By Ian Cumming
In late August, in a Toronto-area courthouse, Oxford County farmer Eric Van Boekel was being grilled on the witness stand by an animal activist’s defence lawyer. The lawyer’s client was charged with minor offences for, along with her co-animal terrorists, swarming Van Boekel’s truck load of hogs, when it stopped at a stop sign, just before reaching a Burlington slaughterhouse.
This was an oft-repeated event at that exact same spot. The altercation included a worried driver who bellowed, fearful of someone watering the pigs through the side walls and then being dragged under the transport as it pulled ahead. The incident was recorded and sent to the urban news media.
Both the charged activist and Van Boekel agreed on one thing: The swarming of transports by animal activists at this and other locations near slaughterhouses was almost a daily event. The activist, along with others, has not stopped swarming animals since the court case began. She told me that feeding the pigs is “helping someone in need.”
What’s shocking is that Ontario farm organizations, some specifically formed to combat this sort of thing, like Farm and Food Care Ontario, are only doing part of their job by hiding behind their educational mandate and allowing attacks to continue, year after year, without fighting back.
Van Boekel, on his own time and at his own expense, is now individually embroiled in a court case where activists are jamming a court room and outside on the lawn, jeering and threatening him. Where are Van Boekel’s supporters?
Not too many sale barn owners in sight either. They’ve been cowering at the blackmail for over a decade, since an Animals Angels’ report, documenting abuses with photographs and reports at nearly every sale barn on the province, was mailed to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and OMAFRA.
The activists have never let up. In fact, a 2013 training manual from Animal Justice Canada details how activists are to infiltrate and document what goes on at sale barns, from the unloading ramp to the sale ring.
In case Farm and Food Care Ontario thinks it can meet with these folks and work to alleviate their concerns and find common ground, realize that these activists routinely publicly call for farmers to be criminally charged when a barn fire burns all or some of their livestock.
For every one charge laid — for cows that are too old, that have a twisted stomach tummy ache or for a pig that limps — there are at least three animals put down at home or at the sale barn for which OMAFRA fires off warning letters to farmers for having a cow not fit for transport and sale. Each case is followed up with an inspection of the farm. Farmers keep that quiet because it’s embarrassing. The inspectors scare the bejeebers out of folks because they can. Yet Farm and Food Care Ontario is always, always silent.
In fairness to Farm and Food Care Ontario, it handles the education part of its mandate very well. But this is war and you send soldiers to a battle field, not missionaries.
Agriculture needs to quit funding organizations, like Farm and Food Care Ontario, that fall far short of their goals. Animal activism is ramping up and people are no more sympathetic to farming. To top it off, Farm and Food Care Ontario has a conflict of interest. It gets paid to train OSPCA inspectors. It wouldn’t want to lose that gig.
“Perhaps their (Farm and Food Care Ontario) approach is wrong and they need to revisit how they are fighting (activist attacks),” said Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario director of research/manager of board and committee services Suzanne Armstrong. “All the organizations fund Farm and Food Care Ontario to take care of this sort of thing.”
Farm and Food Care Ontario has no idea that this is a fight. It is going to a war with a PowerPoint presentation.
Individuals on their own can win some battles, but never the war against this organized, committed enemy.
We, to paraphrase Churchill, have two options. Dishonour, or war. Thus far, to remain safe, we have chosen dishonour. But, by God, we are in a war.
Ian Cumming is a former Glengarry County dairy farmer and now farms with his son in northern New York state.