Tribunal judgement saves farmer from almost $400,000 bill after beef animals removed for no reason
PETERBOROUGH — Warsaw beef farmer Walter Ray has largely prevailed at a provincial tribunal in his recent cost dispute with Ontario’s animal police. The 77-year-old Ray must pay only $14,276 of the $391,196 sought by Provincial Animal Welfare Services (PAWS) when its officers seized his healthy beef herd before Christmas and held them at expensive foster farms for months.
To Ray’s relief, the Animal Care Review Board slashed the whopping — and ever-rising — claim from PAWS in a ruling delivered Aug. 8 by adjudicator Susan Clarke. The demand from PAWS stood at $144,000 when Ray’s appeal was initially heard in March and rose to more than $391,000 by the time the animals were finally sold in early May.
PAWS rounded up and removed 101 of Ray’s Angus-cross beef cattle Dec. 16, after he failed to comply with orders to clean up “hazardous debris” on parts of the 200-acre property where the animals roamed. Two animals were injured badly enough to be put down during the chaotic roundup involving the use of ATVs, and a contractor ended up in a Toronto hospital with serious injuries.
Ray was not charged with any offence and there is no allegation that his animals were not in good condition. He is considering suing the province.
In her written decision, Clarke noted that she was not convinced that the removal of the animals was necessary if the animal police made six visits to the farm before removing the animals.
After the cattle were taken, Ray demanded that PAWS send them to market immediately, rather than rack up off-site care costs at foster farms. PAWS hung onto them, however, continuing to incur daily per head boarding rates of between $20 and $50 per animal. Only in March did PAWS agree to selling the animals, while awaiting the main tribunal ruling. The animals didn’t actually go on the block, though, until May 3 at Hoard’s Station sale barn.
Ray’s lawyer, Bob Scriven, said the $14,276 now owed by his client represents only several days’ worth of care his animals received at foster farms.
Scriven praised Clarke’s “excellent, well-written decision” and her “interesting finding that the cattle were not in distress and did not need to be removed. That is very important for Walter’s and (wife) Gwenda’s reputation.”
To Scriven’s knowledge, the Ray case represents the first time that PAWS intervened to remove cattle from an active commercial operation where there was no charge of animal abuse, Scriven said. The tribunal decision sets an important precedent, which upholds the intent of the legislation, that is, charges levied must be reasonable, Scriven added. Finally, Scriven urges every livestock producer in Ontario to read the 37 page decision, which is available online.
The province has 21 days to appeal the decision back to the tribunal, Scriven said, acknowledging that is always a possibility.
Ray was pleased with the outcome. “The only wish I had is to have those cattle back,” he told Farmers Forum. “But I lost them in the shenanigans. Besides that, I’m fine.”
Ray unhappily added that he believes several cattle got lost in the shuffle and never made it to sale. He suggested he was targeted because, as a former dairy farmer, the authorities perceived him as having deep pockets.
Hoard’s Station owner Dave DeNure confirmed the load of cattle PAWS brought to his May 3 sale was short by more than 10 animals. “It was 11 or 14 they lost, by my count,” DeNure said, trying to recall the exact figure. “We sold more than PAWS took (from him), but only because some calved out.”
DeNure agreed that Ray’s animals should have been sold off as soon as possible, rather than sit in costly foster care.
“I told PAWS to bring the cattle here in January because we already had one bunch we were selling for him. They wouldn’t do it,” DeNure said. The current decision means Ray’s bill will be paid from the money he earned from the sale of the cattle. Ray will pocket about $60,000.
Beef farmer John Lunn, who’s been helping Ray through their legal battle, lauded Scriven for taking the case — and for negotiating the deal to get the cattle sold. Without that deal, Lunn estimated that the demand of payment for foster care could have reached $1 million or more.
Ray’s plight has spooked beef farmers in his area, Lunn said. They tell him they won’t hesitate to sell their animals the first time PAWS visits their farms, he said.
Lunn, a farm counsellor with Beef Farmers of Ontario, said that BFO “failed to step to the plate” for Ray.
The provincial legislation that created PAWS must be changed, Lunn said, to remove all reference to foster care for livestock animals. In light of the Ray case, Lunn is calling for reform of the law and is pushing for a meeting with the Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, and the Solicitor General.
Lunn noted that while Ray will not have to pay the huge foster care bill, Ontario taxpayers will.
See the decision below.