ST. ANDREWS WEST — Ontario’s Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs met this morning with local Stormont County farmers to discuss provincial legislation aimed at reining in activists and protesters who target farms and agribusinesses.
Now awaiting second reading, The Security From Trespass and Protecting Food Safety Act would boost fines for trespassing on farms and food processing facilities. Bill 156 would also impose new penalties for interfering with animal transportation, and for entering farms on “false pretences.” The latter measure is understood to be aimed at undercover activists spying from within farm and agribusiness operations — often in pursuit of video and photos.
“If passed, our proposed Bill would not interfere with the right of people to participate in legal protests,” said Minister Hardeman, who attended the meeting at the village Lions Hall with local MPP Jim McDonell. “Our government will always protect that right.
“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.”
Ontario farm families have experienced a number of incidents in recent years, and Hardeman said the Ford government has “received a lot of support from across the province” for the bill. “Our hard-working 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.”
Hardeman introduced the legislation at Queen’s Park last month. It sets fines at $15,000 for a first offence and up to $25,000 for repeat offences. In other provisions, the bill would allow courts to order restitution when a farmer has suffered damages to livestock or from theft, and it would shield farmers from the lawsuits of individuals who are injured while trespassing on their farms.
“We have heard concerns from farmers, farm organizations, processors, livestock transporters and municipalities in Stormont-Dundas-South Glengarry about trespassing and their worry about the safety of food, farm families, employees and farm animals,” said McDonell, a Tory, lauding the government for “taking action to help protect them and protect our agriculture sector.”
The government says that “farmers feeling unsafe on their properties and suffering from mental health stress due to the threat of trespass was the driving force behind” the proposed legislation.
Organizations that have expressed support for the law include the Rural Ontario Municipal Association, Association of Municipalities Ontario, Ontario Federation of Agriculture, Chicken Farmers of Ontario, Ontario Pork, the Ontario Livestock Transporters’ Alliance, Dairy Farmers of Ontario, Food and Beverage Ontario and the Ontario Mutual Insurance Association.
Nearly 80 municipalities have also passed resolutions calling on the province to “strengthen protections for farm families, employees and animals,” the government says.
Animal rights organizations have been protesting the incoming law.
This article was corrected to state that Bill 156 awaits second reading (not third).