Two companies that previously pleaded guilty in relation to a Fraser Valley chicken abuse case have each received a $300,000 fine and three years’ probation.
Elite Farm Services Ltd. of Chilliwack and Sofina Foods of Ontario – which runs a processing plant in Port Coquitlam – were sentenced Tuesday (Dec. 14) in B.C. Supreme Court in New Westminster.
They pleaded guilty in September to two of the 12 animal-cruelty charges that were still active in the case: one in Chilliwack and the other in Abbotsford, both between May and June 2017.
The companies were fined $175,000 for the Chilliwack offence and $125,000 for the one in Abbotsford.
Each originally faced 38 charges under the Health Animals Act following undercover videos shot by California-based animal rights activist group Mercy of Animals. (The charges were narrowed down to 12 upon direct indictment.)
Justice Martha Devlin stated in her ruling that a volunteer with the group obtained employment with Elite Farm as a chicken catcher. Over 19 days in 2017, he took notes and made video recordings of “inhumane conduct” he witnessed.
Devlin said “harmful acts” were committed by Elite workers in the process of catching and loading broiler chickens.
She said the behaviours to the birds included throwing and kicking, “bowling,” dropping, swinging, striking, stepping, “tormenting,” and killing.
“The broiler chickens were loaded in a manner that caused them undue suffering,” Devlin said.
“… Sofina, through its long haul supervisor, failed to ensure that Elite was meeting Sofina’s minimum standards to ensure that chickens are not handled in a manner likely to cause injury or undue suffering to them.”
Elite Farm owner and president Dwayne Paul Dueck spoke at the sentencing hearing and apologized for the misconduct of his workers and the failure of his company to properly supervise activities.
“Mr. Dueck acknowledges that his company failed to ensure the high standards expected by the public in the treatment of other living beings,” Devlin said.
She said the companies’ probationary period will “serve to remedy the offending behaviour, improve training, create a higher-level and more rigorous monitoring program, and add additional layers of scrutiny all all levels to ensure these actions are not repeated.”
She said both companies have made “significant changes” since the abuses came to light.
Devlin said Elite Farm has improved its compliance with regulatory standards, conducted ongoing reviews of its operating procedures, revised its procedures for chicken catching and loading, and fired all workers who were involved in wrongdoing.
She said Sofina has hired a vice-president of animal care, developed an animal welfare team, and led the development of catching-practice requirements in B.C. and Alberta.
Elite has been given 10 years to pay the fine, while Sofina has six months.