A gallery in the BC Court of Appeal was filled with onlookers, as lawyers laid out submissions for why, a high-profile case that culminated in guilty convictions of break and enter for two animal activists should, or should not, be re-tried.
Activists Amy Soranno and Nick Schafer filed the appeal in April 2022, after being found guilty of break and enter in a trial by judge and jury and were sentenced to 30 days in custody. Both have been granted bail during the process of the appeal. They were also facing charges of mischief that were stayed at sentencing.
The pair are members of a group called Meat the Victims. In the early spring of 2019, members of the organization installed hidden cameras around the Excelsior Hog Farm in Abbotsford, B.C.
Then, on April 28, 2019, a group of approximately 200 members of Meat the Victims gathered to peacefully protest the farm. Approximately 50 people entered a pig barn and “disrupted” the daily chores of the farmers, specifically the insemination of sows. While inside the barn, members of Meat the Victims took additional video footage. The activists remained on the property of the farm for approximately six hours, refusing to leave until the media were allowed to tour the premises.
Soranno and Schafer as well as Roy Sasano, and Geoff Regier, who are referred to as the “Excelsior 4,” were arrested on the day of the protest. Together, the Excelsior 4 were charged with 21 offences. Charges against Regier were later stayed and Sasano was acquitted.
On Nov. 23, three Justices in the Court of Appeal heard that the intention of the protest was simply to expose the treatment of animals at the Excelsior farm, explained the defence lawyer for Soranno and Schafer.
“They are not vigilantes,” said the defence.
The basis of the appeal is founded on the allegation that the judge for Soranno and Schafer’s criminal trial unjustly barred key evidence from being presented to the jury while allowing “prejudicial” evidence to be heard.
Soranno and Schafer’s lawyer told the Court of Appeal that the Excelsior Hog Farm is “overrun in illegality,” and explained that a charge of mischief is a broad crime. He said that while it is illegal to interfere with lawful activities and the lawful use of property, it is not necessarily against the law to interfere with unlawful activities. He said that during the trial lines of questioning relating to the care, health and treatment of the pigs were expressly denied as was all video footage of the inside of the barn.
He submits that Soranno and Schafer were only acting to expose or disrupt illegal activities. During the trial, the judge prevented cross-examination of the farm owners and a veterinarian as it pertained to the health and treatment of the animals. Soranno and Schafer’s lawyer said that if evidence relating to animal cruelty were able to be presented to the jury, it would have allowed the defence to make a case for the unlawful use of property, which in this case is the farm’s pigs.
Soranno and Schafer’s lawyer requested that the three Justices rule in favour of a retrial of the case.
Conversely, the Crown prosecutor submitted that the case was properly litigated and that there should be no retrial.
She said that the act of farming is legal and interference with daily chores on the farm, is illegal. On the day of the protest, the farmers were unable to inseminate the sows. She submits that this is illegal, regardless of the fact that other actions on the farm may be illegal. “You cannot interfere just because you do not agree with what is going on,” said Crown.
Crown said that people ought not to interrupt activities that they deem to be illegal, as it could result in a slippery slope to vigilantism. She said that bylaws and police officers should be called to deal with issues and that people should not take actions into their own hands.
In 2019, the BC SPCA investigated the allegations of animal cruelty at the Excelsior Hog Farm, but no charges resulted.
Soranno has previously said that she has a moral obligation to disobey unjust laws.
For more information on the case, follow the link for a comprehensive breakdown of the appeal.
The three Justices in the Court of Appeal have reserved their decision for a later date.