Minister Ernie Hardeman brought a new bill to provincial parliament that aims to protect animals and workers in the ag industry, and preserve the safety of Ontario’s food system
By Jackie Clark
Ernie Hardeman, minister of agriculture, food and rural affairs, introduced the Security from Trespass and Protecting Food Safety Act, 2019 on Dec. 2. If passed, legislation will
- introduce escalating trespassing fines
- prescribe aggravating factors to increase trespassing fines
- permit courts to command restitution for damage done by trespassers
- protect farmers against civil liability for injury sustained while trespassing
The legislation will also establish animal protection zones in livestock facilities and strictly prohibit access to these zones without explicit and informed consent. The proposed bill also prohibits stoppage, interference or interaction with farm animals in transit.
“It’s all part of our government’s plan to have animal welfare and food safety all covered together,” Minister Hardeman told Farms.com.
Trespassers on farms or in livestock transport and processing facilities threaten the welfare of the animals, biosecurity of Ontario’s food chain, as well as their own safety and the safety of the property owners.
“When people come into an establishment where animals are kept and where animals are processed without dealing with the right protocol, they are risking safety,” Minister Hardeman said. “Animal health is very important to us; food safety is very important to us.”
The proposed legislation will address biosecurity and food safety, as well as provide security for farmers, who often live where they work.
“We’ve increased the onus for people who come into livestock facilities. They must have permission to be there, and it can’t be just implied. They must have proof that they were invited to be in the establishment. Presently they use the argument that it’s almost public,” Minister Hardeman explained. “That’s no longer going to be good enough, if they come into that place without written permission to be there, they would be committing a crime.”
Those strict rules give law enforcement officers tools to prove criminal intent, charge and reasonably prosecute and convict trespassers.
The new proposed legislation complements the Provincial Animal Welfare Services Act, 2019 currently being debated in parliament. The province is working to make sure both animals and people in the ag industry are protected.
“We are all opposed to animal abuse; that’s without question, that’s our number one priority,” Minister Hardeman said. In cases of suspected animal welfare concerns “we will have provincial inspectors. When they’re called, they will go with the help of farm organizations who are committed to making sure no one is abusing animals.”
“We’ve been consulting on this and holding those roundtables for seven or eight months now,” Minister Hardeman said. This includes a meeting in London just last week.
“We decided to hold (a roundtable) just before we introduced the bill to make sure, from what we heard at that meeting, that we had the right balance between protecting the rights of people who have a right to protest, and also protecting the needs we had in our agriculture community to keep our livestock safe from the invasion of trespassers – and to make the farmers feel comfortable and safe in their own home and workplace,” he said.
Officials at OMAFRA had heard from farmers as well as individuals who work in livestock transport and processing facilities.
“We had everyone in the food chain express some concern,” Minister Hardeman said. “They’ve been suggesting we need to do something for quite a while, but in the last year it’s been becoming a lot more intense and something needed to be done.
“Our government agrees with the principle that we need to have a plan to make sure we protect the whole food chain and the people in it,” he added.
A summary of the proposed legislation can be found here.
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