Kelowna animal rights activist among 3 faced with jury trial starting Monday in Abbotsford

Activist getting day in court

A four-week jury trial looms for an Okanagan animal rights activist, who is among three charged for the occupation of a Fraser Valley hog farm in 2019.

Kelowna resident Amy Soranno, known locally for leading protests against Ribfest and factory farms, will face trial Monday in Abbotsford alongside two co-accused.

Soranno, Roy Sasano and Nick Schafer face a combined 14 charges for break and enter and mischief in connection to an April 2019 occupation of Excelsior Hog Farm in Abbotsford. The Crown is also alleging similar offences in February and March 2019 at the farm.

The activists claim they occupied Excelsior Hog Farms in an attempt to expose the poor treatment of livestock. Prior to the occupation, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) released a hidden-camera video, allegedly filmed at the farm, showing sickly pigs in cramped conditions.

The SPCA, however, was unable to verify the video and did not proceed with charges against the farm.

A fourth man, Geoff Regier, was also previously charged on the same indictment but those charges were dropped last month. The Crown dropped additional counts against the remaining three accused on Thursday, but are ready to proceed on some counts.

The defendants have been referring to the case as the “Excelsior 4” and say they will be using the trial to bring attention to the horrors of factory farming and shortcomings of the BCSPCA’s animal cruelty investigations. The BCSPCA, as a private charity, is in the unique position of being the province's sole organization that investigates animal cruelty.

In an email to Castanet, Soranno says it feels “bittersweet” to get their day in court.

“The animals will never get this opportunity, however, our case will reveal malfeasance by the Abbotsford police and the BC SPCA, and show how the system is biased against animals and activists,” she said.

“While we face serious charges for revealing animal abuse, facilities like Excelsior Hog Farm are allowed to carry on with business without any punishment, even when caught committing brutal and criminal animal cruelty.”

She said they hope their case encourages people to stop supporting factory farming and adopt a plant-based diet. “During trial, the inner workings of animal agriculture, and the systems that aid in concealing animal suffering, will be brought in front of a jury and media.”

Soranno says the defendants have experienced an “incredible” outpouring of support over the past three years. Nearly $80,000 has been fundraised for their defence.

“Our lawyers have also been preparing for this moment, which comes at a steep cost. We are grateful that the team of lawyers are charging a discounted rate, but our bill will still end up in the six digits,” she said, adding that cost “is nothing compared to what farmed animals endure.”

Soranno is also facing prosecution in Ontario after being pre-emptively arrested last year in advance of an action at a turkey farm.

“The fact that we face charges for simply aiming to reveal what happens to animals inside farms, demonstrates how secretive the animal agriculture industry is—they know transparency will lead to consumers choosing plant-based options instead,” she said.

“The cases in BC and Ontario show that the police and industry are working diligently together to criminalize animal rights activists and hide systemic animal cruelty.”

The "Excelsior 4” trial opens Monday morning at 10 a.m.

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