Chatham-Kent-Leamington MPP Rick Nicholls at the Ontario Legislature, October 4, 2017. (Photo courtesy of the Ontario Legislature via YouTube)

Bill will toughen penalties for people who disrupt farm traffic

People who trespass on or disrupt farm property will be subject to tougher penalties, according to a bill introduced at Queen’s Park.

The Security from Trespass and Protecting Food Safety Act was brought forward by Ontario Agricultural Minister Ernie Hardeman in an effort to address concerns made by farmers, livestock transporters and others on farm safety. If passed, additional protection would be put in place for those who work on farms, at processing facilities, and those who transport animals to and from these places. The bill will also require anyone wishing to stage a protest on farm property to obtain prior consent.

Chatham-Kent-Leamington MPP Rick Nicholls has given his support for the legislation. Nicholls told BlackburnNews.com that safety is the top priority for everyone involved.

“What we want to do is prohibit the stopping, the hindering, obstructing or even interfering,” said Nicholls.

In response to concerns surrounding freedom of expression, Nicholls added that the proposed legislation also takes into account the welfare of any protestors, though he also pointed out that recent incidents involving protestors disrupting farm business were not the catalyst for introducing the bill.

“Can you imagine being a driver of one of those transports, and you have people in front of you, and they’re trying to get in front of your large truck?” asked Nicholls. “Sometimes you don’t see them, and they’re putting themselves, and their health and safety at risk as well.”

If the bill passes, the maximum fine under the Trespass to Property Act would increase from $10,000 for a first offence to $15,000. Fines for subsequent offences would be up to $25,000. Courts would be able to consider aggravating factors when considering a fine, and issue restitution orders for trespassers who cause damage to property. The bill will also provide extra protection against civil liability from anyone hurt while trespassing or contravening the act.

There is certainly opposition to bills like this one, and one recently passed in Alberta. In a statement sent to Blackburn News Tuesday night, PETA [People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals] called legislation such as this “ag-gag”, and stated that protestors are mere “investigators” who look into alleged animal cruelty.

“PETA has fought similar legislation across the United States, and 19 states saw how dangerous ‘ag-gag’ laws were and rejected them,” said Gabriel Waters, PETA’s foundation manager of litigation and legislative affairs. “Ontario and Alberta should be ashamed that they have so much to hide, even from their own citizens.”