Glacier FarmMedia – A constitutional lawyer said a private member’s bill that would penalize those who illegally enter livestock barns is outside federal legislative jurisdiction.
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Jodi Lazare, associate professor at Dalhousie University’s law school, said the bill that purports to protect biosecurity is actually a trespass bill, and trespass is dealt with by provincial laws.
Why it matters: Bill C-275 aims to increase fines for those who trespass on farm properties.
She told the standing agriculture committee Oct. 5 that while uniform legislation would be more efficient and effective, Canada’s constitutional structure means that can’t always happen.
The committee is studying C-275, a bill moved by Conservative agriculture critic John Barlow to increase fines for those who trespass and double fines for organizations that encourage that behaviour.
Lazare said courts would consider the dominant feature of a law, and in this case, it is not biosecurity.
“As this committee has heard before and I think we’ll hear again today, biosecurity threats on farms are not in fact driven by trespassers, protesters, activists, by people without lawful authority to be on the farm, to use the words of the bill,” she said.
“CFIA records show that there is no documented evidence or instances of an activist or trespasser or protester introducing disease on to a farm (and) that the greatest risks to animals are transmitted from farm to farm, from workers, suppliers, etc. going between farms, from birds, wildlife.”
Lazare said the bill is about shutting down activism in the form of trespass. Barlow, who is vice-chair of the agriculture committee, has said it wouldn’t limit peaceful protest on public property.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s Mary Jane Ireland, executive director of the animal health directorate, said the bill in its current wording poses legal risks.
“There is a risk that the prohibition may not be a valid exercise of federal agricultural power, which is understood to be limited to agricultural operations that are inside the farmgate,” she said.
Biosecurity is a shared responsibility among governments, industry associations and producers, she said, and measures are voluntary. Ultimately, on-farm biosecurity is the responsibility of farmers.
Lazare said if the bill applied to everyone who entered a barn, legally or illegally, it would survive constitutional scrutiny.
Barlow noted that private member’s bills are vetted by the Library of Parliament to ensure constitutionality.
The committee also heard from pork and dairy producers who talked about the biosecurity standards that producers in those industries must follow.
Ray Binnendyk, who operates Excelsior Hog Farm at Abbotsford, B.C., with his family, said in the last four years trespassers have caused significant stress at his farm.
“First there were hidden cameras installed, then an occupation where 48 people camped out in our barn for a day and 150 protesters stood at the road,” he said. “Just a few months ago, we actually found three cameras again.”
He said the experience of having false information spread about the farm was deeply distressing and an invasion of privacy.
Three people were charged after the first incident. In 2022, two people were found guilty of break and enter and mischief.
Binnendyk said the incident made the family feel like they’re always being watched.
“We used to be proud to be hog producers. Now we don’t tell anyone,” he said.
He added there are only four or five hog producers left in British Columbia.
– This article was originally published at The Western Producer.