Defendants in the Fraser Valley undercover chicken catching abuse case finally chose to have their case heard by judge and jury on Wednesday.
Lawyers for Chilliwack-based chicken catching company Elite Farm Services Ltd., the company’s owner Dwayne Paul Dueck, and Ontario-based Sofina Foods were in a Surrey courtroom August 28 where, for a fourth and final time, Judge Gary Cohen asked lawyers if they were ready to arraign.
“We all know why we’re here, how have things gone since the last time I saw you all?” Cohen asked defence, referring to the July 30 appearance when the judge started to lose patience over the repeated delays. “Did you get the camera, did you get the testing done, did you make your decision on how you’re going to proceed?”
Martin Finch who is representing Elite and Dueck told the court that his clients still did not have the specifics regarding forensics, an issue that was causing uncertainty whether the defence should have the case heard in front of a jury or judge alone.
“I can tell you the defendants are all of a mind to make election today,” Finch said. “We’re going to do judge and jury.”
The hearing on August 28 was in Surrey simply for scheduling reasons as the trial will be held in Chilliwack. The court scheduled 10 days for a preliminary inquiry in advance of a jury trial.
The charges date back to 2017 when California-based animal rights activist group Mercy For Animals released undercover video filmed at multiple Fraser Valley farms showing employees ripping live birds apart, stomping, kicking and throwing chickens.
More than a year later Elite, Dueck and Sofina were each charged with 38 counts under the Health of Animal Regulations in connection with the alleged abuse. Employees were fired, the companies expressed dismay at the actions of those employees, and the BC Chicken Marketing Board expressed disgust at the practices seen in the video.
The video, however, remained the crux of the case and the source of delays as defence counsel said they were uncertain they had received unedited video.
At the July 30 appearance, the issue was made clear that if the video evidence was manipulated, then defence would likely want the case heard in front of a jury. If an expert who examines the video evidence determined no editing had been done in ways beyond already admitted, then the case would be simpler and better suited in front of judge alone.
Judge Cohen all along has expressed concern about the delays, particularly as it relates to the Supreme Court of Canada’s Jordan decision that mandates trials in provincial court need to be resolved in 18 months, and 30 months in Supreme Court.
The case is scheduled to be back in court on Sept. 17 in Chilliwack to fix dates for the 10-day preliminary inquiry in advance of a trial, which is not yet scheduled.