CK farmers seek protection against activists

Photo courtesy Farm & Food Care Ontario

A request to put stronger measures in place to protect farmers against harassment is getting support locally.

In June, Warwick Township sent a letter to Attorney General David Downey, asking him to work with his fellow MPPs to ensure stronger enforcement of existing laws or that new legislation gets created to protect farmers.

That letter will be given to Chatham-Kent council members during Monday’s meeting in the memorandum, which includes a variety of documents that may be of interest to councillors.

Louis Roesch, Essex and Kent zone director for the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, said he fully supports Warwick’s move.

“The reality is our farm’s our private property,” said Roesch. “So why’s it so different, that if somebody walked into your house or your shed, you can call the police and they’re right there?”

The letter to the Attorney General stated that “recent attacks on farmers homes and businesses have resulted in no criminal charges laid, leaving farmers feeling unprotected.” According to Roesch, there have been instances of harassment in Chatham-Kent, although he said most farmers prefer to “lay low” and not speak out about it. Roesch was also careful to mention that Chatham-Kent is just one of the many municipalities that are seeing this happen.

Roesch said one of the most reoccurring issues that farmers have been facing is activists holding up their trucks filled with livestock or trying to prevent the trucks from reaching the farms. He said this oftentimes does more harm than good.

“The very things that they’re pushing against — for the well-being and how the animals are being transported and looked after — is against the whole principle. The principle is to get them on the truck and to the plant as safely, as swiftly and as comfortably as you possibly can,” he explained. “By holding them up in the hot sun, the cold in the winter, it’s not to the advantage of that livestock.”

He added that such acts can also put human safety at risk.

“These are big trucks, the risk of somebody slipping and falling and getting under one of these trucks or sticking their hands in with the hogs in the truck, if something brushes their arm against the side of the truck and breaks it… it’s another thing that you don’t want to see happen,” said Roesch.

Roesch said cases of activism have “without question” become more frequent over the past few years but he believes many people are misinformed about how the animals are treated.

“I feel like they’re off the mark on these things. The reality is we don’t treat our livestock poorly. If we treat our livestock poorly, you’ll never get them to market. The livestock itself, if you don’t treat them well, they don’t gain, they don’t move forward. It costs money — they will bankrupt you if you don’t treat them well,” he said.

In Warwick Township’s letter, it also states that the protests have become “blatantly illegal in nature with extremist groups trespassing onto private property.” According to Roesch, this jeopardizes the strict biosecurity measures put in place at farms.

“Everybody has to follow those biosecurity rules in order to prevent diseases and stuff from getting into the barn,” Roesch explained. “When these activists are going from one farm operation to another, there’s no regard for that whatsoever.”

Roesch said that he believes that when an activist is involved, laws may not always be as strictly enforced as they should be. Overall, he’s hoping the government will put stronger rules in place for any person who comes onto a farm uninvited in Chatham-Kent and across the province.

“We need to have the same the rules and regulations that pertain to an agriculture business that pertains to any other business or household,” said Roesch.

-With files from Melanie Irwin