A bill is expected to be introduced today to protect farmers, their families, and livestock from trespassers. It also appears to target protesters and animal activists.
Ernie Hardeman, Minister of Agriculture, says legislation entitled, "Security From Trespass and Protecting Food Safety Act" will better protect farmers, their animals, livestock transporters and the province's food supply. It 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," said Hardeman.
Papineau-Cameron Township is among municipalities that have passed resolutions encouraging the government to ensure stronger enforcement of existing laws.
The proposed legislation would address 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 the food supply.
The government says the health and safety of farmers and farm animals are at the heart of the proposed legislation. 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.
Under the proposed legislation, consent would be invalid if it was 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 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.
"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.
“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,” says Clarence Nywening, President, Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario.
The government says In recent months, the Ontario government received hundreds of letters about trespassing on farms and agri-food premises and obstruction of livestock transport trucks.