By Connor Lynch
NEWMARKET — On Feb. 17, 1994, Michael Schmidt received a notice from the Grey Bruce Health Unit, ordering him to stop producing and distributing raw milk.
One month later, this reporter was born.
Now, 24 years later, the story of Michael Schmidt’s long war with the Ontario government on the raw milk question seems to be finally at an end, although that has been said about Schmidt before.
On Jan. 5, a permanent injunction was granted by Justice P.W. Sutherland of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice at Newmarket. The injunction indefinitely bars Michael Schmidt and the various dairy co-ops and legal entities he has been involved with in his fight against the province, from selling or distributing raw milk.
Schmidt told the Owen Sound Sun Times that the decision was “fascism at its purest.”
He told Farmers Forum that the ruling was “a moral loss for the justice system and the whole of agriculture.”
Schmidt will now be shifting some of his energy towards building a concert hall at his farm at Durham in Grey County. Schmidt, who said he is a conductor and has been performing in the community for the last 30 years, said that he wants to make sure “that people don’t forget society needs culture as much as it needs food.”
The concert hall has been in the works for about a year, he said, and currently he’s involved in figuring out the technical aspects such as plumbing and heating.
He added that he’s already heard from “several members of the Vienna State Opera.”
Schmidt’s battle with regional authorities has been long and complex, stretching quite literally across the country. Here’s a history:
1992: Michael Schmidt canceled his contract with the Milk Marketing Board. He started his lease-a-cow system whereby customers lease his cows to comply with legislation prohibiting raw milk sales.
1994: Michael Schmidt was ordered by the Grey Bruce Health Unit to cease and desist his raw milk operation. Schmidt appealed to the Health Protection Appeal Board and was denied. Schmidt was convicted of violating the Health Protection and Promotion Act for running his raw milk farm, as well as violating the Milk Act. He was fined $3,500, and sentenced to two years on probation.
York Region also issued Schmidt a cease-and-desist order the same year.
Schmidt later attempted another end-run around provincial legislation. His cow-share scheme allowed customers to buy a $300 one-quarter interest in a cow. He attracted 150 members and he delivered raw milk weekly.
2006: Twelve years after Schmidt’s first conviction, York Region filed 19 charges against Schmidt, Another order to cease and desist was issued. Schmidt ignored it.
2007: A Superior Court Justice issued a Court Order, ordering Schmidt to comply with the cease and desist. Schmidt refused.
2008: Schmidt was convicted of contempt of court. He was fined $5,000, and ordered to pay York Region $50,000 for its legal fees. (York Region will neither confirm nor deny if Schmidt paid the costs.)
2010: Schmidt transferred his farm’s ownership to the farm co-op called ARC and offered customers shares. About 150 bought in. Most paid $2,000 for non-voting shares and bought raw milk from the co-op for $3 to $5.50 per litre. Shareholders were able to order raw milk online.
2010: He took over a raw milk farm in British Columbia. He marketed raw milk as a cosmetic. He was served with, and ignored, a cease-and-desist order from a provincial health authority. He was found in contempt in 2013, and sentenced to a year of probation with the condition that breaching it would send him to prison for three months. His appeal was denied in 2015.
2010: Ontario charges against Schmidt meandered their way through the legal system until he finally had his day in court to argue that the cow-share did not violate provincial law. The Justice of the Peace agreed. All charges were dismissed.
2011: The decision was appealed and overturned. The court fined Schmidt $9,150, and sentenced him to one year of probation.
2014: Schmidt was denied an appeal. He appealed again to the Supreme Court and was denied again.
2015: Gavin Downing, director of the food inspection branch of OMAFRA, obtained a search warrant that proved impossible to execute when inspectors were boxed in on the property by a tractor. Schmidt and three others were charged with obstruction. Charges were dropped against the three others.
2016: Our Farm Our Food (OFOF) was incorporated (not by Schmidt) and leased ARC equipment and bought its cows. ARC managed the operation. Membership required an investment of $2,000 (of which $1,000 was a loan). It had 150 members.
2017: In November, Michael Schmidt was sentenced to 60 days in jail for obstructing a peace officer back in 2015, to be served on weekends.