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Ag Gag law rebuked

TORONTO — Lying is protected speech, so it’s fair game for animal rights activists to misrepresent themselves to gain access to farm facilities for purposes of snooping around and shooting video exposés.

That’s the upshot of a recent court ruling striking down parts of Ontario’s 3-year-old farm-trespass law that specifically prohibits making false statements to enter a farm — a common ploy of activists who get hired on farms under false pretenses.

But to complicate matters the judge delayed implementation of his ruling pending a hearing. This means the current law is still in affect and imposes a fine of up to $15,000 for trespassing on a farm on a first offence and an extra fine of up to $5,000 if the trespasser used false pretenses — or lied — to get onto the farm.

In his April 3 ruling, Ontario Superior Court Judge Markus Koehman declared the prohibition — contained in a regulation of the Security from Trespass and Protecting Food Safety Act — to be a violation of free-expression guarantees in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. That section of the regulation “is overly broad and disproportionate,” the judge wrote. “It penalizes misstatements like denying affiliation with an animal rights group or having a university degree. Those sorts of misstatements have no bearing on objectives like animal safety or food security.”

The Charter protects the speech of liars, even Holocaust deniers, the judge also observed, citing a famous Supreme Court of Canada decision that quashed the hate-speech conviction of a notorious Nazi sympathizer. “If lies can amount to protected speech in a context as odious as Holocaust denial, they should be equally protected when someone denies having a university degree or being affiliated with an animal rights group to obtain employment at or entry to an animal auction, petting zoo, rodeo, fair or circus,” he wrote.

Koehman’s ruling vacated parts of the regulation without overturning the law itself. He also suspended his decision pending another hearing to determine next steps, so the existing rules remain in effect for the time being.

Animal law organization Animal Justice, which teamed up with two individuals to launch the Charter challenge in 2021, declared the outcome a “victory.”

But agriculture isn’t conceding a loss.

The office of Ontario Minister of Food, Agriculture and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) noted that the court “upheld the constitutionality of the Act in its entirety” with “certain provisions” struck down as “infringements” of section 2(b) of the Charter.

“We are currently reviewing the decision. As this matter is still before the courts, it would be inappropriate to provide any further comment at this time,” an OMAFRA spokesperson said.

The Beef Farmers of Ontario was “pleased” that the court upheld the legislation and its intent.

While supporting the right to protest on public property, BFO stated that protesters “do not have the right to trespass on private property or to threaten farmers, their animals or their livelihood.

“Trespassing, and even the threat of trespassing, on farms is detrimental to the mental health and well-being of our farmers,” a BFO press release said. “Everyone has the right to feel safe in their homes and their places of work.”

Source : Farmersforum

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