Twenty counts of animal cruelty have been laid under British Columbia law in connection with an undercover video released in June 2014 that showed dairy workers punching, kicking and beating dairy cows.
The video, taken at Chilliwack Cattle Sales Ltd., which is the largest dairy operation in Canada with 3,500 cows, shocked the public and caused ripples throughout the dairy industry.
Seven former employees have been charged under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, and several face more than one charge for their role in mechanically lifting one cow using a chain around its neck.
As well, the owners of Chilliwack Cattle Sales, five members of the Kooyman family, have been charged under the act with causing or permitting animals to be in distress.
It is the first time in B.C. that owners have been charged in such a case.
The owners were not immediately available for comment.
The SPCA investigated the farm after an undercover video shot by a member of the Mercy for Animals group was released.
“We are extremely pleased that in addition to laying charges against the individual employees, crown has also held the company and its directors accountable for this unacceptable treatment of the animals,” B.C. SPCA chief prevention officer Marcie Moriarty said in a statement.
The SPCA recommended that charges be laid after its investigation in 2014, but it took 20 months for that to happen.
“It did take a much lengthier time than one would have expected,” said Anna Pippus, director of farmed animal advocacy for Animal Justice.
“The delay was unusual, but it is a relief to finally see charges come down and to see the wheels of justice in motion.”
Pippus was director of legal advocacy for Mercy For Animals when the video was shot and released. She said she was pleased the owners of the dairy operation were also charged.
“It’s really important that owners be held accountable for what’s taking place in their operations,” she said.
“All owners should have adequate training and supervision of their staff when animals are concerned. The animals are too vulnerable and the work is too sensitive to leave it in the hands of untrained and unskilled and irresponsible employees.”
Trevor Hargreaves, director of producer relations with the B.C. Dairy Association, said he was involved in the SPCA investigation from its beginning and was relieved that resolution of the matter is pending.
“It was such a dark time for the industry, and I think everybody wanted to really take a series of firm steps to move forward,” he said.
“I can really echo first hand the level of concern and upset that took place within this industry and just how concerned dairy farmers in British Columbia were about it, that it happened in their province and how contrary it is from acceptable practices and the way that a dairy farmer runs their operation.”
Hargreaves said the owners of Chilliwack Cattle Sales have changed aspects of their operation since the undercover video was taken.
“The farm has been very closely monitored in the aftermath,” he said.
“I know that they’ve put in a lot of different management protocols and some of their practices are a little bit different in terms of regulating all of their employees and just making sure from an operational perspective all their employees are very well trained and know exactly what they can and cannot do. I think they’re running a much tighter ship.”
The national code of practice for the care and handling of dairy cattle was referenced in B.C.’s Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act last summer. Hargreaves said that will streamline the legal system’s ability to prosecute those who abuse animals.
Pippus said she views that move as a way for people to defend against allegations of animal abuse. She wanted to see charges laid under Canada’s criminal code.
Pippus also said dairy farms should be subject to unannounced third party inspections to ensure compliance with the code of practice and its animal welfare components.
Hargreaves said the B.C. Milk Marketing Board has made compliance with the code of practice mandatory for dairies in the province and instituted a system of random inspections to ensure it is being followed.
As well, the B.C. Dairy Association has a memorandum of understanding with the B.C. SPCA to take a joint approach to animal care complaints.
If convicted, those charged in the abuse case face maximum fines of $75,000 and up to two years in jail.
Sixteen of the 20 charge related to dairy cow abuse and four involved the treatment of a pigeon. The latter charges were filed under the B.C. Wildlife Act.