Chilliwack dairy farm pleads guilty to animal abuse

A Chilliwack Cattle Company worker is shown hitting a cow in this undated screenshot handout taken from video. Chilliwack Cattle Sales Ltd. pleaded guilty to three counts of causing an animal to continue to be in distress.
A Chilliwack Cattle Company worker is shown hitting a cow in this undated screenshot handout taken from video. Chilliwack Cattle Sales Ltd. pleaded guilty to three counts of causing an animal to continue to be in distress. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO

CHILLIWACK, B.C. – A company that owns a dairy farm in British Columbia’s Fraser Valley will be fined the maximum amount for failing to prevent “deeply disturbing, very callous” abuse of cattle, a judge has ruled.

Chilliwack Cattle Sales Ltd. pleaded guilty on Friday to three counts of causing an animal to continue to be in distress, while one of its directors, Wesley Kooyman, pleaded guilty to one count of the same charge.

READ MORE: Chilliwack Cattle Sales facing animal cruelty charges following 2014 video of alleged abuse

Provincial court Judge Robert Gunnell accepted a joint submission from the defence and Crown to fine the company and Kooyman the maximum amount of $75,000 per count plus victim surcharge fees.

The company will have to pay a total of $258,700, while Kooyman has been ordered to pay $86,250.

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“The defendants did not properly supervise or train their employees, and as a result these animals suffered significant abuse,” said Gunnell during

“I expect the impact on the company and the family will be financially significant. I believe it sends a significant sign to others.”

Kooyman has also been prohibited from owning or having custody of dairy cattle for one year. He will be allowed to work at the farm under supervision.

Twenty charges were originally 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.

The remaining charges against Chilliwack Cattle Sales and its directors will be stayed, the court heard.

Several employees still face charges and a trial is set to begin next May.

A Mercy for Animals employee was hired at the farm in the spring of 2014. The dairy farm is one of the largest in Canada with 2,800 cows. The court heard the worker was given minimal training and was not given an animal-welfare guide.

He wore a hidden camera inside a milking parlour between April and June 2014. Portions of the video were shown in court on Friday.

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READ MORE: Employees fired after video surfaces of alleged animal abuse on Chilliwack dairy farm

The video appears to show employees repeatedly kicking and punching cows, beating them with canes and ripping out their tail hair. The video also shows a cow being lifted by a chain around her neck using a tractor.

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.

Defence lawyer Len 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.”

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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 video feed of the barn.

Crown lawyer James MacAulay said it appeared the company had “unwittingly permitted a culture of abuse to develop and thrive,” but he was satisfied that the culture had come to an end.

Wesley Kooyman and his brother Ken Kooyman, chairman and president, both delivered apologies in the courtroom before the sentence was delivered.

“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.”

Krista Hiddema, vice-president of Mercy for Animals in Canada, had praise for the judge and Crown outside the court after the sentencing.

“This sends such a clear message, not only to the dairy industry, but the entire agricultural industry, that animal abuse will not be tolerated in Canada.”

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— Follow @ellekane on Twitter.

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