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B.C. pig farm protesters avoid prison sentence upon appeal

The appeal court ruled the lower judge did not properly consider a conditional sentence.
Animal rights activists Amy Soranno and Nick Schafer and, right, lawyer Peter Sankoff, outside B.C. Supreme Court on May 31, 2024 to contest a jail term for breaking and entering into an Abbotsford hog farm.

Animal rights activists Amy Soranno and Nicholas Schafer have avoided jail time for trespassing on an Abbotsford farm whose operators face accusations of animal cruelty.

B.C. Court of Appeal Justice Susan Griffin ruled June 24 that Soranno and Schafer ought to only be issued a 120-day conditional sentence (house arrest) and one year of probation for criminal mischief and not a 30-day prison term, as previously issued by the B.C Supreme Court.

Griffin stated in the ruling that the lower judge did not properly consider a conditional sentence. Justice Mary Saunders and Justice Peter Voith agreed with Griffin, in the three-judge panel.

“In my view, incarceration is not necessary to meet the relevant sentencing goals in this case, given the circumstances of these offenders and the offence,” stated Griffin.

“Here the appellants were first-time offenders; they caused no physical damage or injury; they remained polite and calm during the protest; their motives were not profit-based; and the protest was a relatively short and temporary interruption of less than one day,” stated Griffin.

Soranno’s health concerns also played a role in reconsidering a prison term, Griffin added.

Notably, Griffin noted “there appear to be few precedents resulting in a custodial sentence involving like circumstances.”

Soranno and Schafer had contended they would have been the first Canadian animal rights activists jailed for a peaceful protest at a farm; they also sought a total discharge of their mischief sentence; however, the judges dismissed that application.

“I am of the view that sentencing the appellants to a carefully crafted conditional sentence order, with appropriate conditions, will properly denounce their conduct and act as a deterrent to them and others in the future. It will, in contrast to a discharge, still make them pay a significant price for their actions, by way of a criminal record,” added Griffin.

Soranno had argued she was not allowed to speak about the conditions of the farm to the court before her sentencing.

Griffin acknowledged people have that right; however, judges must also balance the court’s time when those being sentenced begin to veer into political statements.

The sentencing stems from Soranno and Schafer having led a protest with about 50 people at Excelsior Hog Farm in 2019.

“They believed that the pigs were kept in cruel conditions and they intended to attract media attention to those conditions,” noted Griffin.

The activists are calling on a new investigative body to replace the BC SPCA and mandatory CCTV recording in all animal barns in B.C.

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