By Brandy Harrison
OTTAWA Sheep farmer Anthony Scissons already knows a partial guilty verdict will be handed down on Feb. 10 for operating an unlicensed slaughter plant but hopes an unusual freedom of religion defence will quash at least some of the six charges he faces.
In October 2012, Scissons sold a live lamb to three Muslim men, who slaughtered it on his Ottawa-area farm in accordance with Dhabihah, a method of ritual slaughter governed by Islamic law, as part of the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha.
Scissons not his customers was charged with operating a slaughter plant without a licence, failing to get ante-mortem and post-mortem inspections, and three counts of selling or distributing a meat carcass. Each charge carries a maximum penalty of $25,000 or two years in jail.
Under the meat regulations of the Food Safety and Quality Act, farmers can slaughter animals on-farm to eat with their immediate family but the carcass cannot leave the farm. Hunters have a broader exemption that allows them to distribute game meat.
“Our argument all the way along has been that if you have exceptions for certain things, an exception should be available for religious slaughter,” said Scissons lawyer, Kurtis Andrews, who argued on Oct. 30 that the law restricts the religious freedom of Scissons Muslim customers under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. “If Mr. Scissons stood right next to these individuals at his farm and they both slaughtered sheep to feed to their families, the Muslim men break the law and Mr. Scissons doesnt.”
While Andrews said the Muslim men may be more strict adherents than other Muslims, the charter protects the sincere beliefs of individuals. Earlier in the trial, the Muslim men testified religious practice dictates they perform the slaughter of the best-quality animal available on the first day of Eid, and not all those criteria could be met at local slaughterhouses, he said.
“Its a choice between abandoning their beliefs and breaking the law,” said Andrews, a lawyer with Green and Associates in Ottawa. “Its curious that a sheep farmer from Dunrobin brought this issue to the courts for the first time in Canada, essentially setting a precedent for all Muslim people.”
At an Aug. 21 court appearance, the court ruled there would be no automatic acquittal, indicating Scissons would be found guilty on at least some of the charges. Justice of the peace Brian Mackey will deliver his verdict on Feb. 10.