Ontario draws new legal lines against on-farm trespass

Hogs on a stock trailer bound for a Toronto packing plant accept drinks from Toronto Pig Save members in 2013. (Screengrab of Toronto Pig Save video via YouTube)

Ontario has introduced a legislative package setting up new legal boundaries around livestock in that province, whether on farms or in transit.

The Security From Trespass and Protecting Food Safety Act, introduced Monday by Agriculture Minister Ernie Hardeman, is expected to “address the unique risks and challenges associated with trespass onto a farm or into a food processing facility.”

The province, in a release, cited the “risks trespassers pose to the safety of farmers, their families and employees” as well as the risks of exposing farm animals to stress and disease, and of “introducing contaminants into our food supply.”

The bill would up the ante for trespassing on farms by setting fines of up to $15,000 for a first offence and $25,000 for subsequent offences, compared to the $10,000 maximum under the province’s Trespass to Property Act. It would also lay out “aggravating factors,” allowing a court to consider factors “that might justify an increased fine.”

The bill would also allow courts to order restitution for damages in certain specific circumstances, such as damage to a farmer’s livestock or from theft, the province said.

It also calls for “explicit prior consent” to be granted for someone to access an “animal protection zone” on a farm or food processing facility. Such consent would be invalid, the province said, if it was “obtained under duress or false pretenses.”

The new legislation would define animal protection zones to be covered by the increased fines and controls, Hardeman told Farmtario’s John Greig on Monday.

For example, he said, someone who drives across a farm in a snowmobile without permission in the winter could face charges under the Trespass to Property Act, but a person who enters a barn without permission could be charged under the new act.

Exemptions would allow for municipal bylaw officers, police and provincial animal protection officers to access farm property, the province said.

Off-farm, the bill also proposes to prohibit “stopping, hindering, obstructing or interfering with a motor vehicle transporting farm animals” and “interacting with farm animals being transported by a motor vehicle without explicit prior consent.”

The bill is also expected to boost legal protections for farmers against civil liability in cases where people are hurt while trespassing.

The province’s legislation follows similar moves in Alberta to boost penalties for on-farm trespass, after animal rights activists in both provinces took their protests onto farm property.

It also follows a 2017 court case in which charges were dismissed against an activist who gave what she said was water from a bottle to pigs through vents in the walls of a stock trailer en route to a Burlington, Ont. packing plant.

“Obviously a lot of concern has been expressed about safety on the farm. We decided we should take action on that and we should find a way to make sure people feel safe and secure on their farms,” Hardeman told Farmtario.

“We appreciate the support of the Ontario government in taking the concerns of Ontario livestock and poultry farmers seriously and acting swiftly to address them,” Ontario Federation of Agriculture president Keith Currie said Monday in the province’s release.

Biosecurity measures, he said, are put in place “to protect against unwanted diseases as well as stress on our farm animals.”

Allan Thompson, chair of the Rural Ontario Municipal Association (ROMA), said Monday the organization “is concerned about trespass activities on private farm properties that pose a safety risk to the public, farm families and animals. We appreciate this effort to provide new tools to help keep our communities safe.” — Glacier FarmMedia Network

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