Ontario to revamp farm trespass laws, increase fines, and create animal protection zones

A girl and her livestock guardian animal. (Lyndsey Smith/RealAgriculture)

In a move considered long overdue by livestock producers, transporters, and processors, Ontario’s agriculture department is set to introduce new legislation to better protect farmers, farms, and the food supply  from animal rights extremists.

Ernie Hardeman, Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, is set to introduce the Security From Trespass and Protecting Food Safety Act, 2019 in the Ontario legislature. If passed, the law will seek to decrease the risk to farmers, their families, employees and livestock by trespassers. These risks include but are not limited to, exposing farm animals to stress and disease and introducing contaminants into the food supply,

The new law would also require explicit prior consent to access an animal protection zone on a farm or food processing facility.

“We’ve heard from farmers who no longer feel safe in their homes, who have expressed concerns with increasing on-farm trespassing and the safety of their families, employees and livestock,” says Hardeman. “Today we are taking action to strengthen protections for agricultural workers and the integrity of our food system.”

Additionally, the proposed act would allow the courts to increase the cost of trespassing 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.

The proposed legislation provides exemptions to allow access for municipal by-law officers, police and persons appointed under provincial animal protection and other legislation to access the property. This will be updated to reference the Provincial Animal Welfare Services Act (PAWS) if both bills are passed by the legislature.

Under the proposed legislation, consent would be invalid if it was obtained under duress or false pretences.

The proposed legislation would also address the safety risks of people interfering with livestock in transport by:

  • Prohibiting stopping, hindering, obstructing or interfering with a motor vehicle transporting farm animals; and
  • Prohibiting interacting with farm animals being transported by a motor vehicle without explicit prior consent.

The government consulted throughout the fall with key stakeholders and people impacted by interference in their livestock operations. Minister Hardeman and the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs held more than 20 roundtables, meetings and conference calls with various segments of the agri-food industry, rural municipalities and representatives of animal advocacy organizations. Stakeholders shared and discussed their concerns with trespassing, the importance of the integrity of our food system, risks to the safety of farmers and others involved in the agri-food sector, and the need for more specific legislation.

Listen below to Minister Ernie Hardeman speak with Lyndsey Smith about this new legislation, including when it may become law, below:

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