Minister Ernie Hardeman met with members of the province’s agriculture community to hear their views on the proposed Security from Trespass and Protecting Food Safety Act
By Jackie Clark
Ernie Hardeman, Ontario’s minister of agriculture, food, and rural affairs, recently wrapped up a tour of the province, during which he connected with farmers about the proposed Bill 156 (Security from Trespass and Protecting Food Safety Act, 2019).
“We’ve been travelling the province to talk to the agricultural community and to talk about Bill 156 and what we’re hoping to accomplish with it,” Hardeman told Farms.com.
The response from the agriculture community was generally positive.
“I would say 99.9 per cent of (farmers) were positive (about) what we’re doing,” Hardeman said. “Everyone that we talked to agree with the reasons for the bill and support what we’re doing. (But) there have been some comments put forward that maybe we didn’t go far enough.”
Some rural Ontarians want the bill to have an additional focus on trespassers in areas like corn fields and pastures. These individuals want the bill to play the role of “protecting all of rural Ontario,” Hardeman explained.
However, the primary “challenge we face is the biosecurity and safety of the animals that are in barns and in transportation,” he said. “We want to make sure that they have the highest standard of animal welfare.”
Hardeman’s discussions with farmers also offered an opportunity to clarify the contents of Bill 156.
It was “a tour to explain what was in the bill,” he said.
“When we started, there were people suggesting that there were all kinds of powers granted to people that shouldn’t be,” Hardeman explained.
“When it came to what the farmers individually are going to be able to do, there is no difference to what it presently is,” he added. Farmers have no additional enforcement authority.
If Bill 156 passes, an individual can still legally do the same things that he or she can under the current Trespassing Act, Hardeman explained. Individuals retain the right to public protest, as long as they are not trespassing on private property or interfering with the transportation of livestock.
The difference with the new legislation is “better powers for law enforcement to make sure the rules are adhered to and we can stop people from usurping the law,” he said.
During the tour, “some individuals were concerned about their inability to make sure that they could prevent animal cruelty. I can assure you that that is a great concern for the province too,” Hardeman said.
That concern is why the province introduced and passed the Provincial Animal Welfare Services Act, 2019 (PAWS).
The provincial government has “absolutely zero tolerance for any animal abuse,” Hardeman said.
“People who believe that there is a challenge or something happening behind the walls of a barn – all they have to do is call PAWS” officials, he added.
Those animal welfare inspectors “are exempt from (Bill 156); they can go into any establishment if (the situation) deals with animal cruelty,” he explained.
“We’re very confident that we’ve spent sufficient time and (put) a lot of research” into writing a bill that protects the rights and safety of everyone, Hardeman said.
The bill balances Ontarians’ “right to assemble and the right to disagree with what someone is doing … but also protects the safety and security of (farm families) and the safety and security of our food,” he said.
Bill 156 is in second reading, meaning the legislature is debating the bill. The next step will by review by committee.
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