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New law attempts to balance food production with peaceful protest

There is a new law in Ontario that aims to balance the safety and security of farmers, their families and the provincial food supply, and aims to protect the right for people to participate in lawful protests on public property.

On June 18, Bill 156, the Security from Trespass and Protecting Food Safety Act, 2020received Royal Assent. Once proclaimed into force, the Act will further protect against the health and safety risks of on-farm trespassing.

“If there’s one thing the COVID-19 outbreak has demonstrated, it’s the importance of a steady and reliable food supply and the safety of those who feed us,” said Ernie Hardeman, Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs. “I am more committed than ever to supporting our farmers, food processors and transport sector — the agri-food heroes who have worked so hard to keep food on our grocery store shelves and our kitchen tables throughout this crisis.”

In recent years, farmers have faced increased levels of trespassing and theft of livestock from their farms as well as mental health stress due to these threats. Bill 156 will increase protections for those farmers while simultaneously protecting the right for people to participate in lawful protests on public property.

The Security from Trespass and Protecting Food Safety Act, 2020 helps deter trespassers by:

  • Escalating 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;
  • Prescribing aggravating factors that would allow the court to consider factors that might justify an increased fine;
  • Allowing the court to order restitution for damage in prescribed circumstances which could include damage to a farmer’s livestock or from theft;
  • Increasing protection for farmers against civil liability from people who were hurt while trespassing or contravening the act, provided the farmer did not directly cause the harm;
  • Removing consent to enter a farm property when it was given under duress or false pretenses.

“The Ontario Federation of Agriculture and its members appreciate the support of the Ontario government in taking the concerns of Ontario livestock and poultry farmers seriously and acting swiftly to address them by passing Bill 156,” said Keith Currie, President of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture.

“Dairy farmers in Ontario take the welfare of the animals in our care and the quality of the milk we produce very seriously. The act goes a long way to keeping the integrity of the biosecurity measures we have in place for food safety, and to keeping our animals, families and homes safe from unauthorized visitors,” said Murray Sherk, Board Chair of Dairy Farmers of Ontario.

Ontario Pork, the organization that represents the swine industry across the province, is welcoming the new law.

“It strikes an appropriate balance between the right to public protest that all Canadians enjoy, and the biosecurity and safety practices that ensure the well-being of people, animals and the food supply, said Ontario Pork spokesperson Stacey Ash.

“We’re super happy the law is passed,” said Jason Leblond, a Director for the Beef Farmers of Ontario (BFO).

Leblond said he had heard of both farmers and cattle haulers facing difficulties from trespassing protestors in some regions of Ontario.

James Morgan

James Morgan is a freelance contributor. He has worked for several print and broadcast media outlets. James loves the history, natural beauty, and people of eastern Ontario and western Quebec.

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