The bill aims to protect farmers, agri-food businesses, livestock transporters and food security
By Jackie Clark
Bill 156, Security from Trespass and Protecting Food Safety Act, will come into force tomorrow, Dec. 5, Ernie Hardeman, provincial minister of agriculture, food, and rural affairs announced in a press conference on Dec. 4.
“This Act reinforces protection for farmers, agri-food businesses, farm animals, and our food supply, while promoting safety and maintaining the rights of people to participate in legal protest on public property,” Hardeman said.
The bill was originally proposed on Dec. 2., 2019. Since then, the province has been consulting with stakeholders from across rural Ontario. Bill 156 received royal assent on June 18, 2020, and certain regulations around interfering with livestock transportation could be enforced as of Sept. 2., 2020.
“Farms need to protect their properties, families, and livelihoods, and they cannot do it alone. Now they know they’re not alone,” said Allan Thompson, chair of the Rural Ontario Municipal Association and mayor of Caledon. “Municipalities and the province will continue to work together to secure the safety of our farm communities while respecting the people’s rights to express their views.”
The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) “heard from many stakeholders calling for government action to address the increasing, dangerous obstruction to the transportation of livestock and of trespassing on farms and agri-food processing facilities,” Hardeman said.
The regulations to enforce Bill 156 was shaped and informed by feedback from commodity groups and agricultural organizations from across the province, and supported by many municipalities, he explained. OMAFRA received more than 850 comments from the public.
“This important feedback was considered in the development of the final regulations allowing for the act to be proclaimed into force,” Hardeman explained. “From the outset of the development of this legislation, careful work was put into balancing the rights of the farmers and their farm operations with the rights of people to participate in lawful protest and advocacy activities.”
The rights of Indigenous Peoples were also carefully considered when shaping these regulations, he added.
“The Act includes protection for Aboriginal and treaty rights. We have engaged multiple times with Indigenous partners to discuss the Act and the related regulatory proposal. The act includes a non-degradation clause to clarify that it’s application is not intended to affect any existing aboriginal or treaty rights,” Hardeman said.
The government heard feedback on the importance of educating agricultural stakeholders about the Act, including information about respecting Aboriginal and treaty rights to ensure the safety of First Nations hunters.
“I’m pleased to say we have committed to a strong education campaign,” Hardeman said.
Additionally, Bill 156 stipulates protections around specific activities and areas related to livestock. Interfering with any vehicle involved in the transportation of livestock would be an infraction, Hardeman explained. Regulations also define how to identify livestock protection zones with proper signage, which can include outdoor spaces where animals are contained.
Further, the false pretenses clause of Bill 156 establishes the need for explicit consent to enter livestock facilities.
“If you get that permission under false pretences, that would be illegal,” Hardeman added. However, the government hopes that if employees onsite at livestock facilities witness animal cruelty, they will immediately report it to the proper authorities.
“On behalf of Ontario farmers and the larger food chain, I’d like to thank you minister, and the ministry, for the work that you have done on the Security from Trespass and Protecting Food Safety Act,” said Peggy Brekveld, president of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture. “These measures offer farmers, livestock transporters and processing facilities new protections, as well they provide the Ontario judicial system additional tools to address the threats to the food system associated with trespassers and unwanted visitors.”
Bill 156 “coupled with the Provincial Animal Welfare Services Act ensure the highest standards of animal care, protect people, animals and the province’s food supply, while respecting lawful and peaceful protest,” she explained.
The OFA and commodity groups in the province are aligned with a zero-tolerance approach to animal abuse, she added. The two laws combine to protect both farm animals and workers in the agriculture and agri-food industry.
“All Ontarians have the right to a safe workplace, especially when that workplace is also their home,” Hardeman said.
PamWalker68\iStock\Getty Images Plus photo