Chilliwack dairy farm workers jailed for animal abuse
Judge’s decision will ‘set the tone’ for similar cases in the future, defence lawyer says
CHILLIWACK — Three men convicted of abusing cattle at Canada’s largest dairy farm were handcuffed and led from court Thursday morning after a judge sentenced them to jail time in a “landmark” decision, according to animal rights activists.
In April, Travis Keefer, Jamie Visser and Chris Vandyke pleaded guilty to causing animals to be in distress and permitting animals to be in distress, in addition to molesting a pigeon, after they were discovered mistreating cattle in a secretly recorded video released by the non-profit group Mercy for Animals Canada.
The video, which was taken when the men were employees of Chilliwack Cattle Sales in the spring of 2014, showed dairy cows being whipped and beaten with chains and canes, as well as being punched and kicked.
Calling the violence “difficult to watch,” Judge Gary Cohen sentenced Keefer to seven days in jail, while Visser and Vandyke received 60 days, to be served on weekends so they can maintain employment. The men were also banned from owning animals — for one year in Keefer’s case, and three years for the other men.
Cohen said that while none of the men had a criminal record and no evidence was presented to suggest they caused physical injuries to the cattle, the examples of cruelty displayed in the video were “both numerous and significant,” while the violence was gratuitous. In particular, the judge pointed to two scenes, one in which employees placed a chain around a cow’s neck and then used a tractor to lift the animal, and another where they used a chain to whip a fallen cow.
Several supporters cried as the men were asked to stand to hear their sentences before being handcuffed and led away.
Outside court, defence lawyer Craig Sicotte said his clients were not happy about receiving jail time.
“The judge didn’t have any prior cases, really, to give him a lot of guidance on something like this, so he put a lot of thought into it, and he gave a sentence that obviously my three clients aren’t thrilled with — they had to go to jail,” he said. “At the end of the day, this will set the tone for a lot of sentences like this.”
Mercy for Animals Canada vice-president Krista Hiddema said the sentence was a “historic victory” for her group. She said the dairy industry should not be allowed to govern itself, and an outside party should be responsible for making sure the dairy code of practice is followed on farms.
Hiddema said the public should expect more Mercy for Animals investigations in the future.
In December, Chilliwack Cattle Sales was fined $300,000 after president Kenneth Kooyman pleaded guilty to three charges of animal cruelty on behalf of the farm itself and his brother Wesley, a company director, pleaded guilty to one charge personally. Four other former farm employees are also facing animal cruelty charges. They are expected in court on May 29.
Craig Sicotte is the defence lawyer for three men convicted of animal cruelty charges at a Chilliwack dairy farm.
Hidden camera footage of workers at a dairy farm in Chilliwack led to charges over mistreatment of cattle.