Workers employed by a Chilliwack-based agricultural employer seen tearing a live chicken apart in an undercover video filmed by Mercy For Animals.

Top Stories 2017: Animal abuse the subject of several stories

From dairy cows to chickens to rodeo steers to elephants to sturgeon

From dairy cows to chickens to rodeo steers to elephants to sturgeon, the treatment of animals in Chilliwack garnered significant attention from animal rights groups and the justice system in 2017.

The most high profile case of the year – and not just this year; ongoing since 2014 – was that of young men abusing cows caught on undercover videos at Canada’s largest dairy farm in Chilliwack.

The story began when an activist with animal cruelty non-profit Mercy For Animals (MFA) got hired at Chilliwack Cattle Sales (CCS), filming undercover videos in June 2014 of young employees on the night shift kicking, punching, and beating cows with chains, pipes, canes, and rakes.

Seven men, the company, and one owner were charged with cruelty to animals, and the case lingered in the system for years. This year (and the end of 2016) finally saw sentences handed down for all involved, including jail time for six of seven of the young men, and $345,000 in fines for CCS.

But the story isn’t over. Crown counsel is appealing the sentences handed down to three of the men arguing they were not long enough. Meanwhile, two of the three men are cross-appealing saying they were too long.

• READ MORE: Appeal hearing starts for Chilliwack dairy cow abuse sentences

MFA then took footage of chicken catchers ripping live birds apart as well as stomping, kicking and throwing chickens at farms in Chilliwack and Abbotsford.

“We are sickened with the footage and want to ensure all our suppliers and producers that this is not reflective of who we are, our fundamental beliefs or behavior we accept from our employees,” president of the chicken catching company Dwayne Dueck said in a statement.

Dueck then announced his employees would use body cameras on employees, a move MFA called “absolutely ridiculous.”

“Without third-party checks in place, video monitoring will be ineffective,” MFA Canada vice-president Krista Hiddema said.

And then, in a report issued Nov. 8, the acting information and privacy commissioner said the cameras violated the Personal Information Protection Act (PIPA)

• READ MORE: Privacy Commissioner questions use of body cameras by Fraser Valley chicken catchers

“We found that the company was not authorized to collect the information under PIPA because the purposes for which it was collecting and using personal information were not reasonable.”

But there was more in Chilliwack in 2017.

As the annual Chilliwack Fair approached, the Vancouver Humane Society (VHS) created a campaign to call for the end to tie-down (calf) roping and steer wrestling.

“Terrified calves, only three months old, are chased, roped to a sudden halt, picked up and thrown to the ground before being tied up and steers have their necks twisted until they are literally bent to the ground,” the VHS said.

The Chilliwack Fair board agreed to review the events and vote after the 2017 fair to see if they could be modified or cancelled. In the end, the board decided to continue with the events for 2018 with some rule changes.

• READ MORE: B.C. Rodeo Association responds to campaign against Chilliwack Fair

The VHS remained unimpressed, and the society wasn’t done with Chilliwack.

In October, the Garden Brothers Circus came to town and the VHS started a petition to have their performances cancelled because of “an alarmingly poor animal welfare record.”

In a Tweet on the subject, the VHS showed a photo of an elephant leg with a chain around its leg. But elephants were never scheduled to be on the tour anyway, and while city hall was targeted by the petition, elephants wouldn’t be allowed anyway thanks to a bylaw forbidding public performances involving a long list of wild or exotic animals.

• READ MORE: Animal rights group protests circus in Chilliwack

In the end, the circus went ahead.

The final animal story that received considerable attention involved sports fishing, with a local sturgeon guide previously convicted of illegal hunting and fishing in Alberta, getting kicked off the water in B.C. until 2019.

• READ MORE: Chilliwack sturgeon fishing guide kicked off the water for two years

Starting in summer 2016, Gerard Visneskie and his wife Sophie Goupil ran Hooked Up with Screamin Reels. It was his handling practices that he posted in videos and photos on the company’s Facebook page that got him into trouble. There were also posts of him with clients out on trips in the river from before he received his guiding licence on Aug. 26, 2016.

Visneskie is not only banned from fishing, guiding or even assisting as an angling guide until April 30, 2019, he is banned from hunting or holding a guide outfitter licence in B.C. until April 30, 2021.


@PeeJayAitch
paul.henderson@theprogress.com

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Gerard Visneskie (right) and Sophie Goupil are both convicted poachers from Alberta. After an administrative hearing, Visneskie was banned from hunting or guiding until 2021 in B.C., and fishing or guiding until 2019. (Facebook)

The Chilliwack Fair Board said it would re-evaluate the inclusion of tie-down roping and steer wrestling in its annual rodeo following complaints from the Vancouver Humane Society. (JENNA HAUCK/ PROGRESS FILE)

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