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Abbotsford hog farm protesters to appeal convictions

Amy Soranno and Nick Schafer were convicted of breaking and entering and mischief for July 2022 events at an Abbotsford hog farm.
Supporters of four animal activists charged with breaking and entering at an Abbotsford hog farm in order to expose alleged animal cruelty showed up at New Westminster Supreme Court March 28, 2022.

B.C. Court of Appeal Nov. 23 will hear the case of two animal activists convicted of breaking and entering and mischief in connection with July 2022 events where they filmed conditions at an Abbotsford hog farm.

Amy Soranno and Nick Schafer each received a 30-day jail sentence in October 2022, but both were granted bail pending their appeal. They intend to ask a three-judge panel to set aside their convictions and schedule a new trial.

The appeal comes days after the Animal Justice group released further footage it said was from the Excelsior Hog Farm.

"Four years after we exposed horrific animal cruelty at Excelsior Hog Farm, even worse documented evidence of abuse has just been exposed," Soranno said. "Yet, Excelsior has never been held accountable."

In their appeal argument, Soranno and Schafer argue B.C. Supreme Court Justice Frits Verhoeven made errors of law by blocking them from showing the jury video evidence of alleged animal cruelty.

They also assert that Verhoeven prevented them from explaining to the jury that the hog farm had engaged in alleged unlawful animal abuse, thereby undermining the activists’ claims that they believed their actions were lawful.

The pair claim they were prevented from using a necessity defence that would have allowed them to argue their actions were necessary to prevent a greater harm to animals from occurring.

“The appellants further argue that their actions were necessary to expose the animal abuse and neglect taking place at Excelsior Hog Farm, and that the trial judge erred in not considering this defence,” the appellants said.

In his October 2022 decision, Verhoeven said nothing less than a term of imprisonment would be appropriate.

“In terms of the threat to public order, and maintenance of a just and peaceful, safe society, the offence was grave,” he said.

He said Soranno and Schafer “believe that raising animals for meat is morally wrong, is cruel and unnecessary, and harmful to the environment.” And, he said, Soranno, Schafer and others organized and carried out a very large-scale break and enter to further their political goals.

The latest allegations come as federal lawmakers debate amendments to the Health of Animals Act to limit access to farms as a measure to maintain bio-security.

Ray Binnendyk, one of the brothers who owns Excelsior Hog Farm, defended the farm from past allegations when he testified last month at a session with the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food, where MPs discussed amendments to the act. 

Binnendyk told the committee “false accusations online had a significant emotional impact on our family” and that “the perception that people have about us has all been spread by lies and stuff that are not true.” 

With a file from Stefan Labbé