Nelson Zandbergen and Patrick Meagher
KINGSTON — An animal activist has been found not guilty of breaking and entering causing mischief at an Eastern Ontario mink farm — a verdict profoundly disappointing to the owner of the operation.
“I am truly sickened that the farmers of Ontario do not have protection from this kind of activity,” Walt Freeman told Farmers Forum after the acquittal of Malcolm Klimowicz who had posted online video surreptitiously captured from inside the barn at Stonehenge Industries. While the accused escaped conviction in this Criminal Code case, Freeman said he took heart from new Ontario farm trespass “ag-gag” legislation that would apply in the future to such situations — with fines of up to $15,000 for a first offence.
“I’m taking some consolation he was able to use the laws only as they existed at the time he did his (alleged) crime,” he said. “He would not be able to get away with the same acts today.”
Freeman’s operation was one of three mink farms Klimowicz was accused of sneaking onto and filming in 2017. Breaking and entering charges involving an Oshawa-area farm were dropped. Charges were downgraded to trespassing — with no fine issued — in a case at a Collingwood-area farm.
The activist’s winning streak continued April 7 when Justice Julianne Parfett agreed that while Klimowicz did enter the Stonehenge farm and mink barn without permission and filmed on the property without permission, he did not break anything, did not intend to commit mischief and did not consider the filming to constitute mischief as there was no interference with the conduct of any activity in the barn. The court also ruled there was no evidence of disturbance or harm caused to the fur-bearing animals.
The outcome surprised Freeman who noted another judge looked at the same evidence in a preliminary hearing and allowed the charge to proceed to trial. “So I really do not understand how we could go this far in the procedure and have the judge release him as ‘not guilty,’” he observed.
Klimowicz had been offered a deal of no jail time if he pleaded guilty and took down the mink farm videos from YouTube. He declined, and the footage remains on the platform.
Freeman only became aware that someone had been on his property without permission when the video came to his attention six months after the fact. It currently has 750 views. “I’ve been powerless to have it removed,” he said.
The court, Freeman said with a tone of concern, also accepted a defence argument that a commercial property is not entitled to the same level of privacy as one’s home, at least as the law existed at the time of the charge in 2018.
Klimowicz trumpeted his acquittal with a triumphant “Not guilty!!!!” post on Facebook on the day the verdict was handed down — the same day he lauded Saks Fifth Avenue for going fur free. The Windsor Star has reported he was “pretty ecstatic” at his acquittal. But in a YouTube video before trial, he expressed fear that police might show up unannounced at his house. Then he immediately defended himself for arriving unannounced at a farm: “I didn’t take any animals,” he said. “I didn’t steal anything. I didn’t damage any property. I basically just walked around and filmed.” He also said he “didn’t do anything to these farmers so there is no threat” and noted that the Minister of Agriculture cited his activities as a reason to beef up “ag-gag laws.”
Freeman testified in the virtual court session that after the video was posted he received six phone calls, as well as email threats. He increased security with camera surveillance and hired a night-time security guard. Freeman has since retired from the industry. His father and uncle started the business in the 1950s.