By Tom Collins
The brazenness of animal activists is not going away, but some governments are quicker to deal with it than others.
Alberta announced last month that it would be bringing in new rules to try to keep animal activists from trespassing on farms after a group broke into a turkey barn and stole five turkeys. Four people have now been charged with breaking and entering.
The Alberta government said new trespassing rules will include fines of $10,000 for a first offence and $25,000 for a second offense, with a possible six-month jail sentence for repeat offenders. The government is also bringing forward new biosecurity rules, where trespassers who breach biosecurity protocols could be fined up to $15,000 for a first offence and $30,000 for a second offence, with the potential of a 12-month jail sentence.
The maximum fine for trespassing in Ontario was recently changed from $2,000 to $10,000 but fines are likely to be much lower for a first offence. The Trespass to Property Act says there is a set fine of $50 for trespassing. The Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA), which wanted a minimum fine of $500, said they have never heard of a case where someone was given the maximum fine of $2,000.
The Ontario government is just getting started on changes, meeting with farmers and farm groups. Farmers are frustrated as police usually won’t remove activists from a farm, and any activist that is charged with a crime seems to be getting off scot-free as the charges are usually dropped later.
“There needs to be some real teeth in the rules,” said OFA president Keith Currie. “A number of our people that do have protestors feel threatened. Employees on the farm are not feeling safe. And that’s wrong.”
There’s the added problem that police might not be as quick to respond to a farmer’s phone call about activists if there doesn’t seem like there’s much as a threat, he said.
He said there needs to be better communication with police, lawyers and judges about the impact activists have on agriculture. He added that if someone were to break into a city business, steal something and then post videos online bragging about it, there would be charges and convictions of breaking and entering, theft, and trespassing.
“We need those heavy stiff fines that are going to be a deterrent to people,” he said. “It’s probably also going to take a conviction with a heavy fine to really make it sink in” or “there’s going to be no deterrent.”
Currie said farmers are nervous, and there’s concern that somebody is going to get hurt after someone on either side loses his temper.
Dairy Farmers of Ontario director Nick Thurler agreed.
“I preach you’re supposed to stay calm but I know I would have a hard time if they walked into my farm and they just go right through you like they don’t give a s— about nothing,” he said. “We have to have biosecurity, and nobody’s supposed to walk in the barns without permission. These people just do what they want.”
Both Currie and Thurler mentioned Australia as having some of the strictest trespassing laws. There’s been a movement there to beef up the laws after a rash of break-ins. Earlier this year, one activist posted a list of thousands of farms and address on a web site, encouraging activists to visit those farms.
Earlier this summer, the territory of New South Wales brought in new laws that would give on-the-spot trespassing fines of at least $1,000. There is also the potential for fines as high as $220,000 for individuals and $400,000 for groups and corporations, along with the possibility of jail time.
South Australia is considering new trespassing laws that include a $10,000 fine or 12 months in jail to anyone trespassing on a farm, interfering with farming or putting safety of the farmers at risk. Simple trespassing would be a $5,000 fine. Fines for disturbing farm animals would be $2,500 or six months in jail.
The Australian government also passed laws that could include one year in jail time for anyone using web sites and social media to encourage others to break into farms. A second offence could come with a five-year jail term.
OFA Pres: New trespassing rules need to have “some real teeth”
By Tom Collins