By Connor Lynch
QUEEN’S PARK — Ontario’s farm trespass bill, which boosts penalties for trespassing on farms and makes it easier to prosecute those who do, became law last month.
Bill 156, or the Security from Trespass and Protecting Food Safety Act,
introduced a number of new protections for farms and farmers,
• Boosting fines to $15,000 for a first trespassing offence, 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 prohibit interacting with animals on livestock trucks without explicit, prior consent. The day after the law passed, but was not yet in force, a livestock truck outside a Burlington pig processor struck and killed an animal activist involved in a “pig save” protest.
The new law also aims to make it easier to prosecute trespassing on farms by requiring explicit consent to be on the farm, and expanding the time limit to seek charges of up to two years after evidence of the trespass is found.
Championed by farm organizations as a necessity given multiple instances of activists trespassing on farms in Ontario, and decried by animal rights groups like Animal Justice as an ag gag law, the bill has received both bipartisan support and opposition.
MPP John Vanthof (NDP — Timiskaming-Cochrane), a former dairy farmer and provincial ag minister Ernie Hardeman’s nephew, has suggested the bill misstepped by introducing potential charter violations. Animal Justice has argued similarly, as has the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.
Ottawa-based ag lawyer Kurtis Andrews, who described the law as being “essentially perfect,” shortly after it was introduced, has also argued that the construction of the bill shields it from the kinds of challenges that have struck down so-called ag gag laws (as this one is also being called) in the U.S. While the bill might be challenged, he said at the time that he wouldn’t expect a challenge to succeed, as the aim of this law is very different. “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,” he told Farmers Forum.