WARNING: This story contains disturbing details describing alleged instances of animal cruelty. Discretion is advised.
A major Canadian poultry company and a Fraser Valley farming business will each face a $300,000 fine and three years probation, after pleading guilty to animal cruelty charges.
Sofina Foods Inc. and Elite Farm Services had initially faced 38 charges after the Canadian Food Inspection Agency launched an investigation stemming from horrific videos recorded by an animal rights group four years ago.
A volunteer with Mercy for Animals had obtained work with Elite Farm Services, which was contracted by Sofina subsidiary Lilydale to catch chickens and transport them for processing, and filmed the actions of staff in June 2017 in Chilliwack.
At the time, the BC SPCA described the content of the videos “absolutely sickening.”
In an agreed statement of facts presented to a B.C. Supreme Court judge at sentencing this week, the companies acknowledged that Elite workers were seen in the video mistreating the birds in a number of ways including kicking them, striking then, bowling with them, tormenting them, loading them in an aggressive manner, harming them in other ways and killing them.
The court heard an apology from Elite Farms owner Dwayne Dueck, who admitted the company failed to ensure the adequate treatment of living animals, and Sofina senior vice-president Phil Hojak, who accepted responsibility for his company’s failure to adequately monitor the actions of contacted chicken catchers.
The fines and probation were the product of a joint submission by prosecutors and defence lawyers.
Justice Martha Devlin accepted the Crown’s submission that Elite Farms was more culpable in the case but that Sofina was a larger company, and thus fines of equal value for each party were appropriate.
Included in the terms of probation, Elite Farms must hire an independent auditor, who must make unannounced spot checks at least once every three months. It must also develop and provide training for all employees with a focus on animal welfare, and keep the CFIA appraised of its training procedures,
Sofina must perform spot audits on all chicken catchers it contracts in B.C., audits which themselves must be subject to auditing by an independent third party
In accepting the submission, Devlin noted that both companies had subsequently made major changes in efforts to prevent future mistreatment of animals.
Elite Farms acknowledged “a culture had developed among some of their workers that demonstrated utter disregard for animal welfare,” according to the sentencing document.
The company fired the workers involved and revised its operating procedures and training for workers and supervisors, according to the sentencing.
Sofina has hired a vice-president of animal care and developed an internal animal welfare team.
The judge also found that the conditions of probation would also serve to act as a deterrent for both companies.
Sofina was given six months to pay its fines, while Elite Farms was given 10 years, as an acknowledgement of its financial position.