Strangers showing up on your property or in your home is a horrifying thought. For Ontario farmers, that fear is a story all too real for them and their families. Every day in this province, farmers live in fear that trespassers will enter their property and cause unknown harm to them, their families, their farm animals and their livelihood.
It really struck me last year when speaking with a farmer about this topic when she said, “what most people don’t realize is that a farmer’s farm is also their home. And the thought of strangers coming onto my remote property when I’m there alone with just my grandchildren sends chills down my spine.”
Farms aren’t just businesses, they’re homes. Families who are responsible for producing Ontario’s safe and healthy food live together on farms, including children and seniors. Trespassing onto someone’s property is scary for farmers and the inherent isolation of farms adds to that fear.
A few months ago I met with Jackie Rombouts, both a farmer and the Mayor of Warwick, who told me she has fears every day that when her young children go out to the barn to check on their livestock or to turn the lights off at the end of the day, they may run into trespassers.
That’s not how it should be in our province. Everyone deserves to feel safe in their workplaces. This is especially true for farmers whose home and work are often the same place.
The current legislation, which applies to trespassing in general, is not effective keeping farming families safe. Prior to the introduction of our bill – the Security from Trespass and Protecting Food Safety Act, 2019 – our government received more than 900 letters from community members expressing concern with on-farm trespassing, a clear signal that the current system simply does not work. This proposed legislation now allows us the opportunity to improve the protection for Ontario farmers and their families.
We recognize people have the right to participate in legal protests; our government will always support that right. However, that right has never included trespassing on private property, harassing farmers, or putting our province’s food supply at risk.
Our proposed legislation, if passed, would better protect farmers, their animals, livestock transporters, and the integrity of our food supply. At least 80 municipalities and towns have passed or supported council resolutions that call on the government to strengthen protections of these targeted operations.
On-farm animal abuse is a rare occurrence in Ontario. Our farmers care deeply about the animals they raise, and our province has laws to protect those animals. Our government has zero tolerance towards animal abuse, and we agree there is no place for it in Ontario.
That’s why our government recently passed tough new legislation, the Provincial Animal Services Welfare (PAWS) Act, to protect animals everywhere in Ontario. PAWS now gives Ontario the toughest penalties in Canada for convicted offenders who abused animals.
Anyone who suspects abuse of animals is required to notify the authorities and can do so by calling 1-833-9ANIMAL. Our province is hiring 100 animal welfare inspectors by the end of this year, some of them specialized in livestock and horses. These are the people best suited to protect the welfare of farm animals in Ontario when abuse is suspected.
It is our government’s responsibility to protect farmers, agri-food businesses, farm animals, and our food supply from the risk of trespass activities. Our proposed Act is intended to keep Ontario’s farmers and their families safe on their property and to ensure the food we all enjoy is safe to consume.