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Animal Activists Appeal Break-and-Enter, Mischief Convictions and 30-Day Jail Sentences for Exposing Animal Cruelty at Excelsior Hog Farm

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VANCOUVER, BC – An appeal was filed Wednesday with the BC Court of Appeal in the case of two animal activists convicted last July of break-and-enter and mischief for their role in exposing animal cruelty at Excelsior Hog Farm in Abbotsford, BC. Amy Soranno and Nick Schafer received a 30-day jail sentence in October, but both were granted bail pending their appeal.

Friday marked the fourth anniversary of the day Soranno, Schafer, and scores of others were arrested on April 28, 2019, following an occupation of Excelsior Hog Farm in a civil disobedience action organised by Meat the Victims. The Crown decided to only proceed against Soranno, Schafer, and fellow activists Roy Sasano and Geoff Regier, who together are known as the Excelsior 4. All four were charged with more than 20 indictable offences, but Regier’s charges were dropped after a pretrial hearing in May 2022, and Sasano was acquitted at trial.

In the appeal factum filed Wednesday, Soranno and Schafer argue that BC Supreme Court Justice Frits Verhoeven made errors in law by blocking them from showing the jury video evidence of animal cruelty at Excelsior, including footage the activists were accused of exposing. Furthermore, Justice Verhoeven prevented Soranno and Schafer from arguing that the hog farm had engaged in unlawful animal abuse, eliminating any possibility of arguing that Soranno and Schafer believed their actions to be lawful. According to the factum, Justice Verhoeven also incorrectly admitted prejudicial testimony from a veterinarian who claimed that the activists had violated biosecurity protections despite no evidence that this had occurred.

The factum accuses Justice Verhoeven of erring in not staying the proceedings based on lost evidence. It was revealed during trial that the Abbotsford police had both lost and destroyed crucial evidence central to the activists’ case. Three hidden cameras were found at Excelsior Hog Farm in March 2019, along with SD cards containing hundreds of hours of video evidence, some of which depicted criminal animal abuse, according to the Excelsior 4. Instead of ensuring the preservation of this evidence during an active investigation, the SD cards mysteriously went missing while in police custody. Then, in August 2019, for no apparent reason, the Abbotsford police ordered the destruction of all three cameras the activists were accused of planting in the hog farm. Police records show that the evidence destruction occurred soon after Regier emailed the BC Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (BCSPCA)—the sole agency tasked with animal agriculture enforcement—to let them know that the cameras in police possession contained evidence of animal abuse.

Another argument central to the appeal is that Justice Verhoeven erred in his instructions to the jury by not limiting the testimony of Dr. David Dykshorn, a veterinarian who attended at the farm on the day of the protest. Dykshorn’s testimony discussed biosecurity at length and left jurors with a false impression that the activists had put the pigs’ health at risk, a claim that was never proven in court. The threshold for admitting expert testimony is high and the court typically does not allow witnesses to testify to their opinions. The opinion of an expert witness is only necessary if the subject matter is beyond the common understanding of the trier of fact, and must be controlled and handled carefully.

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“The prejudicial nature of Dr. Dykshorn’s testimony during trial, and the judge’s jury instruction to use Dykshorn’s testimony ‘without restraint’ in reaching a verdict, warrants a new trial,” wrote Peter Sankoff, the appellate lawyer for Soranno and Schafer, in the factum.

The factum also disputes Justice Verhoeven’s interpretation of “lawful use” in deciding whether the appellants’ actions interfered with the lawful use of the hog farm property. For a jury to convict on a mischief charge, the Crown must show that a defendant obstructed, interrupted, or interfered with the lawful use and enjoyment of their property. In determining lawful use, Verhoeven claimed that the treatment of farm animals at the hog farm was irrelevant, thereby blocking a ‘colour of right’ defence and disregarding important evidence of their motivation for entering the farm property.

The appellants also argue that they were prevented from using the necessity defence, which would have allowed Soranno and Schafer to argue that their actions were necessary to prevent a greater harm to animals from occurring. The appellants further argue that their actions were necessary to expose the animal abuse and neglect taking place at Excelsior Hog Farm, and that the trial judge erred in not considering this defence. Instead, Justice Verhoeven claimed that the activists had a “political agenda” in seeking to publicize the video evidence of animal cruelty, thereby using irrelevant considerations in determining whether certain evidence should be admissible at trial.

