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The fine line between protest and provocation

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The Ontario Provincial Police says it has farmers’ backs when it comes to trespassing, but the right to peaceful protest also has its place.

“You have the right to peaceful protest. That’s part of our key message: We live in a country with freedom of expression,” says Sgt. Kerry Schmidt, of the OPP.

However, once someone is trespassing on others’ freedom of enjoyment, it’s a different story.

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Why it matters: Protests on farmers, where farmers live with their families, have created more stress for food producers.

Schmidt and Const. Kelly Daniels spoke at the recent Ontario Federation of Agriculture annual meeting.

Daniels is a member of a Provincial Liaison Team (PLT). She is the one who walks up to protesters for a conversation about what is allowed and what is not. The PLTs talk to people on both sides of a situation to try to keep lines of communication open and to keep the event peaceful.

For example, she interacts with the Ontario Pig Save group at a processing plant in Ingersoll.

“They hold a vigil, and I have to say that with a straight face, but I have to acknowledge that they have a right to their beliefs,” she said. She also deals with worker picket line limits in labour disputes.

The interaction of the police is prompted by reasonable limits. Protesters can picket your laneways — but they can’t hold you from leaving or entering.

“If they hold you there 20 minutes or 30 minutes, then we would change our tune,” said Daniels.

Optics are important. Daniels says most protesters are there to gather images for social media posts.

“Sometimes (they) just go to get a picture and 20 minutes later they’ve gone,” she says.

Think about the image you want to project if you talk to the protesters, says Schmidt.

“If you just came back from varmint killing and have a gun in your hand when confronting them, then that’s what going to be on the six o’clock news or on their social media feeds,” he says.

A farmer asked a question about liability for the farm when a protester enters the property.

As long as what is around is used for normal farming practices — including electric fences — and the person is trespassing, then they won’t have much of a civil case.

“They are already committing an offence by coming over the fence,” said Daniels.

Schmidt acknowledged that the police know that farm protests are taken personally, because a farmer’s family likely lives at the site of the protest, but encouraged calm and developing a relationship with local law enforcement agencies.

Tips for managing protesters from the OPP:

  • Remain calm. The calmer you are, the smarter you will think.
  • Patience is key.
  • Install no trespassing signs.
  • Protestors are legally permitted to peacefully demonstrate.
  • Charter rights do not protect threats or acts of violence like assault, destruction of property or other unlawful conduct.
  • Record everything you can. There’s a good chance you are being recorded as well.

About the author

Editor

John Greig

John Greig has spent his career in agriculture journalism and communications. He lives on a farm near Ailsa Craig, Ontario. Contact John at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @jgreig

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