Last November, Amy Soranno, Roy Makoto Sasano, Nicholas Steven George Schafer and Jeff Luke Rigear pleaded not guilty to 21 offences.

None of the allegations in the case has been tested in court.

Supporters holding signs showing images of pigs lined up at the front of the courthouse on the first day of the scheduled pre-trial hearing.

Soranno spoke to media outside, and said they hope the upcoming trial will have an impact on the enforcement of animal cruelty laws in the province.

"Of course, none of us wants to go to prison, that’s not something that anyone wants to do. But we also know that legal repercussions pale in comparison to what farmed animals endure every single day," she said. "We are here to defend ourselves but we are also here to tell the stories of the millions of animals suffering every day."

Soranno also called for the agriculture ministry to implement mandatory CCTV cameras inside all animal farms and slaughterhouses, as well as a government agency to take over from the SPCA.

“The animal agriculture industry has zero transparency or accountability and the systems in place to protect these animals are clearly failing them in the worst possible way," she said. "No one can see ultimately where their food comes from and what happens to these animals along the way."

In an emailed statement, the SPCA’s general manager of communications Lorie Chortyk said they are able to respond to every complaint they receive as an enforcement agency, but as a charity they do not have the resources to ensure regular pro-active monitoring and third-party audits to ensure codes of practice are being upheld.

"For us, the key factor in all of this is that there needs to be accountability on commercial farms, including 24 (hour) video monitoring that is viewed and audited by a third party," she said. "The SPCA can, and does, do its part by responding to complaints, but the system also has to be more pro-active on the part of government and industry to ensure that standards are upheld."

Chortyk added the SPCA is confident its special constables followed proper procedures in the investigation related to the video.

CTV News requested to speak with B.C. Agriculture Minister Lana Popham, but was told she would not be available. In a statement, the ministry said they have been talking with the SPCA, B.C. Agriculture Council, and others to work on developing an inspection system "that is fair, and that all parties can understand and support." The ministry said they are expecting a report from the SPCA on the matter this spring.

"The ministry worked closely with agricultural commodity boards in B.C. to ensure they made the animal welfare and biosecurity standards outlined in the Codes mandatory for their producers," the ministry said. "We continue to work with animal welfare organizations to identify opportunities and monitor potential issue to ensure robust animal welfare policies are in place in B.C."

A four-week jury trial is set to begin in the case in Abbotsford this June. Top Stories

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