Dozens gathered outside an Abbotsford veterinary clinic on Saturday, Nov. 13, demanding further regulatory action against the vet and owner of a dairy farm under investigation by the BC SPCA for animal cruelty.
The organizers are further calling for video-monitoring devices to be installed on all commercial farms, arguing the industry is incapable of treating animals humanely.
“This is more of the same old, same old. This is the industry continuing to regulate itself. This is the fox guarding the henhouse,” said Geoff Regier, organizer and animal-rights activist.
The protest at Abbotsford Veterinary Clinic is a response to the release of disturbing footage of farm employees violently abusing cows, allegedly at Cedar Valley Farms, which is co-owned by Dr. Rich Vanderwal.
Regier says Vanderwal has a history of condoning animal abuse at Fraser Valley farms, and the BC College of Veterinarians needs to revoke his licence.
“All vets and Dr. Vanderwal take an oath … He has repeatedly violated his oath,” said Geoff Regier. “This man needs to be held accountable for his blatant disregard of animal welfare.”
He said the positive perception of dog-and-cat veterinarians allow animal-agriculture vets to operate without question in an industry driven by profit and exploitation.
Vanderwal was the active veternarian at Chilliwack Cattle Sales in 2014 when similar footage of abuse led to six men being charged with animal cruelty and the owners being hit with a $300,000 fine.
One of the men was hired by Vanderwal afterwards, and was documented abusing animals again in 2019, according to Regier.
He was also an animal welfare consultant for the Abbotsford Police Department amid animal-abuse protests at Excelsior Hog Farm in 2019, and told police that welfare conditions were being met.
Regier is one of four activists charged with 21 counts of break and enter and criminal mischief in relation to the hog-farm protests.
Cesar Alonso, a former employee of Cedar Valley Farms, said he was fired after he repeatedly tried to report animal abuse to the owners. He has filed a wrongful termination suit.
He said it was his first job in Canada after immigrating from Mexico, and he was shocked to see baby male calves being killed right in front of their mothers, botched killings of adult cows with 22-caliber bullets, beatings and other numerous incidents of brutality.
“Right at the beginning, I started thinking, ‘Is this normal?’ Because I’d never worked in this industry,” Alonso said. “It was unacceptable for me.”
After two years he became a supervisor, and said he immediately started reporting the abuse to owners, who did nothing.
Alonso said he was fired without reason shortly after reporting an employee for beating a cow so badly he thought it was going to be killed.
“Part of my job is to supervise workers … I always called attention, always reported to the owners. Always, always,” he said. “Nothing happens … They don’t care about the animals.”
BC SPCA announced its investigation into Vanderwal’s farm on Oct. 28, after they received some 300 video clips reportedly taken secretly at Cedar Valley Farms.
The BC Milk Marketing Board immediately suspended the dairy licence after an inspection was conducted following BC SPCA’s announcement.
They reinstated the licence on Nov. 12 with mandatory conditions, such as unannounced monthly visits and an independent third-party consultant.
Regier said he was “furious” by the BC Milk Marketing Board’s decision, calling it premature considering the ongoing investigation, but added he wasn’t surprised.
“They’re called the milk marketing board, they have a clear conflict of interest. Their purpose is to promote milk, it’s not to care for animals,” Regier said.
He’s skeptical the board’s mandatory conditions will have any effect, and said it’s against their interests to draw attention to abuse in the industry.
Investigations into commercial farms only account for only a small percentage of BC SPCA’s animal-cruelty investigations, despite farm animals accounting for the vast majority of domestic animals in B.C., Regier said.
“It’s backwards,” he said.
He provided briefing notes from a 2021 meeting between Minister of Agriculture Lana Popham and the BC SPCA, attained through an FOI request. Out of aproximately 8,500 animal cruelty investigations BC SPCA conducts annually, only 10 to 20 relate to enforcement on commercial farms.
Cedar Valley Farms provided a written statement to The Abbotsford News on Tuesday (Nov. 9), saying they are saddened by the recent events and are working with the agencies involved “to get clarity on the facts of the case.”
“Staff on our farms are our responsibility for continuous training and oversight, and if we discover that animals are not treated with dignity and care in all stages of their life, it is on us to correct these wrongs,” they said.