Ontario introduces law to protect against on-farm trespassers
By Top Crop Manager
The Ontario government introduced legislation that, if passed, will discourage on-farm trespassers by raising fines and increasing protection for farmers.
Ernie Hardeman, minister of agriculture, food and rural affairs, introduced the legislation entitled Security from Trespass and Protecting Food Safety Act, 2019 in the Ontario Legislature on Dec. 2, 2019. The proposed legislation will better protect farmers, their animals, livestock transporters and the province’s food supply. It would also require explicit prior consent to access an animal protection zone on a farm or food processing facility.
“We’ve heard from farmers who no longer feel safe in their homes, who have expressed concerns with increasing on-farm trespassing and the safety of their families, employees and livestock,” said Hardeman. “Today we are taking action to strengthen protections for agricultural workers and the integrity of our food system.”
The proposed changes come at a time where stories of farm trespassers or people interfering with animal transport trucks are growing. In recent months, the Ontario government also received hundreds of letters about trespassing on farms and agri-food premises and obstruction of livestock transport trucks.
In response, over 30 municipalities across the province have passed or supported council resolutions that call on the government to strengthen protections for farmers and these targeted operations.
What’s proposed: increased fines, compensation for damages
The proposed legislation would address the unique risks and challenges associated with trespass onto a farm or into a food processing facility. These include: the risks trespassers pose to the safety of farmers, their families and employees; exposing farm animals to stress and disease; and introducing contaminants into our food supply.
Additionally, the proposed act would allow the courts to increase the cost of trespassing 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.
The proposed legislation provides exemptions to allow access for municipal by-law officers, police and persons appointed under provincial animal protection and other legislation to access the property. This will be updated to reference the Provincial Animal Welfare Services Act (PAWS) if both bills are passed by the legislature.
Under the proposed legislation, consent would be invalid if it was obtained under duress or false pretences.
“Interfering with the operations of farms, food processing businesses and livestock transporters not only puts the health and safety of our agri-food workers and farm animals at risk, but also jeopardizes our food safety. Our proposed legislation takes important steps to protect the integrity of the province’s food system,” said Hardeman.
The proposed legislation would also address the safety risks of people interfering with livestock in transport by:
- Prohibiting stopping, hindering, obstructing or interfering with a motor vehicle transporting farm animals; and
- Prohibiting interacting with farm animals being transported by a motor vehicle without explicit prior consent.
The government consulted throughout the fall with key stakeholders and people impacted by interference in their livestock operations. Minister Hardeman and the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) held more than 20 roundtables, meetings and conference calls with various segments of the agri-food industry, rural municipalities and representatives of animal advocacy organizations. Stakeholders shared and discussed their concerns with trespassing, the importance of the integrity of our food system, risks to the safety of farmers and others involved in the agri-food sector, and the need for more specific legislation.
“Biosecurity is critical to the success of rural communities and the protection of Ontario’s food supply. The Rural Ontario Municipal Association (ROMA) is concerned about trespass activities on private farm properties that pose a safety risk to the public, farm families and animals. We appreciate this effort to provide new tools to help keep our communities safe,” said Allan Thompson, chair of ROMA.