by Cindy Macdonald
AgriNews Staff Writer
TORONTO – A proposed bill introduced in the Ontario Legislature in early December is intended to better protect farmers, their animals, livestock transporters and the province’s food supply from on-farm trespassers. The proposed legislation would also require explicit prior consent to access an animal protection zone on a farm or food processing facility.
“We have heard concerns from farmers, farm organizations, processors, livestock transporters and municipalities in Stormont-Dundas-South Glengarry about trespassing and their worry about the safety of farm families, employees and farm animals,” said MPP Jim McDonell.
“Our government is taking action to help protect them and protect our agriculture sector.”
Ernie Hardeman, Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, introduced the proposed Security from Trespass and Protecting Food Safety Act, 2019 in the Ontario Legislature following consultations held throughout the fall with key stakeholders and people impacted by interference in their livestock operations.
“Interfering with the operations of farms, food processing businesses and livestock transporters not only puts the health and safety of our agri-food workers and farm animals at risk, but also jeopardizes our food safety,” said Hardeman. “Our proposed legislation takes important steps to protect the integrity of the province’s food system.”
The Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA), Chicken Farmers of Ontario, Ontario Pork, the Ontario Livestock Transporters’ Alliance and Dairy Farmers of Ontario are among organizations who have expressed support for the proposed legislation.
Hardeman introduced in the bill to the Ontario Legislature on Dec. 2, 2019. It began Second Reading on Dec. 10.
The proposed bill would, if passed, act as a deterrent to trespassers by:
• Increasing fines of up to $15,000 for a first offence and $25,000 for subsequent offences, compared to a maximum of $10,000 under the Trespass to Property Act;
• Allowing the court to consider aggravating factors when determining the appropriate fine;
• Allowing the court to issue a Restitution Order requiring the trespasser to pay restitution for damages caused during the trespass;
• Increasing protection for farmers, owners, occupiers or drivers against civil liability from people who were hurt while trespassing or contravening the act, provided there was no intent to do harm to or reckless disregard for the trespasser.
The proposed bill provides exemptions to allow access for municipal bylaw officers, police and persons appointed under provincial animal protection and other legislation to access the property. This will be updated to reference the Provincial Animal Welfare Services Act (PAWS) if both bills are passed by the legislature.
As well, under the proposed bill, consent would be invalid if it was obtained using duress or under false pretenses.
The proposal would also address the safety risks of people interfering with livestock in transport by:
• Prohibiting stopping, hindering, obstructing or interfering with a motor vehicle that is transporting farm animals; and
• Prohibiting interacting with farm animals being transported by a motor vehicle without explicit prior consent.
OFA joined livestock organizations in applauding the proposed changes.
“We have been very vocal in our call for swift, strong action against trespassers and activists who are jeopardizing the safety of our farms and food supply, and we are very pleased to support the new legislation introduced at Queen’s Park on Dec. 2,” said Keith Currie, OFA president.
“We truly appreciate the consultation that was done throughout the industry that’s behind this new legislation. It’s heartening to know the serious concerns of Ontario livestock and poultry farmers were heard. This is very important legislation that will play an important role to ensure the continued integrity of Ontario’s agri-food system.”
According to OFA, the Security from Trespass and Protecting Food Safety Act, 2019 provides a balanced approach to protect farms, families, livestock and food safety, while recognizing a citizen’s right to protest. A key component of the legislation is the establishment of “animal protection zones” on farms and at processing facilities that recognizes the importance of minimizing animal stress and reducing the potential of spreading disease.
Hardeman visits Eastern Ontario
Minister Hardeman discussed Bill 156, the proposed Security from Trespass and Protecting Food Safety Act, 2019, with Eastern Ontario farmers during a visit to the region in December.
“No one should feel unsafe at home or work,” said Hardeman. “I’m pleased to have introduced legislation which, if passed, would help better protect our hard-working farmers, their families, employees and farm animals by addressing the unique risks and challenges associated with trespass onto a farm or into a food processing facility.”
“At all our consultations, meetings and roundtables, stakeholders have pointed to the fact that Ontario farmers have been facing trespass on farms that makes them feel unsafe on their own property,” said Hardeman.
Trespassers may not realize how their actions could lead to the introduction of disease in the herd and give livestock undue stress.
The proposed legislation was welcomed by Ontario Pork members and their partners in food production across the province.
This proposed legislation underscores the importance of biosecurity practices that keep animals healthy, help reduce antibiotic use, and ensure that we never have to question what the food we eat might contain, says the pork producers association. It will reduce workplace harassment of farmers, transporters and processors.
“Most importantly,” Ontario Pork continues, “it will give our judicial system much needed tools to ensure real consequences for those who choose to break the law to disrupt farming and food production.”