CHILLIWACK, B.C. – The British Columbia Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (BC SPCA) announced an investigation after receiving an undercover video of workers for a poultry catching firm abusing broiler chickens while a supervisor stood by and watched.

Five employees of Elite Farm Services Ltd., a licensed chicken-catching service based in Chilliwack, were fired after the video was released. Mercy For Animals in Canada, a non-profit animal welfare organization, said the video was taken between May 10 and June 9 by a whistleblower at more than a dozen chicken farms in British Columbia that supply a Lilydale Inc. slaughterhouse in Port Coquitlam. Lilydale, a unit of Sofina Foods Inc., processes fresh and frozen poultry, deli meats, sausage and meat snacks.

The BC SPCA said the video “…documents numerous acts of animal cruelty and gross noncompliance with federal and provincial laws, regulations, and guidelines.”

“The images in this video are absolutely sickening and the individual employees and the companies involved need to be held accountable,” Marcie Moriarty, chief prevention and enforcement officer for the BC SPCA, said in a statement. “The video shows workers dismembering and killing, throwing, kicking and hitting the birds and forcing the animals into violent sexual acts with one another.

“The video includes some of the most brutal and sadistic acts of violence against animals I have ever seen,” she added. “It is extremely difficult to watch.”

Moriarty said the BC SPCA would recommend multiple charges of animal cruelty. If convicted, the individuals and companies involved face fines up to C$75,000, a maximum five-year jail sentence and up to a lifetime ban on owning or being around animals.

Duane Dueck, president of Elite Services, said in a statement, “We are sickened with the footage and want to ensure all our suppliers and producers that this is not reflective of who we are, our fundamental beliefs or behavior we accept from our employees.”

Dueck said of the supervisor shown in the video, “We consider the Supervisor of the crew an ambassador of the culture and values of our company. We believe it is clear that the Supervisor did not express or fulfill his responsibilities and therefore the care and welfare of animals suffered. We have terminated the employment of the Supervisor effective immediately.”

Industry group Chicken Farmers of Canada (CFC) said, “There is no defense for the mistreatment of birds.”

“It is important to convey that this kind of animal abuse is not and will not be tolerated,” CFC continued. “It is not representative of how the industry works as a whole. CFC will collaborate fully with all elements of the industry, as well as government authorities to ensure that this situation is addressed and to enforce standards that will ensure that it is never repeated.”

The birds were to be shipped to a Port Coquitlam, British Columbia, slaughter plant owned by Lilydale/Sofina Foods Inc., which supplies poultry to Loblaw grocery stores. In a statement on the company’s website, Sofina Foods acknowledged reviewing the footage and expressed outrage at the abuse depicted in the video.

“We are appalled and extremely shocked by the video footage we saw of a few of our supplier’s employees displaying disturbing and unacceptable behaviors that Sofina Foods Inc. does not in any way tolerate or condone,” the company said. “Ethical and responsible treatment of animals is of utmost importance to our organization.”

The company immediately launched an investigation and engaged internal and external experts to determine a course of action in line with Sofina Foods’ animal care commitment. Additionally, the company intends “to fully collaborate” with authorities who may take action against the perpetrators.

“Sofina Foods Inc. has already been in touch with the owner of the supplier company and requested that all of the supplier’s employees involved in the abusive behaviors be dismissed immediately,” the company said. “We have also expressed our expectation that all of the supplier’s employees be requalified on the importance of animal care and fully understand the consequences of not following protocols.”

Mercy For Animals is calling for swift action from law enforcement, and called on Galen Weston, president of Loblaw, to implement animal welfare policies that include third-party audits, video surveillance and a “zero-tolerance” policy for animal abuse at supplier farms.

“It’s clear that Lilydale is incapable of preventing even the most twisted forms of sadistic cruelty at its supplier farms,” Krista Hiddema, vice president with Mercy For Animals in Canada, said in a statement. “Loblaw must act now to implement a meaningful animal welfare policy to ensure chickens sold in its grocery stores are not tortured to death.”