The defendants in a high-profile Fraser Valley chicken abuse case are asking the court to drop the charges due to unreasonable delay.
There have been several delays in the case against Ontario-based Sofina Foods, Elite Farm Services Ltd., and Elite’s Dwayne Paul Dueck, a case that goes back to 2017.
Undercover footage of Elite employees throwing, kicking, stomping and tearing apart birds at farms in Chilliwack, Abbotsford, Langley and Surrey were filmed by California-based animal rights activist group Mercy For Animals.
The videos were called “absolutely sickening” by the executive director of the BC Chicken Marketing board, and Dueck himself expressed shock.
“We are sickened with the footage and want to ensure all our suppliers and producers that this is not reflective of who we are, our fundamental beliefs or behaviour we accept from our employees,” Dueck said in a company statement issued in June 2017.
Since 2017, the case has faced numerous delays. It took more than a year for charges to be laid. The defendants initially opted for a jury trial in BC Supreme Court, but later opted for judge alone.
The COVID-19 pandemic, which threw a wrench into many legal proceedings similarly caused further delays in this complex case involving three defendants, video evidence, several alleged offence locations, and many witnesses.
The defendants filed numerous applications to the court in the subsequent months, including regarding the admissibility of video evidence, alleged abuse of process, and delay.
The three defendants originally faced 38 counts under the Health of Animal Regulations. There are allegations of abuse at farms in Langley, Abbotsford, Lindell Beach, Aldergrove, Chilliwack and Surrey.
Starting on Monday (Aug. 30) running to Sept. 3, Justice Thomas Crabtree was scheduled to hear an application to drop the charges due to unreasonable delay. Section 11(b) of the Charter requires the right to a fair trial within a reasonable time.
A Supreme Court of Canada decision known as R. v Jordan in 2016 put a timeline confirming how long is too long. In most cases, Supreme Court cases should finish 30 months after charges are laid.
Last year, employees allegedly from Elite Farm Services were again caught on undercover video harming chickens at an Abbotsford egg farm on July 15, 2020. No charges have been laid in connection with that incident.
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