“Animal agriculture is an entirely hidden industry, with zero transparency and accountability,” said Soranno. “Because the BCSPCA cannot make unannounced inspections of animal farms without a warrant, their ability to prevent or curb animal abuse is extremely limited. Even when the BCSPCA is provided with video evidence of abuse, like the footage of Excelsior Hog Farm, they still fail to prosecute the abusers.” The Excelsior 4 and other animal activists are demanding an enforcement agency that adequately protects animals and is accountable to the public. The BCSPCA and animal activists are united in calling for the BC Ministry of Agriculture to implement publicly monitored CCTV cameras in all slaughterhouses. “We will continue to fight for animal rights and to hold accountable those responsible for animal cruelty,” continued Soranno.

Soranno and Schafer seek to set aside their convictions and request a new trial. An appeal hearing will be scheduled in the coming weeks.

Appellants Amy Soranno and Nick Schafer are available for interviews. Contact Kris Hermes at 604-228-9993 or krishermes@earthlink.net to arrange an interview.

Additional information can also be found at the Excelsior 4 website: www.excelsior4.org.

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Photo Credit: Suzanne Goodwin

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Air Canada flights delayed due to IT issue – CTV News

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Air Canada reported a technical issue with its flight communications system on Thursday, causing delays across the country for the second time in a week.

In a statement to CTVNews.ca, the Montreal-based company said it was experiencing a “temporary technical issue” with the system it uses to communicate with aircraft and monitor the performance of its operations.

By Thursday afternoon, the airline said the system had “begun to stabilize,” though flights were expected to be impacted for the remainder of the day.

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“The communicator system has begun to stabilize, and aircraft continue to move although still at a lower than normal rate. As a result, customers may experience delays and in some instances cancellations as we move through recovery,” Air Canada said.

“Customers are advised to check the status of their flight before going to the airport as we anticipate the impact will persist through the balance of the day.”

As a result of the system failure, the airline said it implemented a “flexible policy,” allowing customers who wished to change their travel plans to do so at no cost.

Speaking to reporters before question period, Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said the federal government has been in touch with Air Canada and is encouraging the airline to get its communications system back up and running “as quickly as possible.”

“They understand the consequences of these delays and we’ll keep following up on the situation,” said Alghabra.

The system failure caused delays for the majority of flights scheduled to depart from the Winnipeg James Armstrong Richardson International Airport on Thursday morning, said Michel Rosset, communications manager for the Winnipeg Airports Authority.

Some Air Canada flights in the afternoon and evening were scheduled to run on time at the Winnipeg airport, but Rosset advised passengers to look online for updated flight information as that could change.

“With flights, even on a good day, things could change pretty quickly. So I’d recommend, if you’re looking for updated (flight information) throughout the day, the best bet is just to head to our website,” he told CTVNews.ca in a phone interview.

Leah Batstone, communications and marketing advisor for the Halifax Stanfield International Airport, said the Halifax airport was aware of the “IT issue” that Air Canada was experiencing and recommended passengers to keep tabs on their flight status.

“As always, travellers are advised to check their flight status directly with their airline before coming to the airport,” Batstone said in an emailed statement to CTVNews.ca.

Air Canada was forced to ground its planes last week due to a similar problem with its communications system, which delayed nearly half its flights.

The airline said the issue it experienced this Thursday was in the “same systems as that of May 25, but it was unrelated.”

“We have been in the process of upgrading this system using a third-party supplier’s technology. Air Canada will continue to work with the manufacturer to ensure stability in the system in the future,” it said.

“We apologize for the impact on our customers and appreciate their patience. We are working hard to get people on their way as soon as possible.”

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Air Canada flight delays at Toronto Pearson | CTV News – CTV News Toronto

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Several Air Canada flights are delayed at Toronto Pearson International Airport due to a temporary technical issue.

The Canadian airline said its system used to communicate with aircraft and monitor operational performance is impacted. Flights were delayed all across the airline’s system as a result, a spokesperson for Air Canada confirmed to CTV News Toronto.

