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Court hears sentencing appeal for 2 Abbotsford hog-farm protesters

Amy Soranno and Nick Schafer of Kelowna seek reduction of 30-day jail term
Amy Soranno and Nick Schafer spoke outside the Abbotsford Law Courts prior to sentencing on Oct. 12, 2022. They are now appealing their sentence. (Jessica Peters/Black Press Media)

Two animal activists who were sentenced in relation to a 2019 protest at an Abbotsford hog farm had their right to liberty and security breached during their sentencing hearing, their lawyer argued Friday (May 31).

Peter Sankoff spoke before a three-judge panel at the B.C. Court of Appeal, seeking a reduction in the sentence for Amy Soranno and Nick Schafer.

The Kelowna couple were among those involved in a large protest on April 28, 2019 at the Excelsior Hog Farm in Abbotsford.

They were convicted in July 2022 of one count each of break-and-enter and sentenced in October 2022 to a 30-day jail term.

Soranno and Schafer previously lost an appeal of their convictions, and appeared Friday seeking a reduction in their sentence to either a conditional discharge or a conditional sentence, which could include house arrest.

RELATED: Two Abbotsford hog-farm protesters to appeal sentence

Sankoff said on Friday that the trial judge erred when he cut off Soranno while she was speaking prior to sentencing, as offenders are given an opportunity to do so during the proceedings.

He said Soranno wanted to address the beliefs and motivation – that animals were being mistreated, based on videos she had seen – that led her to enter onto the private property without permission.

During the trial, the judge would not allow the jury to see the video footage, which had been obtained from hidden cameras placed on the farm by members of the Meat the Victims group.

The judge at the time said the footage was not relevant to the charges that were before the court.

But prohibiting Soranno from speaking at the sentencing hearing about the conditions of the barn was an error on the judge’s part, Sankoff said.

“She wanted to speak, and that was her right … She was shut down by a powerful authority figure in the courtroom,” he said.

Sankoff said the moment was “humiliating” for Soranno.

The judges on the panel said when offenders are given an opportunity to speak during court proceedings, it’s typically to offer an apology or demonstrate remorse.

One judge said if the judge during sentencing had allowed Soranno to comment on issues that hadn’t been proved at trial, there would have been no opportunity for a response from the people who would have been “maligned.”

“This isn’t about the right to speak; it’s about the content of what’s said,” the appeals judge said.

Sankoff said Soranno wanted to express that she was trying to “advance a cause” and that she has remorse for not doing that “within the law,” but she was not able to do so.

He said this is the only case of its kind that has led to a jail term, and he said a conditional sentence would be a “fair alternative.”

Crown lawyer Maegan Richards argued that the offence of a “planned break-and-enter” with hundreds of people storming onto private property was at the “higher end” of moral culpability and should result in jail time.

She said Soranno and Schafer “deliberately undid the rule of law.”

The B.C. Court of Appeal panel has reserved their decision for a later date.

Soranno and Schaffer have also filed an application with the Supreme Court of Canada to appeal the B.C. Court of Appeal decision to uphold their convictions.

RELATED: Two Abbotsford hog-farm protesters sentenced to 30 days in jail

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Vikki Hopes

About the Author: Vikki Hopes

I have been a journalist for almost 40 years, and have been at the Abbotsford News since 1991.
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