Ontario’s agriculture minister spent the afternoon near Sarnia Thursday, meeting with farmers and agriculture sector officials to talk about his bill to crack down on farm trespassing and protests interfering with livestock processing, including trucking.
“We’re protecting the right of the people who are producing our food to make sure they can guarantee that it’s safe food and their animals are being kept safe,” said Ernie Hardeman, listing the spread of disease and contamination of food as potential fallouts from break-ins, often by animal-rights activists, on farm properties.
The proposed Security from Trespass and Protecting Food Safety Act, which Hardeman hopes will pass third reading over the next few months, ups trespassing fines to $15,000 for first offences and to $25,000 for subsequent offences. The proposed legislation also allows courts to order restitution for any injury, loss or damage caused as a result of an offence, and would increase protection for farmers against civil liability from people hurt while trespassing on their property.
The current maximum trespassing fine is $10,000.
The legislation would not take away the right to protest, Hardeman said, but is aimed at providing security for farmers and their families, whose businesses and homes are often the same.
“So if you want to protest and send a message, do it from the other side of the fence – do it on the sidewalk, do it on public property,” Hardeman said at the Wyoming, Ont., meeting. “But don’t do it and put our food supply at risk.”
The legislation would enable police to charge people with a crime for being in an “animal-safety zone” without authorization, he said, while current legislation does not.
“We have given law enforcement new tools and a better description of what they can do … when someone is where they are, where they shouldn’t be, against the wishes of the property owner,” he said.
Money from fines would go to municipalities, not the province, he said. Hardeman added he doesn’t see the legislation generating any ongoing increased cost for municipalities.
He has plans to meet with Indigenous leaders to assure them their ability to hunt and fish won’t be impacted by the legislation, he said.
The Lambton County stop Thursday was one of about nine community consultations held so far this week, he said. He hopes feedback from farmers will be incorporated into refining the bill.
Some have suggested trespass protections should be extended to pastures, beyond just where animals are transported and processed, he said.
That won’t be included in this bill but could be something the government looks at next, he said.
“I did assure people that after this bill is passed we’re going to work on all challenges farmers face to see if we can solve all the challenges we have.”
Critics of the legislation said it could put a chill on whistleblowers exposing cases of animal abuse, given a provision that prohibits gaining access to a farm or processing plant under “false pretenses.”
The Sarnia Observer