The government plans to introduce tougher penalties for illegal farm trespassers
By Diego Flammini
Alberta’s government will increase punishments for protestors who unlawfully enter a farm.
Premier Jason Kenney, Agriculture and Forestry Minister Devin Dreeshen and Justice Minister and Solicitor General Doug Schweitzer are working together on legislation that would change penalties associated with illegal protests.
“We’re developing it right now,” Dreeshen told Farms.com. “Agriculture and forestry officials, as well as our minister of justice and solicitor general, are working on options and flushing out the legal details. We believe, with (the proposed) legislative changes, we’ll be able to have a proper response to these types of protests, and it sends a strong signal that this type of harassment of Canadian farmers is not going to be tolerated.
“My hope is that we can introduce and pass this legislation before Christmas.”
The proposed penalties could include:
- Fining individual trespassers up to $10,000 for a first offence and up to $25,000 for future offences and sentencing them to up to six months of imprisonment. Organizations could be fined up to $200,000.
- Amending the Animal Health Act to help farmers recover costs associated with biosecurity breaches. Trespassers placing biosecurity at risk could be fined $15,000 for a first offence, and $30,000 for repeat offences. Penalties for future offences could also include one year in jail.
- Amending the Provincial Offences Procedures Act to increase the maximum compensation awarded the court from $25,000 to $100,000.
In addition, the government is hiring 50 new Crown prosecutors.
Premier Kenney made the announcement at the Jumbo Valley Hutterite turkey farm near Fort MacLeod, Alta. on Oct. 3, where animal activists trespassed on Labour Day.
That day, multiple activists illegally entered a barn housing about 4,000 turkeys. The trespassers also took photos and videos and shared them on social media.
Police have since charged three adults and one 16-year-old girl with break and enter to commit mischief.
The swift action between the protest and the legislative announcement shows how serious of an issue trespassing is, Dreeshen said.
“This was a clear and present danger,” he said. “It’s an imminent threat that actually happened on a farm. Here in Alberta, rural crime is an issue and there’s actually a problem of faith with rural Albertans and our justice system. For us, this is something we could address right away.”
Other provinces are watching Alberta’s actions closely, he added.
“I’ve gotten calls from other provinces that want to know what we’re developing so that they can (deter) these groups that plan to attack our modern agriculture,” Dreeshen said.
Ontario, for example, is keeping its options open in terms of what actions to take to deter illegal farm protests.
Agriculture and Rural Affairs Minister Ernie Hardeman “has started consultations and (will conduct) more heading into the fall with stakeholders, farmers and commodity representative groups,” Avi Yufest, a spokesperson for the ag ministry, told Farms.com. “Through those consultations, the minister will have a better idea of what options are best suited to dealing with the biosecurity issues farmers are dealing with right now.”
Animal activists inside a barn at Jumbo Valley turkey farm
Cranbrook Friends of Animals Society/CBC photo