Legal process was the punishment
Beef farmer wins but the stress was exhausting, the herd is gone and he has legal bills to pay
WARSAW — Ontario’s animal police have dropped their whopping $375,000 claim against Peterborough-area beef farmer Walter Ray for cattle-boarding fees after taking away the farmer’s herd in December 2021.
Provincial Animal Welfare Services (PAWS) rounded up the animals without the farmer’s permission and without laying any charges. A tribunal ruled in Ray’s favour last year. PAWS appealed that decision but pulled out of the so-called judicial review on Aug. 28, cementing the farmer’s win almost two years after his ordeal began.
The term ‘win’ is used advisedly, as the legal process was effectively a punishment for Ray, 78, and his wife, Gwenda, neither of whom was ever charged with any offense. “Yet they have been penalized, with no breeding stock left, huge legal bills and no compensation,” their friend, John Lunn, told Farmers Forum. He added that the ordeal has affected the couple’s health and he’s noticed that they are now afraid to answer the front door.
Lunn, who got involved as an advocate for the Rays in early 2022, expressed disappointment with the way matters were allowed to escalate. “Especially when I tried to get it stopped before it started,” he said. The “whole system” failed, he said, adding he reached out to two local MPPs to no avail. “Neither one would get involved. They all told me he was guilty. There wasn’t anybody that helped.”
The Rays’ lawyer, Bob Scriven, said he will be seeking costs for legal fees from PAWS, now that the animal police have dropped their appeal.
The elderly couple’s troubling legal saga began when PAWS rounded up and removed 101 of Walter Ray’s 170 Angus-cross beef cattle on Dec. 16, 2021, after he failed to comply with orders to clean up alleged “hazardous debris” on parts of the 200-acre property where the animals roamed. There was stockpiled debris near the barns but the fields where the animals roamed were largely pasture. Two animals were injured badly during the raid and had to be destroyed. They were not injured by debris but by the chaotic PAWS roundup that included roaming ATVs. A PAWS contractor ended up in a Toronto hospital with serious injuries.
The action at the Ray farm was the first time that PAWS intervened to remove cattle from an active commercial operation where there was no allegation of animal abuse.
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 the animals, however, continuing to incur daily per head boarding rates of between $20 and $50 per animal. Only in March did the two sides come to an agreement on liquidating the animals. The animals didn’t actually go on the auction block until May of last year.
Lunn also said their situation again highlighted the need to reform the PAWS Act to differentiate livestock animals from pets. While the province recently made some amendments to the Act, those changes don’t appear to address such concerns.