By Patrick Meagher
CHESTERVILLE — Crop farmer and former Chesterville dairyman David Robinson has come to the end of one long, dirty, unfulfilling road.
It was a road that found him not guilty of all charges but the same road that crippled the business of this innocent man. The Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (OSPCA) dropped all 12 animal cruelty charges against him.
The fight cost him his 10 kg. of quota to pay his $156,000 in legal bills and cover ongoing costs. It also cost him the health of his farm and his peace of mind. He’s out of the dairy business with little hope of a comeback. He is the example of how the legal system can work against you: Innocent or guilty, it can take you for a ride. Win or lose, the process can impoverish you.
It anguishes him that he received $40,000 in donations and he can’t pay it back. A baseball tournament in Tweed raised $1,200 for his cause.
When this reporter dropped in to see Robinson in mid-September, his six tractors needed repair. Every machine in the yard looked like it needed help. The house was grey. The sky was grey. It was raining. One neighbour this year paid for his seed and fertilizer for some of his 200 acres.
The bearded Robinson walked out of the house to greet me. There was an almost continuously painful expression in his face for the entire visit. He got to the point quickly. “No farm should put up with what I put up with,” he said, referring to the many visits from the OSPCA officers, the many charges against him and his fear of heavy fines and prison. If they had won their case, they would be “extortionists,” he said.
He said he had 100 dairy cows five years ago. He’s down to 48 and no quota. He and his wife, Marilyn, live on two pensions, and they are now selling off a calf at a time to keep going. He doesn’t want to have to sell his land. The charges against Robinson arose in 2011 because he had older cows in his yard, including a 17-year-old. In his defence, his veterinarian argued you can’t make an old woman look like a young lady.
Most people who have gone through the emotional anguish of charges that could lead to prison, are relieved to put those days behind them. Not Robinson. If he can find a way he said he would go after the OSPCA for damages and one officer in particular for defamation after a letter to the editor appeared in Farmers Forum newspaper.
“If I can possibly do it, I’m going to keep going,” he said. “If I drop dead, I drop dead. If I don’t stand up to them, what farm are they going on to next?”
He’s had three heart attacks, the last one 10 years ago and said he needs $25,000 to take his case to court. Other farms have been visited by the OSPCA and many quietly agreed to the least expensive option. They settled out of court, agreed to plead guilty to one charge and paid the fine to avoid a litany of charges, a court case, expensive legal fees, a mountain of anxiety and possibly public humiliation. For some farmers, a visit from the OSPCA has just become another nuisance tax.
A 2014 case involving Perth dairy farmer Kenneth Hunter is one answer to taking on the OSPCA for damages. In that case of animal cruelty Justice L. Ratushny dropped the charges because of too many delays in the case. But the justice ruled that Hunter could not sue the OSPCA to cover his legal fees of almost $12,000. The justice argued that the Crown needed to be “unfettered by the fear of future liability,” particularly when there is “no finding of an abuse of power and no finding of bad faith or other severe misconduct by the OSPCA.”
The animated Robinson sounded like a warrior going to battle when he spoke of those he believed have tormented him. At times he seemed out of hope.
“Man, I feel like a beggar,” he said. “I wanted to be able to give people (who donated) back their money. I don’t know what in hell to do.”