A vanishing act in April involving 31 sheep from an eastern Ontario farm under federal quarantine has now led to criminal charges against the animals’ owner and three other people.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency on Wednesday announced it has laid criminal charges against Hastings, Ont. farmer Linda Montana Jones and three other people — among them Michael Schmidt, a nationally-known advocate for deregulating unpasteurized ("raw") milk sales and distribution.
Charges filed Tuesday against Jones at the Ontario Court of Justice at Cobourg include obstructing a CFIA inspector, conspiracy to commit same, transport or causing to transport an animal under quarantine, conspiracy to commit same, and conspiracy to defraud the public of a service over $5,000.
Schmidt — a Durham, Ont. dairyman who this summer was granted leave to appeal his 2011 conviction on charges of distributing unpasteurized milk — faces the same five charges relating to the animals disappearing from Jones’ farm, CFIA said.
Two other people, Suzanne Atkinson and Robert Pinnell, also face the same charges, CFIA said.
Jones on Tuesday was also charged with a second count of obstructing a CFIA inspector, while Pinnell was also charged with a count each of obstructing a public officer and attempting to obstruct justice.
Replying to an email Wednesday, Jones said she has been asked to present herself to Ontario Provincial Police on Thursday (Dec. 6) to be fingerprinted and photographed and to promise to appear next in court on Jan. 23. The allegations against all four people have not yet been proven in court.
Jones’ farm at Hastings, east of Peterborough, has been under federal quarantine since January 2010, after a single sheep she sold to an Alberta farm in 2007 died and tested positive for scrapie.
CFIA also reported a positive test from another sheep that died on Jones’ farm in late April this year.
Scrapie is a federally-reportable form of transmissible spongiform encephalopathy (TSE) such as BSE in cattle, chronic wasting disease in deer and elk, and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in people.
There’s no known human health risk connected to scrapie but the disease impacts Canada’s sheep and goat production and trade. The U.S., for example, has barred imports of breeding sheep and goats from Canada since Canada’s BSE crisis began in 2003.
Citing the "full support of the Canadian sheep industry," the CFIA runs Canada’s scrapie eradication program, which the agency said "promotes sheep health and protects a valuable industry.
"It is alleged that by unlawfully removing and concealing the sheep, the program was threatened and the health and safety of other sheep and the industry were jeopardized."
Jones, with help from the Calgary-based Canadian Constitution Foundation, has campaigned to prevent her animals, which she describes as rare Shropshire sheep, from being destroyed and tested, calling for a "heritage breed exemption" from CFIA’s protocols for testing and eradication of scrapie.
The quarantine is alleged to have been breached in early April, when 31 adult sheep, scheduled to be euthanized and tested, disappeared from the farm.
Of the 31 sheep, 26 — plus 11 of those animals’ new lambs — were found in June on a farm in Ontario’s Grey County, CFIA said at the time.
The recovered adult sheep were all euthanized and all tested negative for scrapie. The 11 lambs, while not tested for scrapie, were also destroyed, a CFIA spokesperson said in September, adding that the investigation continued into the whereabouts of the remaining five missing sheep.
Jones and Schmidt, now both clients of the Canadian Constitution Foundation, later promoted a festival dubbed "LifeStock," which was scheduled for Sept. 30 at Jones’ farm.
The festival was billed as a benefit to "help stop foreclosure so (Jones’) home farm is not lost" and to "help (the farm) back on track to carry on, protect our agricultural diversity and our right to food freedom."
An unnamed bank holding a mortgage on Jones’ farm "is awaiting long-overdue farm mortgage payments and was only stalling foreclosure because CFIA had promised compensation" for the euthanized and tested sheep, Jones said on the event website in mid-September.
She hasn’t yet received any such compensation, she said on the website.
Jones didn’t say Wednesday whether foreclosure has been filed on the property in question.
As for the federal quarantine, it "will remain in place until the owner cleans and disinfects the farm to address the risk of scrapie transmission from the environment," a CFIA spokesperson said in September.
"Until this happens, any genetically susceptible lambs born onto the farm are considered to be exposed to scrapie and will be ordered destroyed to prevent the disease from spreading."
Recovered Ontario sheep were scrapie-negative, June 22, 2012
Scrapie-quarantined sheep vanish from Ont. farm, April 3, 2012
Raw milk access a matter for consumers, not dairyman: Ruling, Oct. 11, 2011
Ont. raw milk co-op passes legal test, Jan. 22, 2010