Ernie Hardeman, Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, has introduced legislation entitled Security From Trespass and Protecting Food Safety Act, 2019 into the Ontario Legislature. The legislation will better protect farmers, their animals, livestock transporters and the province's food supply. It also requires 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," said Hardeman. "Today we are taking action to strengthen protections for agricultural workers and the integrity of our food system."
The legislation addresses the unique risks and challenges associated with trespass onto a farm or into a food processing facility. These include:
- The risks trespassers pose to the safety of farmers, their families and employees;
- Exposing farm animals to stress and disease; and
- Introducing contaminants into our food supply.
The health and safety of farmers and farm animals is at the heart of the legislation. Additionally, the act will 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 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 PAWS is passed by the legislature.
Under the legislation, consent will be invalid if obtained under duress or false pretenses.
"Interfering with the operations of farms, food processing businesses and livestock transporters not only puts the health and safety of our agri-food workers and farm animals at risk, but also jeopardizes our food safety. Our proposed legislation takes important steps to protect the integrity of the province's food system," said Hardeman.
The legislation also addresses 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.
"We appreciate the support of the Ontario government in taking the concerns of Ontario livestock and poultry farmers seriously and acting swiftly to address them. Farmers implement biosecurity measures to protect against unwanted diseases as well as stress on our farm animals," said Keith Currie, President of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture.
"Biosecurity is critical to the success of rural communities and the protection of Ontario's food supply. The Rural Ontario Municipal Association (ROMA) is concerned about trespass activities on private farm properties that pose a safety risk to the public, farm families and animals. We appreciate this effort to provide new tools to help keep our communities safe," said Allan Thompson, Chair of ROMA.
- Over 30 municipalities have passed or supported council resolutions that call on the government to strengthen protections for these targeted operations.
- The legislation, along with the Provincial Animal Welfare Services Act (PAWS) is part of the government’s comprehensive plan to protect the safety and security of animals in Ontario.
- In recent months, the Ontario government received hundreds of letters about trespassing on farms and agri-food premises and obstruction of livestock transport trucks.
- In 2018, Ontario's agri-food industry contributed $47.7 billion in GDP to the provincial economy (6.6 per cent of total Ontario GDP) and employed more than 837,000 people representing 11.6 per cent of the province’s labour force.
“The integrity of our food system is paramount for people to have confidence in the Ontario-produced foods they consume. We welcome any action that strengthens the safety of the province’s food supply and processing sector," Norm Beal, CEO, Food and Beverage Ontario.
“Farmers are worried about potential threats to their families, farm animals and businesses. They’re concerned current trespass legislation is not enough to protect them from unwanted visitors, who risk hurting both their livestock and farm property. We urge the Ontario government to improve protection for our farmers from the risk of illegal activism," said Clarence Nywening, President, Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario.
“Ontario Chicken Farmers follow high standards of animal care. Those standards of care include biosecurity protocols designed to protect animals from disease. Anyone entering barns or farms, handling animals or moving between barns without following proper biosecurity protocols puts the health of animals, the safety of food and the livelihood of farmers at risk," Rob Dougans, President and CEO, Chicken Farmers of Ontario.