Abuse of cattle nets jail timefor B.C. dairy workers

Three men who pleaded guilty to 18 counts of abusing cattle at a British Columbia dairy farm in 2014 are going to jail.

Jamie Visser and Chris Vandyke were each sentenced to 60 days in jail and prohibited from owning animals for three years. Travis Keefer will serve seven days and is prohibited from owning animals for one year.

The sentences were handed down in a Chilliwack courtroom on May 18.

The charges under the provincial Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act stemmed from an undercover video shot at Chilliwack Cattle Sales, the largest dairy in Canada with some 2,800 cows.

A member of Mercy for Animals, an animal welfare group, shot the video footage, which showed the three men and four others beating dairy cattle with chains and canes, as well as punching and kicking them amid laughter and cheers.

One cow was also lifted with a tractor while hanging by a chain around its neck.

The video and subsequent charges caused outrage among the public, animal welfare groups and in the dairy community.

Dairy groups condemned the actions of the employees and last year Chilliwack Cattle Sales owner Kenneth Kooyman pleaded guilty to three charges on behalf of the company and was fined $300,000.

Wesley Kooyman, another owner, pleaded guilty to one charge and was also fined.

Four other dairy employees, Brad Genereux, Cody Larson, Jonathan Talbot and Lloyd Blackwell, were also charged in the matter and their trial was scheduled to begin May 19.

Mercy for Animals said it is the first time farm workers have been jailed for animal cruelty as a result of hidden camera footage and as such, it is a landmark.

“Animal abuse runs rampant in Canadian factory farms and the dairy industry is no exception,” said Mercy For Animals vice-president Krista Hiddema.

“This isn’t a case of bad apples, but a rotten tree.”

She encouraged Canadian lawmakers to give the national dairy code of practice the force of law in all provinces.

Marcie Moriarty, chief prevention and enforcement officer for the B.C. Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, said May 18 that the jail sentences are important.

“I think it does send a strong message that this type of activity is not acceptable and it’s not supported in industry either,” she said.

“I don’t think you can really put a number of what number of days, for example, in jail would satisfy anybody in this type of case.”

Moriarty said the matter marked the first time in Canada that a company pleaded guilty to charges relating to the actions of its employees. It also prompted the provincial government to incorporate the dairy code of practice into the B.C. Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act. The code lists requirements for proper care and handling of dairy cattle.

“I like to look at this case as a whole and I think when you look at what transpired as a result of … pretty tragic video footage, (it) was pretty incredible in that we’ve seen lasting legislative change that was supported by the government, industry and animal welfare groups that will hopefully prevent this type of situation from happening again,” Moriarty said.

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