A new bill unveiled by the Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs has farmers hopeful they might have a little more peace of mind on their properties.
Vicky Morrison, chair of the Essex-Kent Dairy Producer committee and Woodslee, Ont. farmer is pleased to see the proposed legislation.
"We have for too long been at the forefront of these issues," said Morrison. "Not only is the farm our business but 95 per cent of the time the farm is also our home."
Minister Ernie Hardeman sat in on 20 roundtable discussions and held consultations with numerous stakeholders to come up with what he said is a balanced bill.
"We [want] to make sure we do everything we can to protect our livestock and protect our food safety at the same time," said Hardeman. "[As well as] protect the ability of people who want to express their views differently ... that their right to protest is protected."
According to Hardeman, the bill provides tools for law enforcement and also lays out that people going into livestock facilities must have written consent from the owners of the facility.
Morrison said sometimes, as a farmer, she did not feel comfortable in her home due to the presence of protestors and animal advocates on her property. Morrison also said protestors coming onto the property also increases the risks of disease to the animals, as they don't wear protective equipment like the farmers do.
"We're doing everything we can to try and prevent trespassers coming onto our property," said Morrison. "It's the government's turn to do [something]."
Morrison said the bill is missing how the police can be involved more easily.
"We deserve protection from somebody who isn't necessarily there for good reasons," said Morrison.
Advocates think the bill isn't about trespassing
Camille Labchuk, lawyer and executive director of Animal Justice said she was "chilled to the bone" by the "draconian" measures suggested in the bill.
"Everytime an undercover whistleblower exposes conditions we see horrific cruelty," said Labchuk. "Instead of cracking down on the cruelty we're seeing the government crack down on the people who are seeking to expose that cruelty."
Labchuk said the bill isn't about trespassing — those laws already exist. She thinks the bill is about keeping animal advocates and the public from seeing on-farm conditions.
"I think what's happening is people in Ontario are losing confidence in the food system," said Labchuk. "What the government should doing is introducing laws to oversee conditions on farms."
Hardeman said the bill doesn't prevent legal protests.
"They can still carry on," said Hardeman. "What this bill does is provide the tools to make sure that when it's not a legal protest that the law enforcement has the ability to deal with that issue."
According to Labchuk, similar laws have passed in the U.S. but have been challenged as unconstitutional.
The bill will have to be debated in the Ontario legislature and go to committee. After a third reading it would become law.
The proposed Bill would, if passed would:
- Increase 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.
- Allow courts to consider aggravating factors when determining the appropriate fine.
- Allow courts to issue a restitution order requiring the trespasser to pay restitution for damages caused during the trespass.
- Increase 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.