By Connor Lynch
Western Ontario dairy farmer Andrew Campbell is known both in agriculture and out of it. A big player on social media, he’s a prominent “agvocate,” someone who speaks in defence and support of the agriculture industry.
It’s mostly been a positive experience, he said. But devoted animal activists, and people who oppose livestock farming in general, have been an aggravating issue, particularly on Facebook and Twitter.
Social media has been a boon for farmers’ mental health in some ways, he said. In a planting year as rough as this one, being able to commiserate with people who understand precisely what you’re going through was a fantasy before modern interconnectedness.
Farmers tend to run into trouble once they start engaging more with the general public, such as with people making threats or saying nasty things on their home networks. It can be relentless at times. Said Campbell: “When you’re always (being) attacked, that obviously is draining.”
It’s not all the time, Campbell said. But of the other big-time advocates he’s spoken with, he doesn’t know one that hasn’t been attacked online. Any farmer venturing out of the agriculture world should know he’s increasing the risk that he gets targeted too, he said.
Campbell testified to some of his experiences, including being called a murderer and a rapist because he’s a dairy farmer, during a parliamentary committee’s review of agricultural mental health. The committee released its report last month, calling for, among other things, an examination to see if there could be changes to the Criminal Code, that would criminalize harassing someone for his occupation.
Some farmers who dipped their toes into social media dropped it, at least for a while, after getting attacked on social media, Campbell said. He hasn’t but he’s definitely concerned about how aggressive things have become.
He thinks the situation needs to be looked at as well, even if it doesn’t mean changing the Criminal Code. The current situation seems unsustainable. “If somebody says in a Facebook comment, ‘I’m going to come and kill you,’ that’s pretty black and white. What happens if he says, ‘I’m looking forward to bringing my friends, and coming to your farm.’ Our kids are sleeping in the house in front of that barn.”
Despite his concerns, Campbell says agvocacy needs to continue. “The whole reason that we talk about it as an issue is because of what these (animal activists) are, frankly, making up about our industry.”
That doesn’t mean you have to stick it out on social media if you’re concerned about your family. You can let a farm advocacy group do the work for you. “Just being a member of Farm & Food Care (Ontario), your $250 membership lets them go to a farm, create the video, go to school, do the fair.”
MP Francis Drouin (Liberal — Glengarry-Prescott-Russell) sat on the parliamentary committee and said the committee didn’t have the tools or the time to fully answer whether or not the Criminal Code needs to be or could be changed to protect farmers. “We didn’t really have enough testimony to change the Criminal Code, and didn’t have enough info to say with confidence that it would be an option (for prosecutors).”
But it seemed clear to him that the current situation must change. “I encouraged activists out there, come protest at my office, rather than at a farm. Farmers have the right to live, and that does get to them, when someone’s telling them every day that they’re a criminal.”