Defence counsel for an individual and two companies charged with animal cruelty at a Fraser Valley chicken catching operation told a court Monday they could not enter a plea to the charges because they do not have all the video evidence documenting the alleged abuse.
Facing 38 charges are Elite Farm Services Ltd., the company’s owner Dwayne Paul Dueck, and Sofina Foods Inc./Aliments Sofina Inc., Markham, Ont.
Clips from the video package shot at an Elite Farm Services operation in Chilliwack by animal protection group Mercy For Animals (MFA) showed chickens being kicked, stomped on, thrown at walls, sexually abused and having their limbs torn off.
Crown called the abuse “egregious” and referred to the individual who filmed the acts as a “whistleblower.”
Defence counsel, however, referred to him as a “foreign operative” with political motivations.
“That videotape certainly doesn’t tell the whole story,” Sofina lawyer Morgan Camley told the court on May 13. “The other hours of videotape that we suggest exist are fundamentally important to my client to be in a position to determine whether or not they can be guilty or not guilty.”
Camley pointed specifically to concerns over possible “inducements,” in other words, the possibility that those seen abusing the chickens in the video clips were in some way convinced to act in a way they would may not have if the MFA agent wasn’t present.
Defence counsel for Dueck and Elite similarly argued the disclosure by Crown has been incomplete.
“We are not yet at a point where we can advise our clients,” lawyer Martin Finch said, adding that maybe a jury trial was in order, but he did not have enough of the Crown’s evidence to properly make that decision.
In response, Crown counsel Jessica Lawn said defence counsel has in fact been provided all that is legally necessary, and in some instances even more.
”The idea that there is other footage, I’m not sure where my friends got this idea from,” Lawn told Judge Andrea Ormiston.
“I can’t see how this can’t move forward with arraignment.”
The charges stem from undercover videos filmed by animal protection group Mercy For Animals in 2017. That video was obtained by an individual with MFA who got himself employed by Elite as a chicken catcher, then filmed actions seen in and around the barns with the use of a body camera.
“This case involves a foreign operative entering into a surreptitious employment with my friend’s client and videotaping events that happened on a farm then providing that videotape to the CFIA where an investigation was opened up and charges were laid,” Sofina lawyer Camley explained to the court.
Another complaint by defence counsel is that the main evidence is video filmed by an undercover agent, footage that could not have been legally obtained by Canadian investigative bodies.
Lawn said Crown has been in contact with Mercy For Animals and was told they think all the video was provided to CFIA, but defence counsel says there is no way of knowing if that is true.
“We asked Mercy For Animals,” Lawn said. “They reviewed their database and believe they provided it all.”
After the video evidence came to light, and the CFIA along with the BC SPCA investigated, the charges were laid under the Health of Animal Regulations.
Judge Ormiston agreed with defence arguments that it was too early for arraignment given the uncertainty over the video, and other disclosure requirements not being met.
The case was put over to May 27 at the earliest. At that time or after, Camley suggested she may bring a Stinchcombe Application, which addresses Crown disclosure, on behalf of her client Sofina Foods. Of some issue is that the charges came about solely based on Crown relying on the CFIA, which relied on the “quasi-investigative” actions of a foreign organization with political purposes.
What was agreed upon by all parties in court on May 13 is that however the case proceeds, unless there are guilty pleas, it will be a very long road ahead with 38 charges each against three accused parties.