Canada’s largest dairy farm and its owner pleaded guilty to cruelty to animals in a Chilliwack courtroom Friday in what some are calling a landmark case.
Chilliwack Cattle Sales owner Wesley Kooyman, in a statement on behalf of the Kooyman family, said he “accepted” the judgement of the Court.
The company and owners are facing $300,000 in fines, with three charges for the company and one for the CCS owner, who is also prohibited from owning cattle for a year. There was also about $50,000 in victim surcharges.
“We vow to do everything we can to prevent anything like this from happening again,” Kooyman said in reaction to the proceedings.
The cruelty charges came in the wake of the graphic Mercy for Animals (MFA) undercover video from June 2014, showing hidden camera footage of the Chilliwack dairy workers kicking, punching, and beating cows with chains, pipes, canes, and rakes.
MFA is calling it a landmark ruling, saying it’s “a first” for any factory farm or its owners to be handed down an animal cruelty conviction for the actions of their employees.
“It is obvious the dairy industry is incapable of self-regulation,” said Mercy For Animals’ president, Nathan Runkle. “We need stronger laws and more oversight to protect farmed animals from needless cruelty and violence. Giving the Dairy Code of Practice the force of law in every province would be a much-needed first step toward ensuring the sadistic animal abuse we uncovered in Chilliwack never happens again.”
That’s exactly what the family is promising.
“Animal care is of primary importance on our farm and the shocking events that we became aware of in June 2014 were a wake-up call for our company,” said Kooyman.
But better training and supervision of workers are needed since the existing protocols, were not enough to prevent the “inexcusable” behaviour.
Remedial actions taken at CCS include 24-hour barn monitoring, and revised protocols and training.
“We also hired a full-time human resource (HR) person to ensure a consistent and methodical approach to hiring, training, supervising and evaluating staff,” Kooyman said.
Chilliwack Cattle Sales has been a farming family in the Chilliwack community since 1961.
“We have always had a zero tolerance policy for animal abuse,” Kooyman said.
“To strengthen that commitment we now have every staff and family member, who works with animals, undertake a specialized training module on dairy cattle handling.”
The cruelty investigation acted a catalyst for B.C. agricultural minister Norm Letnick to amend the BC Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act to add a “Dairy Code of Practice” with minimum guidelines on the treatment and welfare of dairy cows.
According to FOI reports filed by MFA, the BC Milk Marketing Board found that more than 25 per cent of the province’s dairy farms failed to comply with the Code of Practice for animal welfare over an 18-month period.
Inspection reports showed overcrowding, lame or soiled cattle, tails accidentally torn off, branding and dehorning of calves without pain medication, cows lying on concrete.
“Mercy For Animals is calling on all provinces to give the Dairy Code of Practice the force of law in their provincial animal cruelty legislation. Giving the code the force of law will make these important animal welfare guidelines requirements and help ensure that dairy cows receive a basic level of care and humane handling.”