By Suzana Gartner & Edith Barabash

 

Introduction

Animal farming practices in Ontario are widely shielded from public view. Industrial farms hide animal cruelty behind closed doors, and since law enforcement does not prioritize protecting these animals, whistleblowers are often the only way cruelty is exposed. Rather than put forward legislation to better regulate and monitor conditions on farms, the Ontario government has advanced Bill 156 and Bill C-205 to conceal animal suffering further.

Whistleblowers in Ontario have uncovered horrific practices on farms, showing shocking abuses of power over some of society’s most vulnerable members. In 2015 and 2016, an undercover activist employed at Crimson Lane Farms in Wellington County shot videos of piglets being slammed against the ground to their deaths, and employees kicking adult pigs and shocking them with electric prods. The footage revealed extreme animal suffering, which the whistleblower claimed occurred daily [1]. If not for this activist, their plight would have gone unnoticed indefinitely. Crimson Lane Farms would not have been compelled to change their practices, and consumers would not realize the extreme cruelty that they are supporting.  Although the activist posed no biosecurity or safety risk, under the Bill 156 regime, they would have been charged for gaining access to the facility under “false pretenses” and face a fine of up to $15,000. The answer cannot be to punish those exposing the truth, and so this bill must not be allowed to become law.

 

What is Bill 156?

 

Bill 156 is known as an “ag-gag” law. Like several other laws in Canada and the United States, it has been introduced to prevent the public from investigating or documenting conditions on farms. Bill 156 would make it illegal to expose animal cruelty occurring in farms, slaughterhouses, and transportation trucks. It is being framed as a way to protect farmers and strengthen biosecurity measures, but its effect would do little more than conceal animal suffering. Unfortunately, after much persistent lobbying from the animal agriculture industry, the has bill proceeded to the committee study stage of the parliamentary process on March 9, 2020.

If Bill 156 is passed, whistleblowers would be subject to a maximum fine of $15,000 for a first offence and $25,000 for subsequent offences. Law enforcement would also have a 2-year window to charge individuals under this law, rather than the current six months [2]. There are currently no provincial regulations setting standards for animal welfare on farms, and no way to monitor whether animals are needlessly abused [3]. Rather than implementing welfare standards and increasing transparency within the animal agriculture industry, the Ontario government is focused on further hiding the issue.

Bill 156 disproportionately raises fines for trespassing on agricultural properties and compels individuals to disclose their affiliations with animal rights groups before entering on to farms. Otherwise they are deemed to have entered under “false pretences” [4]. The Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, frames trespass as a biosecurity concern that farmed animals need to be protected from [5]. However, the provisions of the bill would far overreach that objective. Furthermore, Bill 156 provisions undermine expressive activity, and consumer rights to know how animals are treated, both of which should be safeguarded by section 2(b) of the Charter. [6]

 

Alberta’s Bill 27

 

Bill 27, an amendment to Alberta’s trespass legislation, came into force on December 5, 2019, after being rushed through the legislature in only ten days. Bill 27 increases the maximum fine for trespass to $200,000 and includes a prohibition on accessing farms under false pretences. The new law applies to whistleblowers exposing cruelty on farms, but could also apply to the exposing of dangerous working conditions more broadly. It marked Canada’s first “ag-gag” law, following the United States [7].

 

What is Bill C-205?

 

Bill C-205 is a proposed amendment to the Health of Animals Act. Like Bill 156, it is framed as increasing biosecurity protection on farms, but in practice would undermine investigations and prevent activists from entering agricultural areas to expose animal cruelty [8]. The first reading for Bill C-205 was on February 18, 2020, so there is a long way to go in the parliamentary process before it becomes law. We encourage you to use this time to contact your MP and tell them that you oppose Bill C-205. We must speak out against the bill before it goes any further.

 

Ag-gag laws in the U.S

           

Since their enactment in various U.S. states, many ag-gag laws have been held to be unconstitutional. On January 22, 2020, Kansas struck down their ag-gag law, as it was found to violate the First Amendment, which protects freedom of speech. Likewise, in February 2019, Iowa’s ag-gag law was struck down as well [9]. This gives many activists hope that Canadian ag-gag laws will not stand up to a Canadian Charter challenge either. It is clear that ag-gag laws are not set out to protect the safety of farmers or animals, but rather to protect their bottom line.

 

What can we do to stop these bills from becoming law?

You can join the tens of thousands of Ontarians who are expressing their concerns by signing a petition to STOP Bill 156. Contact your representatives and make it clear that you want them to end animal cruelty, not hide it! Share this article and others with #stopbill156 on your social media, and talk to your friends and family about what these bills would mean for farmed animals in Canada.

 

Link to petition: https://www.change.org/p/hon-ernie-hardeman-stop-ontario-ag-gag-bill-156-a3974f0f-c9ca-4e82-a7d6-aeebe40ca0f0

 

 

[1] “Undercover videos shows pigs kicked, shocked and slammed” CTV News. Nov. 1 2016. https://kitchener.ctvnews.ca/guelph/undercover-video-shows-pigs-kicked-shocked-and-slammed-1.3141912

[2] Bill 156, Security from Trespass and Protecting Food Safety Act, 1st Sess, 42nd Leg, Ontario, 2020.

[3] “Realities of Farming in Canada.” Humane Canada. https://www.humanecanada.ca/realities_of_farming_in_canada

[4] Bill 156, supra note 2.

[5] “Ontario introduces bill that would protect farmers from animal rights activists, raise trespassing fines”. National Post.

https://nationalpost.com/news/canada/ontario-introduces-bill-to-protect-farmers-from-animal-rights-activists

[6] RJR-MacDonald Inc. v Canada (Attorney General).

[7] Reichert Jordan. “Alberta Brings ‘Ag-Gag’ Laws to Canada”. Animal Protection Party of Canada. Nov 30, 2019. https://www.animalprotectionparty.ca/alberta-ag-gag-bill-27-animal-activism/

[8] Bill C-205, An Act to amend the Health of Animals Act, 1st Sess, 43rd Parl, 2020.

[9] “Ag-Gag Laws”. Animal Legal Defense Fund, https://aldf.org/issue/ag-gag/.

 

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