The case of chicken catchers accused of abusing animals at Fraser Valley farms inched closer to trial this week as lawyers further debated legal issues surrounding the undercover video footage, an integral piece of evidence against the companies.
Elite Farm Services Ltd., the company’s owner Dwayne Paul Dueck, and Ontario-based Sofina Foods each face 38 counts under the Health of Animal Regulations in connection with the alleged abuse of birds at local farms in 2017.
The charges came to light after California-based animal rights group Mercy For Animals (MFA) secretly captured video of the “egregious” abuse, video filmed using a body camera by an MFA volunteer who got himself hired as a chicken catcher.
In court on June 6, defence declined to enter a plea on the charges claiming they need to see unedited video from the “vigilante” activist who filmed the alleged abuse.
“The reason we cannot tell our clients whether to have trial by jury or trial in provincial court or even Supreme, is there is a complete lack of certainty that we have received unblemished… video materials which have not been the subject of meddling or manipulation,” lawyer Martin Finch said back in June.
After that hearing, Judge Gary Cohen agreed Crown needed to provide defence with the make, model and software used by MFA in its undercover videos as an important element for the defence in electing trial by jury or by judge.
“If the videos are good, this becomes a fact-driven case,” Judge Cohen said. “If the videos are not good, then this could be a technical case.”
He put the case over to this week to give Crown time to come back with the information on the video equipment or at least a timeline as to when they could get it. On July 9, Crown counsel Jessica Lawn said her office had received the unedited video from MFA, and was told by the main witness that he used an iPhone and one of three models of camera.
As part of the disclosure, however, Lawn put a number of undertakings one the evidence, which in part included orders that defence could not make copies of the videos. Defence argued this put serious challenges to them as the Ontario-based corporation charged had several animal-welfare experts that would need to see the footage.
Defence counsel for Sofina, Morgan Camley, suggested what they received from Crown, via the MFA undercover operator, was “fairly vague.”
“Some was iPhone and possible three makes and models and some [HD] cards that he got at a local London Drugs,” Camley told the court.
Judge Cohen, however, told defence that their nuanced objections to how and when they received video disclosure was not enough to further delay the case as defence continues to do.
“That’s not a good enough reason not to arraign,” Cohen told Camley. “It might be good enough for later application and later objections, but it is not a good enough reasons to not arraign today.”
However, Cohen agreed that defence should be allowed time for their experts to examine the video that was only provided one or two days before the hearing this week.
Defence and Crown was hoping to have the case put over to Aug. 7, but Cohen suggested a date in late July was better. The case is now set for arraignment on July 29.