Farm trespassing bill passes second reading in House of Commons

A Conservative private member’s bill that aims to address the risks from biosecurity breaches and trespassing on farms was approved at the second reading stage in the House of Commons on Wednesday.

Brought forward by Foothills MP John Barlow, Bill C-205 would amend the Health of Animals Act to “make it an offence to enter, without lawful authority or excuse, a place in which animals are kept if doing so could result in the exposure of the animals to a disease or toxic substance.”

“This is really a bill aimed at two things: the mental health of our farmers and the security of our food supply,” explained Barlow on the March 5 edition of RealAg Radio (at the 45 min mark), noting the risk of introducing diseases such as African Swine Fever, foot-and-mouth disease, or avian influenza to a farm.

While trespassing incidents have become more common in recent years, Barlow said the bill stems from a 2019 incident in his riding where several dozen activists trespassed and staged a sit-in at a turkey farm.

In addition to extending the Health of Animals Act to trespassers, the proposed legislation would also increase the penalties for organizations who encourage individuals to threaten the biosecurity of animals and workers.

The bill received 178 votes for, and 155 against, sending it to the House of Commons agriculture committee for further review.

“Bill C-205 received strong support from the NDP, Bloc, and Conservative Members who recognize the necessity for common sense legislation to safeguard the biosecurity of our farms. It is with great disappointment to see that the Liberals do not support measures to protect the biosecurity of our farms or safeguard our food supply chain, especially during a pandemic,” said Barlow, in a statement issued Wednesday. “This important legislation would also protect the rights of whistleblowers and an individual’s right to peacefully protest on public property.”

Several provinces have passed or introduced similar legislation aimed at reducing the risks associated with trespassing on farms with livestock and poultry.

Earlier this week, the animal rights activist group Animal Justice announced it is taking the Ontario government to court over the farm trespass legislation it passed last year, arguing it infringes on the right to freedom of expression.

The Manitoba government, meanwhile, announced on Wednesday that it is moving forward with several amendments to its Petty Trespasses Act, the Occupiers Liability Act and the Animal Diseases Act to help landowners respond to concerns about trespassing on private property.

“These amendments address concerns we have heard regarding rural crime, including trespassing,” said Manitoba Agriculture Minister Pedersen. “Farms are not only places of business; they are homes where children and families also reside. Trespassing can expose farms and food production facilities to biosecurity risks that could spread disease, and may cause injury and stress to farm animals.”

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