Two people convicted of break and enter while on a mission to “expose animal cruelty” will have their appeal heard by a three judge panel in the B.C. Court of Appeal on Nov. 23.
The accused, Amy Soranno and Nick Schafer filed the appeal in April 2022 on the grounds that the judge allegedly unjustly barred key evidence while allowing “prejudicial” evidence to be heard in the trial.
Meat the Victims at Excelsior Hog Farms
The pair are members of a group called Meat the Victims. In the early spring of 2019, members of Meat the Victims installed hidden cameras around the Excelsior property. Then, on April 28, 2019, a group of approximately 200 members of Meat the Victims gathered to protest the farm and approximately 50 people entered a pig barn on the farm’s property. While inside the barn, members of Meat the Victims took video footage.
The police were called and several protesters were arrested at the farm.
Soranno and Schafer as well as Roy Sasano, and Geoff Regier were initially charged with 21 offences following the event and named themselves the “Excelsior 4,” as the four were involved in the organization and execution of the protest.
Charges against Regier were later stayed and Sasano was acquitted.
The judge and jury trial began in June 2022 in Abbotsford. Soranno and Schafer were found guilty of one charge each of break and enter and were sentenced to 30 days in custody and one year of probation. The charges of mischief were stayed at sentencing.
Issue 1: Barred evidence
The appeal states that during the trial the defence, representing Soranno and Schafer, was not permitted to present evidence or ask questions that suggested the pigs at Excelsior Farms were subject to “ill-treatment.” The video footage that was obtained by the secret camera and during the protest was not permitted to be played for the jury.
The application states that the reason Soranno and Schafer were involved in capturing the video recordings and organizing the protest was to expose the “poor treatment” of the pigs at the farm. The appeal is disputing the judge’s decision to bar the defence from addressing the alleged mistreatment of the animals during the trial.
In a pre-trial decision, the trial judge ruled that the treatment of animals at Excelsior Farms was irrelevant to the case. However, the appeal states all evidence relating to the treatment of the animals by Excelsior Farms ought to have been permitted as evidence as it provides context for the motivation that Meat the Victims had for their actions.
Illegally obtained evidence excluded
The judge also barred all video footage taken from hidden cameras and from protesters while inside the barn as it was obtained illegally. However, the appeal states that the illegal nature of obtained evidence has never before been regarded as a reason to exclude probative defence evidence.
Pigs as property
The appeal says that the judge used the term “property” when referring to the pigs on the farm. The appeal alleges that animals ought to be considered differently from inanimate property.
The appeal disagrees with the judge’s interpretation of the law and references the British Columbia Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act72 which states that people must not cause or permit an animal to be in distress.
Issue 2: Biosecurity risk
The appeal alleges that the judge erred in instructing the jury to consider the biosecurity risks that the protesters posed to the pigs when no evidence was given. The appeal states that there was no evidence given that biosecurity risks from Meat the Victims impacted the farm or the animals. Further, it states that the issue of biosecurity had no bearing on the charges of break and enter and mischief that Soranno and Schafer were facing.
Request for new trial
The appellants request that the appeals be allowed, the convictions of break and enter be set aside, and a new be trial ordered.
In 2019, the BC SPCA investigated the allegations of animal cruelty at the Excelsior Hog Farm, but no charges resulted. However, another investigation into the farm is expected to begin after new footage was sent to the BC SPCA in November 2023.