By Tim Petruk,Kamloops This Week
The owner of a Salmon Arm meat-packing plant facing federal charges for allegedly obstructing an inspector five years ago did nothing to contravene Canada’s Meat Inspection Act, a judge has been told.
David De Boer and Inland Packers Ltd. are facing seven charges stemming from an alleged series of incidents nearly six years ago. He was in Kamloops provincial court on Tuesday, Nov. 4, as lawyers made closing arguments in a trial that began more than a year ago.
Court has heard that, in January 2009, Ray Fletcher, a veterinarian working as an inspector at the Inland plant, took issue with four hog carcasses that were in the area of a clogged drain that was being cleaned out. Fletcher believed an offence had been committed — specifically, that a backed-up drain was cleaned out in the presence of the carcasses, presenting a potential contamination risk.
De Boer kicked Fletcher out of the plant, agreeing to stop work until further notice.
Fletcher “detained” the four carcasses, court heard, by placing special “held tags” on them, meaning they could not be processed until the tags were removed.
The next day, after Fletcher consulted a Canadian Food Inspection Agency swine expert, De Boer was informed the four carcasses placed in detention could be processed as long as their fore-quarters — the area most susceptible to contamination given their placement at the time the clogged drain was cleaned — were skinned and the skin disposed of.
Court heard some of the tags were removed as part of the skinning process. For that, Inland was charged with an additional count of removing an official tag applied by an inspector.
Meat from the hog carcasses was eventually processed and sent to retail market.
The Crown does not allege any contamination took place, but federal food-safety laws bar any cleaning products from being used in the presence of meat that could be contaminated. Multiple witnesses testified they saw no evidence of any water or cleaning products coming in contact with the four hogs in question, but one Inland employee said she did see water hit one of the carcasses.
Defence lawyer Glenn Verdumen said Fletcher was entirely unfamiliar with the Inland plant when he arrived on Jan. 14, 2009.
Verdumen said Fletcher entered the plant operations area, observed the hogs hanging in the area of the clogged drain and ordered them detained.
“He didn’t inspect and he didn’t have reasonable grounds,” Verdumen said. “I think the evidence shows he didn’t look into this matter at all. He’s a meat inspector who doesn’t inspect the meat. There was no common sense applied by Dr. Fletcher — no situational awareness.”
Crown prosecutor Digby Kier said Fletcher had enough information to order the hog carcasses detained.
“You only have to have reasonable grounds for suspicion of guilt,” Kier said.
A date for a decision has not been set. Inland has since ceased operations.