Schwindt: Who stands for agriculture when peaceful protest crosses the line?
FREE PRESS VOX POPULI Updated: May 24, 2019
Canadians know they can depend on this country’s farmers to provide safe, sustainable food.
But to whom can Canada’s family farmers turn when their safety at home or at work is threatened?
Canadians rely on legislation, police and the courts to protect us from trespassing, harassment, unsafe workplaces and other threats of violence.
But the rules of law don’t seem to apply when the home or workplace is agricultural. And the threats have left livestock farmers and others in the industry fearing for their safety and wondering who stands for them.
Farms, for the most part, are both home and business for the families who run them – in fact 97 percent of farms in this country are still family run. Livestock farmers work closely with veterinarians and other specialists to provide high standards of care for the animals they raise.
Transport trucks may not be home, but they are the workplace where professional livestock transporters spend hours each day, entrusted to deliver animals safely from the farm to the processing plant.
Sadly, for many farmers and transporters, these workplaces no longer feel safe.
In recent months, anti-agriculture activists have ramped up their harassment of farmers and transporters. Extremists within groups that claim to espouse peaceful protests have escalated their actions from verbal harassment to trespassing, intimidation, break-ins, theft of animals and assault. Unchecked by any meaningful prosecution, they have become emboldened, publicly boasting of their illegal activities without fear of legal consequence and promising more of the same.
As farmers, we worry where this will lead. We wonder who stands for agriculture, and who will feed our population if activist groups are successful in bullying Canadian family farmers out of existence.
More, we worry about the safety and well-being of everyone involved, from the anxiety felt by farm families fearful of having their properties invaded, to the health of animals exposed to diseases brought in by infiltrators not following biosecurity practices, to the risks of untrained individuals interfering with massive moving vehicles and livestock.
In general, farms are busy, dynamic workplaces that employ technology and equipment to care for animals, crops and land. Unauthorized access carries a significant safety risk for anyone unfamiliar with agriculture.
Biosecurity is a crucial component of livestock health, keeping diseases out of the herd, and out of the Canadian food system. Illegal trespassers can create undue stress for animals, and can spread life-threatening diseases.
Animals are moved from farms to processing facilities on trucks that typically weigh close to 30 tonnes, have limited lines of visibility, and cannot stop as quickly as a car or pedestrian. Yet activist groups continue to call on their members to stop these trucks by stepping in front of them.
While safety is our primary concern, each of these areas also raise questions of legal liability and insurability. After all, driving up costs for farmers ultimately drives up the cost of food.
That’s why many farmers struggle to understand the lack of meaningful legal consequences for those who willingly and blatantly attack farms, without regard for food, animal and human safety, or the law.
Canada’s agri-food sector is a key pillar of our national economy, and the backbone of safe and healthful food for Canadians. Who is protecting the people who produce and safeguard our food supply?