Bill 156 sees court challenge from animal activist groups

Special farmland provisions not new in law

Last year’s passage of the Security of Trespass and Protecting Food Safety Act granted special protection to many Ontario livestock producers, but as attendees at the recent 2021 London Farm Show were reminded, it’s nothing new for farmland to be singled out under the law.

Nonetheless, several provisions of the new law, Bill 156, are concerning enough to the province’s animal rights movement that a challenge was issued in early March to have them struck down.

Why it matters: Provincial agriculture minister Ernie Hardeman introduced and championed Bill 156 after hearing from farm groups and livestock haulers fed up with interferences and vandalism committed in the name of eliminating animal agriculture.

Lawyer John Goudy of the London firm Scott Petrie LLP specializes in property and expropriation law as well as agricultural matters, and still operates the family farm he grew up on north of London. He looked at several areas of law currently affecting farms including the “checkerboarding” approach to consolidating and subdividing farm properties, as well as laws surrounding underground fuel tanks.

But he kicked off his afternoon talk with a discussion of trespassing.

Under the Trespass to Property Act and the Occupiers Liability Act, both updated most recently in 1990, special provisions already exist for farmland and woodlots. Unauthorized entry is prohibited even without “no trespassing” signs, a provision that doesn’t apply for other types of properties. And if someone is on a farm or woodlot without authorization, “they are deemed to have assumed the risk” of any mishap that might occur.

As a result, Goudy explained, farm or woodlot owners can’t be held liable if someone is unintentionally harmed while on the property without notice.

He stressed, however, that all landowners have a duty not to intentionally endanger people through the setting of traps or the creation of other hazards. And they can’t threaten to or actively impinge upon personal safety if they find someone on their land.

So it certainly wasn’t outside legal precedent to see livestock farmers and truckers singled out for particular protection under Bill 156. Under the new law, Goudy noted, charges can be laid if an unauthorized person is inside a farm’s Animal Protection Zone – an area that can be delineated by something as simple as a pasture fence or barnyard enclosure.

The maximum fine ranges from $15,000 for the first offence up to $25,000 for subsequent offences. This compares to a maximum $10,000 fine under the Trespass to Property Act.

Animal rights activists oppose the law. Animal Justice filed an application on March 8 asking the Ontario Superior Court of Justice to rule on the constitutionality of several clauses in Bill 156 “on the basis that these provisions unjustifiably restrict political expression and peaceful protest activities.”

The application, which can be viewed on the Animal Justice website, says that prohibitions against entering into animal housing facilities under false pretences and against interfering or interacting with farmed animals represent an “unconstitutional impact on fundamental freedoms” related to freedom of expression and freedom of the press and that these impacts are “compounded by unduly harsh and unconstitutional arrest and penalty provisions.”

For now, Goudy said the enhancements in Bill 156 are significant. He noted that the Trespass to Property Act now technically doesn’t apply within Animal Protection Zones. The intention isn’t to allow unauthorized people into the area but rather to ensure there’s no ambiguity and the full strength of the Security from Trespass and Protecting Food Safety Act can apply.

About the author

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Stew Slater

Stew Slater operates a small dairy farm on 150 acres near St. Marys, Ont., and has been writing about rural and agricultural issues since 1999.

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