by Alex Binder / Unicorn Riot
This coming Wednesday morning, the two Excelsior 4 animal rights activists who were found guilty of two counts on July 9, 2022, will be sentenced. The Crown is seeking 90 days in jail for both Amy Soranno and Nick Schafer, but BC Supreme Court Justice Frits Verhoeven has the final say.
The two-week trial stemmed from an April 2019 non-violent direct action organized by vegan activist group Meat The Victims, which intended to shed light on the treatment of the pigs and piglets inside the Excelsior Hog Farm in Abbotsford. During the farm action, dozens of activists split off from the 200-person rally and went inside a farm building where they witnessed pigs laying on the ground unable to get up because of injuries, and “row upon row of pregnant pigs crammed inside metal crates the size of their own bodies, unable to even turn around or move for months on end.”
Over a year later, in addition to Soranno and Schafer, two others were also facing multiple charges: Geoff Regier and Roy Sasano, leading to the ‘Excelsior 4’ namesake. However, during the pretrial hearings in March and April 2022 the Crown Counsel decided, without explanation, to drop the charges against Regier. So, only Sasano, Soranno, and Schafer went to trial.
On July 9, Sasano was acquitted, and Soranno and Schafer were found guilty of two felonies each—one for break and enter to commit mischief, and one for mischief.
Unicorn Riot spoke with Soranno and Schafer about the outcome of the trial and the upcoming sentencing decision. Since the verdict on July 9, Soranno said her life hasn’t changed much other than her “growing disillusion at the state of this world.”
“Despite being in legal chaos for the past 3 years and recently being convicted, I’m still struggling to grasp or, rather, accept how all these systems—including our jury—have sided with those who were caught violently and criminally abusing animals, rather than those who exposed that abuse.”
Soranno highlighted a member of the jury who on July 9 came to court wearing a shirt that read, “Make Canada Great Again,” a far-right slogan inspired by former president Donald Trump’s ‘Make America Great Again’ (MAGA) movement.
That shirt incident is a small example, however, of the many instances in their trial “that were very unfair in the way of justice,” according to Schafer.
He and Soranno brought up how the judge prevented them from using the defense they wanted to use. Schafer said that the judge didn’t allow them “to talk about the animals in any fashion, when the animals were the center of this case.”
During the first week of the trial on June 29, Justice Verhoeven ruled that the defense was barred from arguing that Excelsior had engaged in unlawful animal abuse. Justice Verhoeven also forbid them from showing the jury any video footage of animal cruelty at Excelsior.
Even at the sentencing hearing on August 26, the judge interrupted Soranno as she was reading her statement because she began describing what she witnessed at the Excelsior Hog Farm in 2019.
Leo Salloum, Soranno’s lawyer, told us that he was very surprised by the judge’s rulings around evidence of the animals, their welfare and treatment.
He explained that one of the other defense lawyers was trying to put a particular video in front of the jury to show how the animals were treated on the farm, and to contradict what the Crown’s witnesses were testifying to: “A standard thing that people do in trials in order to show that the witness isn’t being truthful, is we ask them a question and then when they tell a lie about it, we bring the evidence that contradicts them, we hold it up in front of them and we say, ‘Look at this, you’re clearly lying. This jury can’t trust you.’”
According to Salloum, one of the farmers was allowed to answer a multitude of questions about how he treats the animals, but was not allowed to be confronted with evidence showing the contrary. Salloum said he found it “very troubling.”
“On this one question of whether the mischief was proven, the fact that we weren’t able to fully confront the person who was asserting all sorts of things about how this protest day went down, that’s problematic.”
In addition to the constraint on the defense’s evidence, the judge also didn’t agree with the defense that the Abbotsford Police Department violated the scopes of their search warrants on Soranno’s phone. According to Salloum, Justice Verhoeven found that there was “a limited privacy interest in the contents of this phone” and didn’t think there was “need for the court to distance itself from the actions taken by the police.”
Soranno also pointed out the disappearance of “key video evidence” at the hands of the police as yet another blow to their defense.
On March 22, 2019, Constable Taylor “seized a bag of SD cards from the PR of Excelsior Hog Farm” from hidden cameras an Excelsior worker found on the property, and handed it over to Operational Support Officer (OSO) Wilding back at the police department headquarters. The following day, a sergeant asked Constable Taylor to review the footage on the SD cards, however when she went to the property lockers, they were not there and could not be located.
Schafer said he’s been “OK” since the verdict: “I’ve pretty much been at peace with the fact that we might end up seeing jail time. I’ve pretty much been at peace with that fact for a long time. We know what we did in our hearts was right and I don’t think that we can be punished for something that we did, that we know was right.”
He added that if he and Soranno end up seeing jail time, that he hopes “it lights a fire under a lot more activists’ asses to get up and really stand up for what we believe in.”
As for appealing the possible 90-day sentence, Soranno told us that her and Schafer will be appealing no matter what their sentences are. “Ultimately, we weren’t given anywhere near a fair trial, which not only impacts us, but sets a precedent for future activist cases, animal rights and otherwise,” Soranno explained.
Schafer added, “We don’t want this case to set a precedent where future cases can look back on it and say, ‘Yeah, well the judge didn’t want them to show animal cruelty footage, so I’m not gonna show animal cruelty footage.’”
They both said that if the British Columbia Court of Appeals disagrees, then they plan to take it to the Supreme Court of Canada.
Amy and Nick continuously assert that no matter what happens to them once they’re sentenced, it will pale in comparison to what the pigs endure at farms like Excelsior Hog Farm.
“At the end of the day, Amy and I are both gonna walk out of jail with our throats intact and our lives still intact, and we’re still gonna be here walking around, and those animals in Excelsior that day [on April 28, 2019] have all been killed. Every mother, sow, that was in Excelsior that day has been killed, and they don’t have the freedom that we do.”