In March 2018, Jennifer McQueen allegedly entered the Adare Pork breeding facility north of Lucan, Ont. It is also alleged that when she left the property later that night, so did one of the facility’s pigs.
McQueen is a member of Direct Action Everywhere (DxE), an animal rights organization opposed to the production of meat products. McQueen posted videos online displaying what DxE described as, “pigs trapped in tiny gestation and farrowing crates, unable to move around, some with severe prolapses; piglets rotting on the floor; animals surrounded in their own excrement, and the stench of ammonia from feces and urine that burned (McQueen’s) lungs.”
McQueen was arrested in Oct. 2018 on charges of break and enter and mischief over $5,000 after she posted a video in which she allegedly took one of the piglets.
The Crown Attorney’s office dropped McQueen’s charges in May 2019, saying there was not enough evidence to prosecute. Animal rights activists celebrated the announcement. Farmers decried it.
“Farmers are angry because of there doesn’t seem to be any recourse,” Keith Currie, president of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) told Better Farming. “If I’m a livestock farmer and there are people who are protesting at the end of my road because they don’t like the way I raise my livestock or house my livestock, so be it. They’re exercising their rights.
“Now, though, they’re trespassing. They’re breaking and entering into barns, they’re taking livestock, letting livestock go loose, they’re breaking all kinds of biosecurity protocols. They’re scaring people with their tactics.”
One of the tactics employed by activists is called “open rescue,” in which an activist or a group of activists don a video camera and enter a farm thought to be mistreating its animals, recording as they go. Open rescues are a hallmark of DxE.
A farm lawyer, Kurtis Andrews, wrote an open letter to the attorney general of Ontario May 1, following the drop of McQueen’s charges.
“What we are witnessing is nothing short of a breakdown of law and order,” he wrote. “No matter what your beliefs happen to be, it is unacceptable to provide radical activists with a free pass to break the law.”
Andrews spoke to Better Farming about how farmers can protect their properties and their families.
“We all have the right to be free from trespassing,” Andrews told Better Farming. “We have it in the civil context and we have it in the provincial offense context. A person could sue a trespasser and charges could also be laid against the trespasser.”
Charges must be laid within six months of the offense, though. After that, the accused is protected by a statute of limitations, Andrews said.
“A lot of times, these people who sneak in at night with a video camera will wait six months to release the video,” Andrews told Better Farming. “They’re using a loophole in the legislation that should be fixed.”
Farmland is protected against entry by default under Ontario’s Trespass to Property Act. Farmers don’t need to put up fences or signs to signal that their land is private. It can’t hurt to add it anyway, though, Andrews said.
“Keep your animals out of view of the road,” he added. “I was driving the other day and saw that all the calf hutches were literally 10 feet from the road. It’s a shame to have to think this way, but that person is extremely vulnerable.”
Setting up closed-circuit video cameras is a good idea, accompanied by signage indicating that cameras are present, but Andrews told Better Farming that filming activists in-person is a risky business.
“Sometimes these situations can get kind of rough,” he said. “A farmer has the right to use reasonable force to defend him or herself, but in a high-stress situation, you’ll probably want to defuse any sort of confrontation before it gets to that point.”
Currie recommends calling the police as soon as it becomes clear that there is a trespasser on a farmer’s property. Having a simple trespasser on a farm is lower on the list of police priorities than something where a person is in danger, like a traffic accident, though. Andrews said that if a farmer is feeling threatened, he or she should tell that to police, regardless of whether or not the dispatcher asks, to ensure a timely response.
“It’s kind of sad that we even have to have this conversation,” Currie said. “It’s important that farmers know these things, though.”
OFA has a number of documents on its website explaining farmers’ property rights. Those explanations, along with the Ontario Trespass to Property Act itself, available on the government of Ontario’s website, are great resources for further reading.
From all of us at Better Farming, be careful and stay safe.