Peterborough-area farmers say they’re in favour of proposed provincial legislation that would protect them and agricultural workers from animal rights activists who trespass or impede business.
On Tuesday, Ernie Hardeman, minister of agriculture, food and rural affairs, was in Peterborough for a roundtable with area farmers to discuss Bill 156, the proposed Security from Trespass and Protecting Food Safety Act. Hardeman last month introduced the bill, which is now in its second reading.
The bill proposes to increase fines (up to $15,000 for a first offence; $25,000 for subsequent offences) for trespassing on farms and food processing facilities and make it illegal for people to obstruct vehicles carrying farm animals. Hardeman says the bill would also allow courts to order restitution in cases where a farmer has suffered damages to their livestock or from theft.
Among the attendees was John Lunn, a longtime beef farmer in Peterborough County, who is also an advisory councillor with the Beef Farmers of Ontario. He says he hasn’t personally dealt with trespassing incidents but has assisted police and farmers in trespassing incidents in Ontario.
“This bill is extremely needed,” said Lunn. “It gives farmers some rights. It gives them some pushback against people who come onto farms without asking.”
Lunn says trespassing puts not only farmers and families at risk but also livestock by increasing stress and possibly introducing disease or contamination.
The bill would also protect farmers from civil claims by individuals who were injured on the farm while trespassing, Hardeman noted.
The minister says he tabled the proposed legislation after meeting with Ontario farmers who expressed concerns about their safety and mental health stress due to the threat of trespassing on their properties.
“We have received a lot of support from across the province for our proposed legislation to improve protection against trespass,” stated Hardeman. “Our hardworking farmers, their families, employees and farm animals face unique risks and challenges associated with trespass onto a farm or into a food processing facility. We take their safety very seriously and this bill addresses those risks.”
Peterborough-Kawartha MPP Dave Smith, who hosted the roundtable, says farmers’ homes are their livelihoods and their families deserve “safety and certainty.”
“Today’s discussion with local farmers underscored that point,” he said. “I am thrilled that Minister Hardeman came to listen to the families who feed our cities.”
Hardeman notes that the bill would not interfere with people’s right to legally protest.
“Our government will always protect that right,” he said. “However, these activities cannot include creating safety risks on farms or interfering with livestock in transport. I look forward to carrying forward the proposed legislation through its next steps when the legislature returns later this month.”
Steve Brackenridge, Peterborough-Kawartha Lakes-Durham-Haliburton zone director for the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, applauds the proposed legislation and says it “needs to move forward.”
“It’s encouraging and it has been needed in the province for a long time,” said Brackenbridge. “There seems to be a slight escalation in activities where people are interested in going on facilities. At the end of the day, everyone in the province is entitled to a safe working environment.”
Brackenbridge notes that trespassers could cause unwanted stress on farmers, their families and the livestock and could introduce disease that could jeopardize the food system.
“People are entitled to their right to protest — this is not about to reduce someone’s ability to say what you’re doing is wrong,” he said. “But entering a facility which jeopardizes our food system or the health and safety of the people working there is not right.”
Hardeman also visited Lindsay later Tuesday to discuss the bill with farmers in the City of Kawartha Lakes and Haliburton.
They claim animal protection groups were not consulted about the proposed legislation and that the bill will enable farmers to conceal any animal abuse or animal cruelty. Activists also claim the bill will punish whistleblowers and prevent them and journalists from exposing any horrific treatment of farm animals.
Hardeman hopes to have the bill ready for a third reading in the spring. Smith says he’ll take feedback from Tuesday’s roundtable to advocate for approval of the bill.
Similar legislation was passed in Alberta in fall 2019.
– With files from Jessica Nyznik/Global News Peterborough