Updated Dec. 2
The Ontario government introduced a bill Dec. 2 aimed at discouraging people who would interfere with livestock production and transportation.
The legislation, Security From Trespass and Protecting Food Safety Act, 2019, will increase fines for trespassers, protect farmers from civil liability from people injured while trespassing, and limit the interaction protesters are allowed with livestock transportation vehicles.
Why it matters: Activists have become more brazen in trespassing on farms and stopping livestock trucks, which has increased concern from farmers.
“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. Everyone in Ontario has a right to a safe workplace,” said Ernie Hardeman, Ontario’s minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs in an interview with Farmtario. He emphasized that the legislation will also protect the safety of the food supply.
He says the new legislation will define animals zone which will be covered by the increased fines and controls of the act.
For example, someone who drives across a farm in a snowmobile without permission in the winter could still be charged under the regular trespass act. However, if someone comes into a barn without permission then they could be charged under the new act.
The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) says it held more than 20 roundtable meetings this fall with those involved in livestock production and transportation.
“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. Farmers implement biosecurity measures to protect against unwanted diseases as well as stress on our farm animals,” said Keith Currie, president of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture.
Representatives of farm groups were on hand when the legislation was introduced.
There are unique challenges to trespassers on farms including that fact that the farmer often works where their families live, farm animals can be exposed to stress and disease and the fact that contaminants can be introduced into the larger food supply.
“We think it is very important they still have every right to demonstrate, but protect security for people on farms,” said Hardeman.
“It’s important that if you go into the barn you are there at request of and with permission of the owner,” says Hardeman. “If you are in the building, you are automatically breaking the law if you can’t prove you should be there.”
Fines would be increased 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.
The legislation will allow a court to order restitution for damage under certain circumstances that could include damage to a farmer’s livestock, including for theft.
There will also be increased protection against civil liability from people who were hurt while trespassing or otherwise contravening the act.
There will be exemptions to allow police, municipal bylaw and animal protection officers to access properties.
The legislation also would prohibit the “stopping, hindering, obstructing or interfering with a motor vehicle transporting farm animals” and would prohibit “interacting with farm animals being transported by a motor vehicle without explicit prior consent”.
Updated Dec. 2 to add comments from Ontario Minister of Agriculture Food and Rural Affairs Ernie Hardeman.