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Know your rights when unexpected visitors show up on the farm (Ontario 2012)

July, 2012, Ontario - Hikers, hunters and ATV drivers are among the many Ontarians seeking large open spaces to explore each summer. But when recreational activities lead them onto private property without the landowner’s or tenant’s permission, those vacationers become trespassers that may put working farms at risk.

The Trespass to Property Actand its companion, the Occupiers’ Liability Act, were enacted in 1980 to protect the rights of landowners or tenants, while allowing them to control activities on their property. Farmers wishing to keep passersby off their property altogether in many cases use “no trespassing” signs while others may choose to prohibit only certain activities such as hunting or fishing.

Although signs around a property’s perimeter are the most common way for landowners to signal to passersby where public spaces end and private property begins, a sign is not always required to signal others to keep out. Many Ontarians don’t realize that the Trespass to Property Act also lists several spaces that are prohibited to the public, even if no signs are in sight. Those spaces include gardens, fields, and other land under cultivation, enclosed or fenced land, areas with young trees and farm woodlots.

The majority of Ontarians that wander – knowingly or not – onto private property do not intend to cause harm. But they may unintentionally cause problems with crops, land, water or animals on a property that can have significant repercussions on a farm business, and cost a farmer money and time at a time of year when there is little to spare.

The Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) works with farmers to help them know their rights and responsibilities when it comes to trespassers. We also advocate on behalf of farmers by requesting the government put more resources into public awareness around issues of farm trespassing, and to increase fines for those who are found at fault.

Passersby too, should be aware that they are required to provide proof that they have a landowner’s or tenant’s permission to be on private property. They should also respect that there may be good reasons they’re not meant to tour farm properties uninvited, including issues around both physical and food safety.

Ontario is filled with many trails, agricultural education events and public parks that offer dedicated spaces for a variety of recreational activities. Farmers ask outdoor enthusiasts to respect the important role of farmland by asking for permission to enter first.