At around 1:30 p.m., the airline said the communicator system has “begun to stabilize,” with flights continuing to move “although still at a lower than normal rate.”

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“As a result, customers may experience delays and in some instances cancellations as we move through recovery,” the statement reads.

Greater Toronto Airports Authority media manager Rachel Bertone told CTV News Toronto that Toronto Pearson passengers are encouraged to check their flight status before making their way to the airport.

“We have also put in place a flexible policy for those who wish to change their travel plans at no cost,” Air Canada said.

As of Thursday afternoon, numerous Air Canada flights initially scheduled to leave Toronto Pearson this morning have been delayed to the afternoon.

Plus, many of Air Canada’s flights headed to the Toronto airport from places like Orlando, Fla., Vancouver, B.C., and New York’s LaGuardia Airport, have been delayed.

In terms of cancellations, however, just over two per cent of departures and roughly 3.5 per cent of arrivals have been cancelled – though it should be noted these percentages include all airlines. 

“We apologize to those affected, and appreciate their patience,” the statement reads.

This is the second time in a week that Air Canada has suffered a technical issue with its computer system, which delayed nearly half of all its flights.

The airline confirmed in its statement, “The issue today was in the same systems as that of May 25, but it was unrelated.”

Air Canada has not said how long the technical issue is expected to last, but said they are “working hard” to get fliers on their way as quickly as they can.

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Air Canada flight communicator system breaks down, causing widespread delays – CBC.ca

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Air Canada is experiencing an issue with one of its internal systems, leading to flight delays across its network.

The airline said Thursday it is “experiencing a temporary technical issue with its communicator system, one of the systems that we use to communicate with aircraft and monitor operational performance.”

The issue is causing delays across the system, with 234 flights delayed so far on Thursday and 34 cancellations, according to FlightAware.com. That’s about 44 per cent of the airline’s daily load.

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Air Canada’s flanker brand Rouge is also impacted, with 78 delays, or 52 per cent of its flights, as well as 11 cancellations.

It’s the second time in less than a week that the airline has been hit by a problem with its communicator system that caused delays or cancellations. On May 25, U.S. aviation regulator the FAA ordered a ground stop of all Air Canada flights due to unspecified internal computer issues. The outage lasted a little over an hour.

Air Canada says the impacted system is the same as the one from last week, but says the two outages are “unrelated.”

“We have been in the process of upgrading this system using a third-party supplier’s technology. Air Canada will continue to work with the manufacturer to ensure stability in the system in the future.”

Duncan Dee, a former executive at the airline, described the affected system as an “electronic tracking system to allow them to identify the location of their aircraft at any given time within their network.”

People on the ground watch an Air Canada jet fly over LAX airport.
An Air Canada jet is shown flying over the skies near Los Angeles International Airport. Almost half of the airline’s regularly scheduled flight load has been delayed or cancelled on Thursday because of a technology outage. (Bing Guan/Bloomberg)

“It’s the system which allows them to track their aircraft and to communicate with flights in a more automated way,” he told CBC News.

He was scheduled to fly on an Air Canada flight himself on Thursday and said it was disheartening to see the system fail twice “in such a short period of time. This isn’t something that happens very regularly … because obviously systems aren’t supposed to go down and certainly not to go down so soon, one after the other.”

Government monitoring situation

Early in the afternoon, the airline said the system has begun to “stabilize” but is not yet back to normal and delays continue.

The airline is advising anyone who is supposed to fly today to check the status of their flight before heading to the airport. 

“We are working hard to rectify this situation,” the airline told CBC News in an emailed statement. “We apologize to those affected, and appreciate their patience.”

Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said he has been in constant contact with the airline and has been assured that the company is doing everything it can.

“I encourage them to get it up as quickly as possible,” Alghabra said. “They understand the consequences of these delays … they are working on restoring it as quickly as possible.”

Last month, the government tabled new rules designed to make it harder for airlines to wriggle out of compensating passengers for costly delays and cancellations. Those rules have yet to be tabled, but Alghabra said what’s happening on Thursday would be covered by existing rules since it’s being caused by something the airline can control. 

“Based on current rules, passengers are protected,” he said. “Air Canada has obligations to passengers.”

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