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UPDATE with VIDEO: Severe animal abuse alleged at Chilliwack dairy farm

Dairy farm file photo. - Paul J. Henderson
Dairy farm file photo.
— image credit: Paul J. Henderson

Eight employees at Canada's largest dairy producer in Chilliwack face animal cruelty charges recommended by the BC SPCA.

An undercover video produced by someone from the non-profit group Mercy for Animals Canada was handed to the BC SPCA, and showed a level of abuse at the Chilliwack Cattle Sales even seasoned investigators have rarely seen.

"I have to say I have worked at the SPCA for 14 years and I have seen the most disturbing videos," community relations general manager Lorie Chortyk told the Times Monday, "and I have seen nothing that sickened me like this.

"This wasn't pushing cows along. These are animals who are trapped being, kicked in the face, being viciously beaten and people laughing. There is nothing in this behaviour that would have been part of a normal farm operation."

The video showed clearly identifiable individuals, and the material provided to the SPCA included expert commentary from seven veterinarians, including Dr. James Reynolds, one of North America's leading dairy cattle experts.

(WARNING: Video contains disturbing content. Viewer discretion advised.)

After the video was provided to the SPCA, an investigation was launched and criminal code charges have been recommend against the eight employees identified in the video "for wilfully causing unnecessary pain, suffering and injury to animals."

While the BC SPCA was not immediately saying the name of the farm involved, a press release said it was Canada's largest dairy farm, which is Chilliwack Cattle Sales, owned by the Kooyman families of Chilliwack.

The BC Dairy Association (BCDA) was similarly shocked, and was quick to express the sentiment that the abuse at this farm is not the norm.

"Organizationally we have a zero tolerance policy around these issues and we feel it vital to assert that this abuse is in no way common practice in our industry," BCDA chairman Dave Taylor said in a statement.

"This event is a black mark in the eye of our industry. Having witnessed the footage, we are deeply shaken."

In a press release issued Monday, the Kooyman family expressed shock over the allegations of animal cruelty and even invited the media for a tour of the farm on Prairie Central Road Tuesday.

The release said the allegations are "extremely serious" and the family is "devastated by the thought that animals in our care have been harmed."

"These alleged actions in no way reflect the farming and animal care standards practiced by our family or by the dairy industry," said a statement issued on behalf of the Kooymans by communications firm Orchestra Communications, a company with a specialty in crisis management.

All employees involved have now been fired.

The video itself was created Toronto-based animal rights organization Mercy For Animals (MFA), which works to promote vegetarianism and veganism.

MFA had an investigator get hired on as an employee at Chilliwack Cattle Sales. He or she worked from May 1 to 30, and authorities were contacted while the investigation was underway, according to Twyla Francois, director of investigations.

Francois could not say whether MFA had any other investigators working undercover at dairy operations or animal farms in Chilliwack.

She said Chilliwack Cattle Sales was not directly targeted, but locations are chosen randomly with investigators applying for jobs and working with whoever hires them.

MFA doesn't accept the industry and company claims that the incident was an anomaly.

"This factory farm was chosen completely randomly, which leads us to believe that cruelty and violence runs rampant in the dairy industry," Francois told the Times. "Before joining Mercy For Animals Canada, I conducted investigations into Canada's dairy industry and was horrified by what I saw—emaciated, sick, injured, and even animals unable to stand on their own, were routinely brought to livestock auctions in clear violation of the law. The livestock auction industry even had a term for these cows: C3, which stands for clunkers, canners and cripples."

The Chilliwack Cattle statement said that Dr. David Dykshorn and Dr. Rich Vanderwal of Abbotsford Veterinary Clinic regularly visit the farm and monitor animal health.

“We have had a working relationship with the Kooymans for over 20 years and can speak to their integrity and care for their animals,” Vanderwal and Dykshorn said in the release. “Animal abuse is unacceptable on any stage and we actively work with the Kooyman family to ensure the highest level of animal welfare on their farm.”

Crown counsel in New Westminster is at the stage of reviewing details of the cases and considering charges against eight employees who appeared in the MFA videos.

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