GUELPH, Ontario – The provincial government of Ontario recently introduced the Security from Trespass and Protecting Food Safety Act, 2019, aimed at protecting farmers and food processors from disruptive animal welfare protests and undercover whistleblowers.

The proposed legislation would establish “animal protection zones” on farms, processing facilities and other premises, such as animal enclosures, as defined by the law. Further, the proposed law would provide stronger deterrents to trespassing by:

  • Assessing escalating fines of up to C$15,000 for a first offense and up to C$25,000 for subsequent offenses, compared to a C$10,000 maximum fine under the Trespass to Property Act.
  • Allowing the court to order restitution for any injury, loss or damages suffered as a result of the offense.
  • Prescribing aggravating factors that would allow the court to consider factors that might justify an increased fine. Courts must provide a reason if it does not increase fines based on the aggravating factors.
  • Increasing protection for farmers against civil liability from people who were hurt while trespassing or contravening the act as long as there was no intent to do harm or reckless disregard.

Legislators in the province of Alberta passed a similar law last week.

Ontario Pork, which represents 1,179 farmers who market 5.5 million hogs in the province, expressed support for the proposed law. In a statement, Ontario Pork said, “Farmers and others in the livestock industry respect the right to peaceful protest, but increasingly find their homes, property, land and vehicles encroached upon by individuals seeking to end their livelihood. These invasions put the safety of people, animals and our food supply at risk.”

The proposed law will make it easier to prosecute trespassing by requiring explicit consent before entering an animal protection zone and invalidating that consent if it was obtained under false pretense or duress. Also, the law expands the statute of limitations in which charges can be filed to two years from the day of the offense or two years from the day when evidence of the offense was uncovered. Current law provides a limit of six months.

“This proposed legislation respects the right to peaceful protest, while restoring balance between the high standards of animal care inherent to pork farming, and protection for farmers, transporters and others involved in food production,” Ontario Pork said. “It underscores the importance of biosecurity practices that keep animals healthy, help reduce antibiotic use, and ensure that we never have to question what the food we eat might contain. It will reduce workplace harassment of farmers, transporters and processors, and better protect farmers from invasions of their homes and businesses.

“Most importantly, it will give our judicial system much needed tools to ensure real consequences for those who choose to break the law to disrupt farming and food production.”

The Security from Trespass and Protecting Food Safety Act follows a series of animal welfare protests and undercover video exposés at farms and food processing facilities in Canada. Animal Justice, an animal welfare organization in Canada, said the law is “…part of a worrying, US-inspired effort to further conceal farmed animal cruelty in Canada.”

“Ontario’s attempt to cover up animal cruelty is absolutely chilling, and should be deeply disturbing to us all,” said Camille Labchuk, executive director of Animal Justice. “There are no welfare standards, no public inspections, and there is no meaningful oversight for the tens of millions of animals confined in appalling conditions on farms. Undercover exposés of Ontario farms and slaughterhouses regularly lead to animal cruelty prosecutions and convictions. Greater transparency is good for animals, food safety, and public confidence. Instead of addressing the animal cruelty crisis on farms, the government is misusing the justice system to conceal animal abuse in a way that may well violate the Charter.”

Keith Currie, president of the Ontario Farmers Association, said, “We truly appreciate the consultation that was done throughout the industry that’s behind this new legislation. It’s heartening to know the serious concerns of Ontario livestock and poultry farmers were heard. This is very important legislation that will play an important role to ensure the continued integrity of Ontario’s agri-food system.”

The bill does not impact indigenous hunting and fishing rights on rural land outside of an animal protection zone and existing provisions under current trespass law.