By Connor Lynch
OTTAWA — Farmers dealing with animal activists and protestors on the farm or on the way to the slaughterhouse or sale barn can look for police backup or pursue civil litigation, but only if they know what to look for. Ottawa ag lawyer Kurtis Andrews told Farmers Forum what charges protestors could face and how farmers can deal with the unwelcome guests.
First, remember that activists do have a right to freedom of expression, and that means they are allowed to speak their minds, hand out pamphlets, and communicate their beliefs.
But when activists go too far, generally speaking, Andrews said there are three offences they risk being charged with: Mischief, causing a disturbance and being a common nuisance.
A criminal mischief charge requires proof that a farm or business, someone’s livelihood, was materially affected or hindered by what the activists were doing. Causing a disturbance can include loud singing or chanting, or obstructing people or loitering in a public place. Being a common nuisance is any unlawful act that obstructs the public in the enjoyment of a common right, such as freedom of movement.
Proving any of these can be difficult, and Andrews encourages farmers to keep detailed records before any activists show up. A comparison of how many animals a farmer could send to the slaughterhouse before and after the activists get involved makes it easier for police and the crown to possibly pursue charges. “If you have lousy records, and cannot show that your business was genuinely affected, the police are more likely to shrug their shoulders.”
If trespassing can also be proven, that can help make a mischief charge stick, said Andrews. Trespassing involves being on private property without permission.
To rid yourself of the unwelcome, politely tell them to leave and tell them they are not invited back.
First and foremost, if a farmer feels that something illegal is going on, or is simply nervous about what’s happening, call the police and make a complaint, he said. “Nothing’s going to happen if you don’t complain.” Recording the situation with a camera (most smartphones have one) can be useful as well to document what’s happening before police arrive. Taking notes is very important also.
Police, however, have discretion in these situations, and if the protestors are reasonable, a bargain can be struck between them in the name of keeping the peace, added Andrews. “Police will generally first try to talk some sense into the people involved,” he said.
The advantage for a farmer concerned about protestors going to the police and seeking charges is it doesn’t cost the farmer; the disadvantage is it’s out of your hands, said Andrews, and the Crown will not necessarily pursue charges. So another option is going the civil route and seeking an injunction against the protestors. Though it can be costly since a farmer has to pay his own legal costs, he has control of the proceedings and an injunction order can keep protestors at bay.