By Connor Lynch
KEMPTVILLE — In thinking he’s doing the right thing, a farmer can inadvertently help build a legal case against another farmer. In one case, it was a family member.
Speaking at Eastern Ontario Dairy Days at Kemptville on Feb. 15, Ottawa-based ag lawyer Kurtis Andrews told of a frustrated farmer who struck an uncooperative cow and told his siblings about it. But a complaint had already been made by someone else and an Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (OSPCA) officer visited the farm. The siblings, believing they were doing the right thing, pointed out the cow that had been struck. Without that, the officer might not have found the cow; as there were plenty of cows with markings on legs from doing nothing more than cows being cows bumping into things in a barn. The Crown ended up calling for jail time, something that shocked the siblings but they were powerless to reverse it.
“We can say if you do something wrong, you should own up to it,” Andrews said. “But when it’s your family facing jail time, it’s more difficult.”
No doubt about it, the current climate of heightened concern for the welfare of animals can be a troubling one for dairy farmers. Particularly if there is a knock at the door from an OSPCA officer brandishing a warrant or simply asking questions.
Andrews offered practical advice for farmers about what they can, can’t, should, and shouldn’t do if the OSPCA comes calling.
If an officer arrives without a warrant, the farmer has to make a judgment call, said Andrews. “Sometimes cooperating means you’re going to resolve things quicker and reduce suspicion. Sometimes you might get in trouble for something you thought was normal.”
If the officer arrives with a warrant, usually accompanied by police, the path is more clear. However, Andrews told farmers that he’s yet to hear of a case where the OSPCA arrived with a warrant and didn’t lay charges.
Here are Andrews’ guidelines for protecting yourself when faced with officers with a warrant:
• Do not try to physically interfere with OSPCA officers. Tell them that you do not give them permission to enter, in case it is later discovered that their warrant is invalid, but also state that you will not interfere with them executing the warrant.
• Get your own witness, ideally your vet, to the farm as quickly as possible. The worst-case scenario is that the OSPCA ends up being the only ones with evidence to present to a judge or justice of the peace. If your vet says he’s busy, offer him double his rate. Then triple, said Andrews.
• It might be worth asking if the OSPCA will wait until your vet arrives to begin executing the warrant but they can decline the request and there’s nothing you can do about it.
• Every bit of information that the OSPCA collects is for one purpose: To build a case against you. Don’t help them. Don’t try to prove your innocence. Say as little as possible.
• You can record them as long as you’re obvious about it. Even if you’re not, the cell phone video will likely be accepted as evidence.
• Make sure everyone on the farm knows not to give the OSPCA permission to enter the property if they arrive when you aren’t there, and be sure your employees know to call you right away for instructions.
• Read the warrant. If the warrant is specific to the barn, the OSPCA should only be going to the barn. If the warrant only gives your address, the OSPCA can go anywhere they like.
If no one is home, things can play out very differently, said Andrews. If there is no warrant, they can knock on the door of the house. Anything they see is fair game. But going to the barn would be trespassing, he said.
OSPCA Officers with a warrant are a whole different story.
“They can take the door down to get in,” he said.