Three parties appeared in Chilliwack provincial court this week to hear charges laid following a 2017 investigation into the abuse of chickens at farms in the Fraser Valley.
Elite Farm Services Ltd., its president Dwayne Dueck, and processor Sofina Foods Inc. are charged with 38 counts of abusing animals. The charges were brought forward by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency after an investigation sparked by undercover footage staff with the animal rights group Mercy for Animals filmed as part of an Elite chicken catching crew. The footage caught crew members subjecting broiler chickens at various Abbotsford farms to mistreatment ranging from sexual assault to dismemberment prior to delivery to Sofina.
Elite responded promptly, terminating four staff that participated in the abuse (two others were no longer with the company) and updating employee training protocols and tightening supervision of crews.
“Elite has worked hard to make sure we have a company culture that is based on respect for the animals under our stewardship,” it said in a statement after when the charges were announced last week.
The industry has also updated its protocols. BC Chicken Marketing Board implemented a new audit for chicken catching in fall 2017 and, as of January 1, 2018, began licensing catching companies and contractors. Unlicensed catching is no longer allowed.
Marcie Moriarty, chief prevention and enforcement officer with the BC SPCA, initially expected Crown counsel to lay charges against six individuals. Other investigations have usually led to the employees directly engaged in the abuse being charged.
However, the subsequent investigation led to Dueck being the sole individual charged in this case.
“CFIA determines who responsible parties may be during an animal welfare investigation,” the federal agency told Country Life in BC. “We are not able to provide further comment regarding how charges are determined in this case as the matter is currently before the courts.”
The charges could draw hefty fines. When the Kooyman brothers of Chilliwack Cattle Sales Ltd. plead guilty and were sentenced on four counts of abuse following a Mercy for Animals sting operation, the fines totalled $345,000 – the maximum fine of $75,000 for each count, plus a victim surcharge of $11,250. Restrictions were also placed on the men.