WOODSTOCK - The Ontario government is taking action to balance the safety and security of farmers, their families and the provincial food supply with protecting the right for people to participate in lawful protests on public property. Today, Bill 156, the Security from Trespass and Protecting Food Safety Act, 2020, received Royal Assent. Once proclaimed into force, the Act will further protect against the health and safety risks of on-farm trespassing.
"If there's one thing the COVID-19 outbreak has demonstrated, it's the importance of a steady and reliable food supply and the safety of those who feed us," said Ernie Hardeman, Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs. "I am more committed than ever to supporting our farmers, food processors and transport sector — the agri-food heroes who have worked so hard to keep food on our grocery store shelves and our kitchen tables throughout this crisis."
In recent years, farmers have faced increased levels of trespass and theft of livestock from their farms as well as mental heath stress due to these threats. Bill 156 will increase protections for those farmers while simultaneously protecting the right for people to participate in lawful protests on public property.
The Security from Trespass and Protecting Food Safety Act, 2020 helps deter trespassers by:
- Escalating fines of up to $15,000 for a first offence and $25,000 for subsequent offences, compared to a maximum of $10,000 under the Trespass to Property Act;
- Prescribing aggravating factors that would allow the court to consider factors that might justify an increased fine;
- Allowing the court to order restitution for damage in prescribed circumstances which could include damage to a farmer's livestock or from theft;
- Increasing protection for farmers against civil liability from people who were hurt while trespassing or contravening the act, provided the farmer did not directly cause the harm;
- Removing consent to enter a farm property when it was given under duress or false pretenses.
"Our government will always protect the right for people to participate in lawful protests. The Security from Trespass and Protecting Food Safety Act, 2020 does not change that. However, that right has never included trespassing onto private property and harassing farmers and their families," said Minister Hardeman. "We need to do more to help our agri-food workers focus on contributing to a strong and safe food supply, instead of fearing for their and their family's safety from unlawful trespassing and harassment activity."
Prior to the bill's introduction, the Ontario government consulted with stakeholders across the province to ensure the right balance of protecting Ontario's farmers and the rights of people to participate in lawful protests. Over the coming months, the ministry will continue consulting with stakeholders to develop the regulations that must be put in place before the Act can be proclaimed into force.
"The Ontario Federation of Agriculture and its members appreciate the support of the Ontario government in taking the concerns of Ontario livestock and poultry farmers seriously and acting swiftly to address them by passing Bill 156," said Keith Currie, President of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture. "On-farm trespass causes serious threats to the mental health and well-being of Ontario farmers and significant stress and harm to our animals. The intent of this act is to protect farms, our families and the safety of our food supply chain by addressing the ongoing threat of unwanted trespassing."
Last year, the government passed the Provincial Animal Welfare Services Act, 2019, giving Ontario the strongest penalties in Canada for people who are convicted of animal abuse. The province now has the first fully provincial government-based animal welfare enforcement system in Canada.
If anybody in Ontario believes that an animal is being mistreated, they should call 1-833-9ANIMAL or 1-833-926-4625 and have a trained inspector investigate the allegation.
"Dairy farmers in Ontario take the welfare of the animals in our care and the quality of the milk we produce very seriously. The act goes a long way to keeping the integrity of the biosecurity measures we have in place for food safety, and to keeping our animals, families and homes safe from unauthorized visitors," said Murray Sherk, Board Chair of Dairy Farmers of Ontario. "We appreciate the time and attention this government has dedicated to hearing first-hand from dairy farmers across the province and look forward to engaging further as the regulations for the act are considered."
- The act received broad support from many organizations, including: Rural Ontario Municipal Association, Association of Municipalities Ontario, Ontario Federation of Agriculture, Chicken Farmers of Ontario, Ontario Pork, the Ontario Livestock Transporters’ Alliance, Dairy Farmers of Ontario, Food and Beverage Ontario and the Ontario Mutual Insurance Association.
- Nearly 130 municipalities have passed or supported council resolutions calling on the government to strengthen protections for farm families, employees and animals.
- Minister Hardeman first introduced Bill 156 on December 2, 2019.