Country Life in BC

February 2017

Chilliwack dairy fined for allowing “culture of abuse”

by Peter Mitham

CHILLIWACK – The first installments towards $345,000 in fines and surcharges levied in a headline-grabbing case of animal abuse on a Fraser Valley dairy farm were paid last month, with the dairy farmers at the case’s heart pledging to ensure the situation never repeats itself.

BC Provincial Court judge Robert Gunnell accepted the guilty pleas of Chilliwack Cattle Sales Ltd. president Ken Kooyman and his brother, Wesley, a company director directly responsible for the 2,800-head herd at the time workers were filmed abusing cattle by a member of the activist group Mercy for Animals in 2014.

In return, he sentenced the men to paying fines of $75,000 for each of the four counts with which they were charged – the maximum possible.

Wesley Kooyman was sentenced to pay $75,000, plus a victim surcharge of $11,250. Chilliwack Cattle Sales, in the person of Ken Kooyman, was fined a total of $225,000, plus a victim surcharge of $33,750.

In addition, Wesley Kooyman is prohibited from serving as a director or officer of Chilliwack Cattle Sales or caring for the farm’s cattle, save feeding them with supervision, for one year.

Gunnell told the court that he wanted to send a very clear message to the public that the abuse of animals was reprehensible and simply not acceptable.

The fines reinforced the “shame, embarrassment and public condemnation” the family had suffered since the matter became public, which he believed were sufficient to prevent a repeat of the situation.

“From what I have heard, I expect specific deterrence is not an issue here,” he said.

Not responsible

However, Gunnell acknowledged that the Kooymans were not actively responsible for the abuse.

It wasn’t because of what they did that the animals suffered but what they neglected to do – specifically, ensure proper training of employees and enforce the standards set out in the guide book developed for farm employees.

“This business did not properly train and supervise their employees,” Gunnell said. “They had no real system checks set up so that the safety of the animals was ensured and they failed to follow through on their own guide book that was available and that we know at least one employee was never given a copy of.”

The result, according to Crown counsel Jim MacAulay, was “a culture abuse” – one that the family has repeatedly denied knowing about since the first revelations of how workers were treating their animals.

Chilliwack Cattle Sales has since improved hiring and training procedures, noting in a statement that it’s hired a full-time human resource manager “to ensure a consistent and methodical approach to hiring, training, supervising and evaluating staff.”

All farm workers, both family and employees, now receive specialized training in handling dairy cattle.

Surveillance equipment was also installed to ensure that workers are supervised at all times. Video cameras can be checked remotely, even from a smartphone.

“In addition, we have set a goal to have a family member or senior manager monitor every shift to ensure employees are acting in accordance with industry codes of practice,” said Wesley Kooyman in a statement released to media following the sentencing.

“On behalf of the Kooyman family, I accept the judgment of the court and we vow to do everything we can to prevent anything like this from happening again,” he said.

More court appearances

December’s fines aren’t the end of the saga, however.

Seven employees charged with abusing the Kooymans’ animals – Brad Genereux, Travis Keefer, Cody Larson, Jonathan Talbot, Chris Vandyke, Jamie Visser and Lloyd Blackwell – will appear in court this spring.

Three of the men – Visser, VanDyke and Keefer – are expected to plead guilty in April. A 12-day trial for the remaining four will begin May 29 and tentatively wrap up June 15.