The three people on trial in relation to an April 2019 protest at an Abbotsford hog farm entered the property in February and March of that year and installed “covert surveillance cameras,” the Crown alleged Monday (June 27).
Crown counsel Scott Quendack said, in his opening statements on the first day of the trial in Abbotsford, that digital devices were seized from two of the accused following their arrest at the protest on April 28, 2019.
“An analysis of those devices revealed images of some people inside what appeared to be hog barns dating back to February and March,” he said.
Quendack said the Crown believes the trio installed cameras to capture possible abuse of the animals and were motivated by “their ideology, which is opposed to the farming of animals for their meat.”
Roy Sasano, Amy Soranno and Nick Schafer face a total of 14 charges of break-and-enter and mischief at Excelsior Hog Farm on Harris Road on Feb. 9/10, March 5 and April 28, 2019.
They initially faced 21 charges, but those have since been reduced. As well, a fourth accused – Geoff Regier – recently had all his charged stayed.
The group have been referring to themselves as the “Excelsior 4.”
They were charged in July 2020 after dozens of activists stormed the hog farm. Less than a month earlier, PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) released hidden-camera footage which it said showed horrific conditions of the animals at the farm.
Quendack alleged that Soranno used a cellphone to record herself, Sasano and Schafer as they entered a barn on the hog farm in February and March.
As well, after the trio’s devices were seized by police, relevant text messages were found dating back to March, Quendack said.
He said members of the Binnendyk family, who own and operate the farm, discovered small surveillance cameras in one of their barns in March 2019 and turned them over to police.
Quendack said the three accused were among the protesters who entered the farm on April 28, 2019 and refused to leave.
Police were called, and the protesters said they would only leave if members of the media were allowed to tour the farm and record the conditions of the animals. Quendack said many of them recorded these activities on their cellphones.
After the media tour took place, the protesters in the barn were all arrested, and cellphones and cameras were seized.
Quendack said he expects to call 10 to 12 witnesses during the trial, which is slated to run until July 21.
These include police officers, members of the Binnendyk family and a veterinarian who checked the animals on the day of the protest.
The first witness to testify Monday morning was Abbotsford Police Const. Shane Wiens. He said he was dispatched to the farm on the day of the protest, and found about 50 people in one of the barns who refused to leave.
He said the protesters also included many who were lining Harris Road. They were wearing white coveralls and black T-shirts that said “Meat the Victims” – a group which on its website describes itself as “willing to disobey unjust laws to abolish animal exploitation.”
Wiens said many of them were shooting video or taking pictures, and some were live-streaming the activities.
Const. Paul Walker also testified, saying that when officers asked the protesters to leave the barn, he heard a female voice telling everyone to sit down. The protesters did so, and Walker said additional officers were then called in.
Many supporters of the accused were on hand Monday, but courtroom entry was limited to under 30 people, and the remainder waited in front of the courthouse.
Several people were wearing Meat the Victims T-shirts, but they were instructed to turn them inside-out in the courtroom to prevent influencing the jury.