Caught-on-camera pig farm case: Charges stayed against B.C. activist

Charges have been stayed against an animal rights activist tied to a case involving disturbing video that sparked a B.C. SPCA investigation at a hog farm in the province's Lower Mainland.

Jeff Luke Rigear was one of four people who pleaded not guilty to a total of 21 offences dating back to 2019.

Charges against the others remain, but those against Rigear have been stayed, the B.C. Prosecution Service confirmed to CTV News Monday morning.

In an email, a BCPS spokesperson said the decision to stay the charges "was made after Crown counsel concluded the charge assessment standard was no longer met with regard to this accused."

In B.C., the prosecution approves criminal charges if there is a substantial likelihood of conviction and if the public interest requires prosecution.

In this case, the BCPS said, the Crown felt the standard was no longer met, though the case is proceeding against the other accused.

Rigear was charged following the release by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) of a video allegedly captured at Excelsior Hog Farm in Abbotsford in February and March of 2019.

PETA said the video had been provided anonymously.

The video showed a number of dead piglets, as well as a pig corpse that appeared to be in an advanced state of decomposition. Some of the live pigs in the video appeared to have growths, and one seemed to be struggling to stay upright.

Protesters gathered at the farm days after PETA published the video. Police said at the time that about 50 people entered the facility, and one person was arrested.

The B.C. SPCA investigated the farm, but said it could not come up with any legal conclusions that any offence had taken place. The society said this was particularly true because of a lack of co-operation from the person who recorded the video.

In a news release, a group that supports Rigear and the other activists said he'd made contact with the SPCA a few months after the video was released by PETA.

In a news release, a group that supports Rigear and the other activists said he'd made contact with the SPCA a few months after the video was released by PETA.

The group claimed "abuse of process" relating to Rigear's interactions with the SPCA, but the SPCA said no reason was given by the Crown as to why charges were dropped, and a judge made no such finding.

The SPCA said the judge found there was no basis upon which he would have stayed charges tied to any actions by the society.

Rigear's group claimed that the "abuse of process" was tied to the SPCA's confidentiality clause, and suggested that played a role in the staying of charges, but the SPCA says the judge found Rigear was never granted confidential informant status.

The only reason provided by BCPS to CTV News was that the standard was no longer met.

Rigear was charged last fall, as were Amy Soranno, Roy Makoto Sasano and Nicholas Steven George Schafer.

In a statement Monday, Sasano said the stay of charges against Rigear "strongly indicates that the Crown's case against us is built on a house of cards."

Speaking publicly in March, Soranno said the group hopes that their trial will give them the opportunity to "tell the stories of the millions of animals suffering every day."

She called on the provincial Agriculture Ministry to implement a mandatory CCTV system at all animal farms and slaughterhouses, and pushed for a government agency to take over these investigations from the SPCA.

She and the other two activists will be tried over a four-week period beginning on June 27.

None of the allegations, of which 18 remain, has been proven in court.

With files from CTV News Vancouver's Maria Weisgarber