By Connor Lynch
OTTAWA — A laundry list of recommendations for the federal government in support of farmers came with a call to make it illegal to harass or intimidate someone online because of his line of work. The federal ag committee of 11 MPs released their recommendations last month after a year-long review of farm mental health in Canada.
The report had a grim opening. Farmers are “particularly vulnerable to mental health problems” owing to their lack of control over the weather or the markets, the significant debt of many farms and the regulations and paperwork they have to deal with, the report concluded. It stated that all this is exacerbated by farmers working long hours, often by themselves, with increasingly vicious comments being directed at them on social media. A landmark study from the University of Guelph in 2016 said as many as 45 per cent of farmers reported high stress, 58 per cent were at risk of anxiety and 35 per cent were at risk of depression.
The 60-page report titled Mental Health: A Priority For Our Farmers pointed out that services do exist, including telephone help lines and funding for services. “However, all of this is not enough,” the report said.
The committee included three Ontario MPs: Lloyd Longfield (Liberal — Guelph), Francis Drouin (Liberal — Glengarry-Prescott-Russell) and Bev Shipley (Conservative — Lambton-Kent-Middlesex). Here are the recommendations:
• Ensure that audits and labour reviews are as stress-free for farmers and farm workers as they can be and least disruptive to farm operations.
• Consider dropping regulatory changes if they negatively impact farmers. Keep farmers apprised of regulatory changes that affect them.
• Work with farming organizations to make the public more aware of farming, and change the criminal code to make it illegal to intimidate or cyber-bully someone because of his line of work.
• Invest in high-speed internet in rural Canada.
• Work with organizations to better tailor mental health and insurance care to farmers’ needs.
• Educate agribusinesses on the signs and symptoms of distress and mental health disorders.
• Build awareness among farmers of mental health issues associated with farming.
• Fund organizations that provide mental health assistance to farmers.
• Coordinate research and prevention activities in farm mental health on a national scale.
• Coordinate existing telephone help lines and online mental health services for farmers.
Three Conservative MPs who sit on the committee didn’t think the report went far enough. They added these recommendations:
• Add ag education, including about food production and how farmers take care of livestock and their crops, to school curriculums.
• Ban “false and misleading product labelling,” including “those which suggest that GMOs are a food ingredient.”
• They reiterated the main committee’s call to give producers more advance warning of regulatory changes and consider altering or dropping those changes if they negatively effect farmers.
• Citing incidents of farmers being harassed, even being called rapists and murderers, on social media, the MPs argued: “The federal government should take any and all measures necessary to prevent these unprovoked attacks as well as to make sure individuals who perpetrate them face justice.”
• Repeal the federal carbon tax because of the “economic damage and financial stress,” it causes in the farm community.