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B.C. animal rights activists make last pitch to avoid prison for mischief on Abbotsford hog farm

Animal rights activists Amy Soranno and Nick Schafer face a prison sentence for breaking into a hog farm and filming conditions they say amount to animal cruelty.
Animal rights activists Amy Soranno and Nick Schafer and, right, lawyer Peter Sankoff, outside B.C. Supreme Court on May 31, 2024 to contest a jail term for breaking and entering into an Abbotsford hog farm.

A three-judge panel at B.C. Court of Appeal heard Friday what amounts to the last legal argument for animal rights activists Amy Soranno and Nick Schafer to avoid prison.

Soranno and Schafer were convicted of breaking and entering and mischief in connection with July 2022 events where they filmed conditions at Excelsior Hog Farm in Abbotsford.

The pair appealed the conviction but were unsuccessful, last January. They then appealed their 30-day prison sentences, which Animal Justice deems the only known prison sentences in Canadian history for a “non-violent act of civil disobedience.”

The pair is seeking conditional discharges.

Soranno and Shafer met with about a dozen supporters ahead of their appeal hearing Friday, displaying a large banner of a confined pig outside the courthouse in downtown Vancouver.

“At our sentencing hearing I was cut off from giving my final statement and told by Justice [Frits] Verhoeven that it was not relevant. He denied me my right to speak before being sentenced and deprived the court of information that was in fact relevant,” said Soranno in her statement outside court.

“Justice Verhoeven also erred by deciding our beliefs and morals regarding animal rights didn’t pertain to our culpability, which is contrary to his decision to use our political views to send us to jail,” said Soranno, accompanied by defence lawyer Peter Sankoff.

Sankoff noted the pair did not believe they were committing a crime but were preventing one.

But Crown prosecutor Meagan Richards told the panel of judges the sentence ought to be maintained, saying “aggravating factors substantially outweigh the mitigating circumstances” and that “there is a pressing need for clear denunciation and general deterrence.”

“The sentence must send a message,” said Richards, who described Sorrano as unremorseful.

“They thought their moral agenda was superior to the rule of law,” stated Richards.

Sankoff presented the panel with options other than prison, such as probation and house arrest.

The panel reserved judgment following the submissions.

Camille Labchuk, lawyer and executive director of Animal Justice, stated Friday that jailing the pair for “an act of peaceful civil disobedience is not only unjust, but would set an alarming precedent.” 

Labchuck recently succeeded in striking down much of Ontario’s “ag-gag” law as unconstitutional.

Soranno and Schafer renewed their calls for the BC SPCA to be replaced, as it has failed to prosecute what they call clear acts of animal cruelty.

“It is an outrage that we face jail time while those responsible for such egregious cruelty walk free,” said Sorrano.

The pair also want CCTV cameras installed in all farm animal buildings to deter future acts of cruelty.

Ray Binnendyk, one of the brothers who owns Excelsior Hog Farm, defended the farm from past allegations when he testified last October at a session with the federal Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food, where members of Parliament discussed amendments to the act. 

Binnendyk told the committee “false accusations online had a significant emotional impact on our family” and that “the perception that people have about us has all been spread by lies and stuff that are not true.”

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With files from Jeremy Hainsworth/Glacier Media