Simcoe County farmers, and Ontario’s food supply, could soon be better protected against animal rights protestors and trespassing.
Earlier this week, Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Minister Ernie Hardeman introduced the Security From Trespass and Protecting Food Safety Act, 2019 in the Ontario legislature.
If passed, the law will increase protection for farmers, their animals, livestock transporters and the province’s food supply from animal rights protestors, those who trespass on farm properties and protest at food processing plants – while requiring explicit prior consent to access an animal protection zone on a farm or a processing facility.
“Some farm families have been terrorized with these protests. They (protestors) have a misguided view that animal husbandry is bad,” said Jim H. Partridge, president of the Simcoe County Federation of Agriculture, which has some 1,500 members.
“The goal of the (law), in my mind, is to fix the inequality of some people who may come onto farmers’ homes and/or businesses or places that need to be secure, and not be held accountable.”
The proposed act would allow Ontario courts to increase trespassing fines to a $15,000 maximum for a first offence and $25,000 for subsequent offences, compared to a $10,000 maximum under the Trespass to Property Act. It could also allow Ontario courts to order restitution for damage to a farmer’s livestock or from theft, and increase protection for farmers against civil liability from those hurt while trespassing.
“We’ve heard from farmers who no longer feel safe in their homes, who have expressed concerns with increasing on-farm trespassing and the safety of their families, employees and livestock,” Hardeman said. “We are taking action to strengthen protections for agricultural workers and the integrity of our food system.”
The Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) supports the proposed legislation.
“We have been very vocal in our call for swift, strong action against trespassers and activists who are jeopardizing the safety of our farms and food supply,” said OFA president Keith Currie.
Partridge said protests and trespassing aren’t a large problem in Simcoe County, but the proposed law would be a pre-emptive measure so it doesn’t happen here.
He doesn’t have No Trespassing signs on his Line 4 North farm in Oro-Medonte Township.
“Does the homeowner (in Barrie) have No Trespassing on his home? No,” he said. “The inequality here is where I’m coming from. I shouldn’t have to put up a No Trespassing sign.”
Partridge said they have had visitors to their farm, youths who look around and are respectful.
“We’re quite happy to have that,” he said.
The ministry says the health and safety of farmers and farm animals is at the heart of the proposed legislation.
“Interfering with the operations of farms, food processing businesses and livestock transporters not only puts the health and safety of our agri-food workers and farm animals at risk, but also jeopardizes our food safety,” Hardeman said. “Our proposed legislation takes important steps to protect the integrity of the province’s food system.”
It would address the unique risks and challenges associated with trespassing onto a farm or into a food processing facility. They include the risks trespassers pose to the safety of farmers, their families and employees, exposing farm animals to stress and disease, and introducing contaminants into Ontario’s food supply.
The government says it consulted throughout the fall with key stakeholders and people impacted by interference in their livestock operations – holding more than 20 roundtables, meetings and conference calls with various segments of the agri-food industry, rural municipalities and representatives of animal advocacy organizations.
In recent months, the province has received hundreds of letters about trespassing on farms and agri-food premises, and the obstruction of livestock transport trucks.
The province says Bill 156, the Security From Trespass and Protecting Food Safety Act, 2019, was introduced into the Ontario legislature for first reading Dec. 2. Second reading is scheduled to take place Dec. 11. The bill will need to pass second reading and may be referred to committee for further debate.
It would need to pass third reading, receive Royal Assent and would come into force when proclaimed – although there is no timeline for this to happen.
images via Bob Bruton