The final four men in the high-profile case of cattle abuse at a Chilliwack dairy farm were scheduled to go to trial Monday but now plan to plead guilty.
Lloyd Blackwell, Brad Genereux, Cody Larson and Jonathan Talbot faced a 12-day trial set to run May 29 to June 15 on a total of 13 counts.
The men were the last four of seven employees charged, in addition to the company and its owners, and the only ones who had pleaded not guilty to the charges that stemmed from undercover videos filmed by animal rights activist group Mercy for Animals.
The trial is now off, and Larson is set to plead guilty on June 8, with the other three set for pleas and submissions June 14 and 15. No day is set yet for sentencing.
On May 18, three other employees who pleaded guilty early were sentenced to jail time.
BC Supreme Court Justice Gary Cohen handed the least culpable of those defendants, Travis Keefer, to seven days jail and banned him from being in care or control of animals for one year. Chris Vandyke and Jamie Visser were sentenced to 60 days in jail and are banned from owning or handling animals for three years. Their sentences will be served intermittently on weekends to allow them to keep their jobs.
Immediately after the guilty pleas, Mercy for Animals Canada vice-president Krista Hiddema said Blackwell, Genereux, Talbot and Larson had engaged in “vicious acts of animal cruelty” and deserved to be punished to the full extent of the law.
“This case shows that Canadians will not turn a blind eye to the heartbreaking cruelty that runs rampant in factory farms,” Hiddema said Monday. “Although these animal abusers were held accountable for their actions, we need stronger laws and better industry oversight.
“We believe that jail time is an appropriate sentence given the heinous acts committed by the defendants. We’re hoping for similar sentencing to what we saw for Jamie Visser, Chris Vandyke and Travis Keefer.”
All along in this case, Mercy For Animals has called on all provinces to give the Dairy Code of Practice the force of law in provincial animal cruelty legislation.
The incidents that led to the charges date back to 2014 when undercover videos were filmed by an employee of Mercy For Animals who was hired by Chilliwack Cattle Sales (CCS) – Canada’s largest dairy farm – to work the night shift at the dairy.
The MFA footage that resulted during the period between April 30 and June 1, 2014 showed cows repeatedly hit by the men, punching, kicking, tail-twisting and otherwise attacking the cows, often accompanied by cheers and whoops of seeming enjoyment.
The first three defendants pleaded guilty to a total of 18 counts of animal cruelty under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (PCA) act and three counts of molesting a bird under the Wildlife Act (WLA).
Their lawyer blamed the company for hiring teenagers with no supervision, no company guidelines, all working in a culture of accepted violence.
“What we are dealing with here is the dark side of the agriculture industry to some extent,” Sicotte told the court at their sentencing hearing.
Back in December, CCS President Kenneth Kooyman pleaded guilty to three charges of animal cruelty on behalf of the farm itself and his brother Wesley, a CCS director, pleaded guilty to one charge personally. They were assessed fines totalling $300,000 in addition to $45,000 in victim fine surcharges.
Wesley was the only owner who attended the barns that house approximately 2,800 cows during the night shift, never intervening or stopping the abuse, according to Sicotte. The court heard that another brother, Brad, was in charge of human resources. He hired the young men, assigned shifts and “showed them the ropes.”