Animal rights protesters from Kelowna get jail for hog farm 'occupation' | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Animal rights protesters from Kelowna get jail for hog farm 'occupation'

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Two animal rights activists who, along with around 200 other people broke into an Abbotsford pig farm as part of a political protest, have been sentenced to 30 days jail.

According to an Oct. 12 B.C. Supreme Court decision, Justice Frits Verhoeven said it was "inaccurate" to refer to the event as "merely a protest" because Amy Elysia Soranno and Nicholas Steven George Schafer, both from Kelowna, "orchestrated (the) mass invasion and occupation of (a) private farm."

The decision says in April 2019 Soranno and Schafer carried out a very large-scale break-and-enter of the Excelsior Hog Farm in Abbotsford.

The couple recruited and organized roughly 200 people to take part in the protest at the farm that houses anywhere from 13,000 to 15,000 pigs.

"The organizers hoped for as much media attention as possible for the event itself. They also planned to force the farmers to allow television news journalists with television cameras into the farm facilities, in order to view, record and publicly broadcast the farm’s operations and practices," the Justice said. "Their plans were successfully achieved."

The decision says around 50 protesters entered the barn, along with Soranno and Schafer while the remaining 150 stayed outside.

When the police arrived they realized they didn't have the resources to forcibly remove the protesters.

Soranno began negotiating with police and demanded that the television news media, who were stationed outside, be permitted a tour of the facility.

The three brothers that own the farm, Calvin, Jeff, and Raymond Binnendyk agreed to the media tour.

"Their agreement was made under duress, in circumstances of practical compulsion," the Justice said.

Following the media tour the police began arresting the protesters.

It's not the first time the couple has been involved in high-profile protests.

Soranno, 29, and Schafer, 36, made headlines in 2019 when they chained themselves along with other activists to the Kelowna branch of Interior Savings over the financial institution's support for Kelowna's Ribfest.

In the Abbotsford farm case, Soranno and Schafer argued they should receive a conditional discharge – meaning they would not have a criminal record.

"They believe that raising animals for meat is morally wrong, is cruel and unnecessary, and harmful to the environment. They also believe that standard industry practices involved in what they describe as factory farming of animals for meat are cruel and constitute animal abuse," the decision reads. "They believe that if the public were made better aware of industry practices, the public would agree. They would like to see a world in which animals were not raised for meat production."

The couple argued they were peaceful, respectful, non-violent protest activities.

The Crown argued the sentence needed to specifically deter the couple from engaging in future offences and they should receive 90 days jail.

Justice Verhoeven highlighted that the couple was among a small group of key planners and organizers.

"The offenders deliberately organized a mass invasion and occupation of private property, lasting several hours, in order to illegally achieve their political ends. There was a risk of violence which, thankfully, did not occur," the Justice said. "The offenders are not youthful. They are intelligent, well-educated adults who fully understood what they were doing, and that it was illegal. They felt justified in breaking the law for what they saw as higher purposes."

The Justice said the couple's moral responsibility was at the highest end.

"His kind of behaviour must be denounced and deterred in the most emphatic of terms," the Justice said. "The sentence must send a message that deters others. Lesser punishment such as a fine, or suspended sentence, or probation alone, would not be fit, and would not serve the needs."

The justice said he would have given them both 60 days jail, but because of Soranno's "precarious" health issues, he settled on 30 days in prison.

The Justice also said the sentence could be served intermittently, likely meaning just at weekends or a couple of days at a time.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Ben Bulmer or call (250) 309-5230 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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