By Connor Lynch
QUEEN’S PARK — The Ontario government hit it out of the park with its farm trespass bill, said Ottawa ag lawyer Kurtis Andrews.
Bill 156, the Security from Trespass and Protecting Food Safety Act, 2019, introduced last month, significantly boosts a number of protections for farmers.
Last year saw numerous incidents involving animal activists in Ontario and across the country, including a dead calf stolen from a Western Ontario dairy farm and five turkeys stolen from an Alberta barn. Ontario’s mink farms have been harassed for years.
The provincial government stiffened trespassing penalties last year, raising the maximum fine to $10,000, but for this year introduced specific protections for farms.
Those new protections include:
• Boosting fines to $15,000 for a first offence when trespassing on a farm and, up to $25,000 for subsequent offences.
• Allowing courts to order restitution for farmers for injury, loss or damages suffered from trespassing.
• Increasing protections for farmers against being sued if an activist is hurt while trespassing, as long as the harm to the trespasser is not intentionally caused by a farmer or by a farmer’s reckless negligence.
The bill also makes it illegal to block livestock trucks and prohibits interacting with animals on livestock trucks without explicit, prior consent. It also aims to make it easier to prosecute trespassing on farms by requiring explicit consent beforehand to be on the farm, and expanding the time limit on charges to two years after evidence of the trespass is found.
Ottawa ag-lawyer Kurtis Andrews said the bill, as written, was exactly what he was looking for. “In a very general sense, the Act is perfect. It’s hit every single one of the points I’ve been making.”
Leading up to this bill, farmers were concerned that trespassers weren’t being charged or charges were being dropped. The bill is a signal to law enforcement and Crown prosecutors that the issue is important to the provincial government, Andrews said, adding that there is a clear message from the province to the Crown Attorney’s office: “It’s a priority. We expect it to be done.”
Ontario’s farm organizations weighed in with praise as well. According to a joint statement from the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, Beef Farmers of Ontario, Ontario Pork and many others, the bill “will finally allow farmers to operate their businesses without the fear of special interest groups and activists attempting to disrupt their farms, families and way of life with no legal repercussions.”
But the bill has not escaped criticism. NDP MPP, ag critic and former dairy farmer John Vanthof suggested the bill could be open to a constitutional challenge because it makes it an offence to be on a farm under false pretenses. So-called ag-gag laws that criminalize undercover recording of video on farms have been struck down in the United States. As well, some have suggested that, by preventing unauthorized entry onto farms, it has weakened animal protections in Ontario.
Andrews suggested that while a constitutional challenge may well be forthcoming, he didn’t think it likely to succeed. “The U.S. laws were specifically about the recording of video. It was about restraining free speech.
“That’s not the purpose of this act. The purpose is to protect private property and important interests: Food safety, food security, biosecurity. The target is different.”
As to protection for animals, Ontario ag minister Ernie Hardeman, who introduced the bill, said that the other half of Ontario’s animal protection plan is the so-called PAWS Act, which introduced the stiffest penalties in the country for animal cruelty. “People who believe there is animal abuse need to immediately report it,” Hardeman said.
Ontario’s farm trespass law is “perfect,” says Ottawa ag lawyer
By Connor Lynch