Amy Soranno: 'I am an abolitionist. I want this industry to end. Even in a jail cell, I am awarded more freedom than any farmed animal in a commercial farm. I will be free one day. Animals never will unless activists like us intervene.'
NORA KELLY: At 6 a.m. on April 28, 2019, two school buses stopped on Harris Road in the heart of Abbotsford farm country. The doors opened and out poured 200 people wearing N95s, white hazmat suits and black T-shirts bearing a Martin Luther King quote in white print: “One has the moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.”
Video footage taken that day captures the crowd crossing the road and running down a gravel driveway towards Excelsior Hog Farm — specifically, the large, enclosed barn that houses its breeding pigs. The activists skirted around the side of the barn, found a small back door and broke it open…
Excelsior is a large operation, housing between 13 to 15 thousand pigs at any given time. Many of these pigs were inside the barn, enclosed in metal pens approximately two feet wide by seven feet long. “The toxic air burns your throat and nostrils,” recalls Amy Soranno, the lead organizer of the protest. “There’s no open windows… There’s just tens of thousands of pigs crammed inside a warehouse.”
Within minutes, she and the other activists heard the sound of sirens. The police had arrived. But Soranno wasn’t worried. She and her fellow activists knew they were breaking the law. In fact, that was their intention. To Soranno, the law itself is broken. Justice must therefore be sought outside of it…
“Meat the Victims,” an animal rights organization to which Soranno and her fellow activists belong, is an international community of people who are “willing to disobey unjust laws” to “abolish animal exploitation.” The movement was born in Australia in 2018, and has quickly picked up steam globally, with numerous protests in Ireland, the Netherlands, the UK, Israel and Canada.
The movement believes that if the public could see how animals were treated in industrial farming situations, they would stop “murdering” them. It therefore commands followers to break into animal agriculture operations, “locking down inside the very places the animals are hostage” and filming what happens inside allow the public to “meet the victims of their choices.”
The April 28 “Meat the Victims” protest at Excelsior was the first time animal rights activists in Canada have stormed a farm in numbers, holding the owners and their property hostage. But it would not be the last. Since April 2019, Soranno has led a sit-in at a chicken farm in Toronto, where, alongside three other activists, she chained herself to a concrete block on the kill floor. She also organized an occupation of a turkey farm in October 2021, alongside another activist — Jenny McQueen — who, in December 2019, had led a group to break into a pig farm in Quebec…
The goal of Meat the Victims is not to force farmers like Binnendyk to obey the laws as they stand. Instead, they’re committed to direct action in service of the elimination of animal agriculture.
“If standing up for what is right is considered radical, I will accept that title,” Soranno said in a talk she gave to a classroom of students at UBC. Soranno, who became a vegan to counteract her health conditions, became an activist soon afterwards. But she says she’s always believed in standing up for what is right…
Soranno lives in Kelowna, B.C…. on Wednesday, Oct. 12, the BC Supreme Court sentenced her and her partner Nick Schafer, who was also involved in the protest, to 30 days in jail plus one year probation. Two other activists, Roy Sasano and Jeff Luke Rigear, also faced charges. Rigear’s case was dropped and Sasano was acquitted. Soranno and Schafer must also submit their DNA to the DNA Database, a sentence usually reserved for violent and sexual offenders… This ruling marks the first time in Canadian history that animal rights activists were sentenced for breaking and entering and mischief as part of a protest.
Justice Verhoeven also denied the defendants the right to bring evidence forward about the conditions the animals faced at Excelsior, or other meat production facilities. This is not precedent. In other cases, defendants were allowed to bring forward experts on animal rights and welfare, in order to speak to the defendants motivations, but, in the case of Soranno and Schafer, the judge said that “the court cannot permit itself to be used as a platform for expression of political views which in and of themselves have no bearing on the court’s decision.” Soranno refused to abide by these rules: during the sentencing hearing, she read a statement that delved into the abuses of animal agriculture. The judge cut her off, explaining that “no purpose would be served by carrying on in this respect.”
The tactics used by “Meat the Victims,” and their desire to bring about a complete end to animal agriculture in Canada, probably will not resonate with the vast majority of Canadians, who consume some form of meat, eggs or dairy.
But the case of the Excelsior 4, as they refer to themselves, exposes an issue at the heart of Canada’s animal agricultural system — one that many people are likely to find compelling. Experts say animal welfare standards are opaque and poorly defined, and, moreover, the standards we have in place are not reliably enforced. This, critics contend, leads to miserable lives for many farm animals.
Producers face issues, too, however. Wrestling with price-controlled monopolies and narrow profit margins, they argue that they have little choice — they are doing their best to raise animals as ethically as possible. It is a divisive debate, and one that only promises to heat up.
In his sentencing for Soranno and Shafer, Justice Verhoeven argued that the law must be used as a tool to counteract the radical actions of activists and maintain “a just, peaceful and safe society.” But Soranno and others like her say their goals, at heart, are similar. “I am fighting for that same just, peaceful and safe society,” she told The Tyee. “And right now we do not have it.” So what’s the solution?…
Marcie Moriarty from the BC SPCA is calling for 24/7 surveillance of animal farms and a redesign of the system that would better hold producers to account. Specifically, the BC SPCA has called for constant footage monitored by third parties who could watch for violations and use the evidence in court to press charges…
Soranno agrees with the BC SPCA on the 24/7 video surveillance. She also thinks that this footage should be accessible to the public, so that animal rights activists, too, can monitor the industry. She believes that this will also counter industry “brainwashing” that presents an “idyllic” image of how animals are raised and slaughtered.
But Soranno also thinks that the BC SPCA needs to be replaced with a “more accountable” government agency, one that is more effective and reliable. “The time has come to replace the BC SPCA with a government enforcement agency that is independent from industry and responsive to the public,” says an email template on the Excelsior 4 website.
These measures, Soranno agreed, would eliminate her motives for breaking into animal agriculture operations. Where Soranno differs as an activist, is that transparency and accountability are not enough. More transparency means she won’t have to break into farms, but it does not mean that she will stop fighting to end the slaughter and confinement of animals.
“I am an abolitionist,” Soranno told The Tyee. “I want this industry to end.” “Even in a jail cell, I am awarded more freedom than any farmed animal in a commercial farm,” Soranno said. “Even if I do face a jail sentence of 30 days behind bars, I will be free one day. Nick will be free one day. Animals never will unless activists like us intervene.”
A sentiment that has global appeal as, on the 18 of July, a number of activists in Vienna, Austria gathered in front of the Canadian embassy to protest the treatment of animals at Excelsior, and the legal treatment of activists in Canada.
“Liberate animals, decriminalize activists!” said the banners held by the protestors, who also chanted through megaphones, and showed images and video footage from inside the Abbotsford hog farm. SOURCE…