B.C. Crown prosecutors will not file charges against three animal rights activists who obstructed the entrance of a banquet hall at a Vancouver hotel during an annual BC SPCA fundraising gala.
The incident occurred Oct. 21, 2023, at the JQ Marriott Parq Hotel, when three individuals blocked the entrance to the event holding images of alleged animal cruelty captured at the Excelsior Hog Farm in Abbotsford, B.C.
“The prosecutor reviewed the file materials and concluded that the charge assessment standard was not met,” wrote a spokesperson for the BC Prosecution Service.
“In these circumstances, not laying charges is the appropriate course of action.”
The protest was also meant to support of the so-called Excelsior 4 activists, who were arrested in 2019 for trying to expose alleged cruelty at the Abbotsford farm. Two of those activists were later sentenced to 30 days in jail after a court convicted them on charges of criminal break and enter and mischief.
Meanwhile, Animal Justice submitted a complaint to the BC SPCA with video evidence claiming to show cases of animal cruelty at the farm.
But a BC SPCA investigation later found no violations after it visited the farm. And Crown counsel later recommended not to pursue charges related to the video because it was deemed to have been obtained illegally and would not be admissible in court, said Marcie Moriarty, chief of protection and outreach services for the BC SPCA.
“BC SPCA STEP DOWN!" read one poster held at the gala entrance.
“JUSTICE FOR HER," read another showing a bloody pig behind bars.
The activists' presence at the gala blocked hundreds of attendees from entering the banquet hall and was meant to paint the SPCA as an organization that fails to properly oversee the welfare of farm animals. It comes amid a national debate over how best to audit farms to ensure no abuse is occurring, while maintaining biosecurity.
At the time of the protests, BC SPCA spokesperson Kaila Butler told Glacier Media that the small number of protesters at the fundraiser remained “respectful and peaceful” but repeatedly declined requests to leave. That prompted the group to call in security teams.
“The fundraiser was able to continue successfully despite minor delays to the programming,” said Butler.
Butler said the BC SPCA remains committed to doing everything it can, "under the limitations of the law, to advocate for the advancement of animal welfare across the province and throughout Canada, including in the farmed animal space.”
Renewed claims of abuse spark new investigation
In November, renewed allegations against the Abbotsford farm appeared after Animal Justice released a heavily edited six-minute clip of alleged abuse leaked from the farm.
“It contains some very disturbing images,” said Moriarty. “And on the face of that video, it appears to depict violations of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, potentially the Criminal Code.”
“And without a doubt, it shows practices that are clearly not in accordance with industry-endorsed national farm animal codes of practice.”
At an October 2023 meeting of the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food, one of the farm's owners, Ray Binnendyk, defended the farm from past allegations. He called the accusations “false” and that the “perception that people have about us has all been spread by lies and stuff that are not true.”
The owners of the farm did not answer Glacier Media's calls after the latest claims surfaced, and a family member hung up on a reporter when he asked for a response to the allegations.
Once in possession of the full raw video, Moriarty said the BC SPCA would launch an investigation that would likely pursue two things: have breaches of animal welfare standards occurred and is it occurring now.
She declined to speculate on whether the latest video could be treated as evidence in court.
“We'll do a full investigation and put it before Crown counsel,” she said.
With files from Jeremy Hainsworth