Agriculture leaders say they’re pleased to see two biosecurity and anti-trespassing bills pass into law.
Manitoba Pork general manager Cam Dahl thanked the province for “helping producers protect their biosecurity as well as help them protect their workers and their families on the farm.”
“These bills go a long ways to helping with those efforts,” he told the Co-operator.
Keystone Agricultural Producers and Manitoba Egg Farmers also told the Co-operator they were pleased with the laws.
Bill 62, the Animal Diseases Amendment Act requires a person to get permission to enter a biosecurity zone or to interact with animals in that zone. The bill makes it an offence to interact with animals in transport without permission or to block or interfere with a vehicle carrying animals.
The amendments will “protect farmers from persons who interfere with food production facilities that could result in harm to people, animals or the food supply,” Ag Minister Blaine Pedersen told the legislature on May 20 as the bill reached its third reading.
Bill 63 amends the Petty Trespasses Act and the Occupiers’ Liability Act. The act removes the requirement that a trespasser must be warned, either verbally or in writing, before they can be charged with trespassing if land is not fully enclosed.
That warning isn’t required now if land is marked or partially enclosed to indicate an intention to keep people out or animals in, or if property is “not normally available to members of the public,” a provincial explainer says.
The law includes a few exemptions, e.g. peace officers, electrical inspectors.
The bill also extends landowners limited duty of care to anyone over 12 years old who enters the property to commit a crime or enters land not usually available or maintained for public use, e.g. a private road or agricultural land.
This reduces landowners’ legal liability if a trespasser gets hurt on their property.
“It reduces the likelihood for an escalation because what it does is it takes away the obligation for a landowner to verbally confront someone on their property,” Justice Minister Cameron Friesen told the legislature on May 20.
Trespassing and property theft “is of major concern for our ag community and rural Manitoba,” KAP president Bill Campbell told the Co-operator.
There’s a perception in rural communities that crime is increasing and that it’s not being adequately addressed, said Campbell.
“Trespassing on private land is a safety and biosecurity issue,” Campbell told the Standing Committee on Justice as it considered the bill on April 13.
He called the then requirement to confront trespassers a potentially “life-threatening situation.”
Disease threats like African swine fever make keeping unauthorized visitors out of barns of utmost importance, Grant Melnychuk told the committee. Melnychuk is the manager of planning and sustainable development at Manitoba Pork
“We’ve been fortunate that we have not witnessed co-ordinated break-ins that livestock producers in some other provinces have experienced,” he said. “But our producers are not exempt from threatening behaviour.”
Melnychuk said farm families have witnessed vehicles repeatedly passing their yards, particularly when unloading animals. Producers have even found wireless video recording devices on their properties, he said.
When asked, Dahl declined to speak further on these incidents for privacy reasons, but told the Co-operator they were relatively recent.
Melnychuk told the committee the legislation is “proactive in nature” and would hopefully deter incidents such as those in Ontario and Alberta.
This may reference an incident in 2019 when animal rights advocates broke into a turkey barn near Fort Macleod, Alberta. Police persuaded them to leave. The episode received significant media attention.
In June 2020, animal rights activist Regan Russell was killed during a protest outside a Burlington, Ontario pork-processing facility when she was hit by a transport truck, CBC reported.
Bill 62, in particular, drew criticism from animal rights advocates who said it would reduce concerned citizens’ ability to blow the whistle on animal cruelty.
“What we need are better animal protection laws and not legislation that endorses the very cause of pandemics (intensive animal agriculture) and punishes people for speaking up against it,” said Sandra Currie, a private citizen who presented to the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Food on April 20.
Corey Feere, a representative of animal rights group Manitoba Animal Save told the committee the bill had nothing to do with biosecurity or animal protection but was rather to protect an industry that feels threatened.
“This is where the fight is and this is why they’re trying to silence activists,” said Feere.
The bill was repeatedly called an “ag-gag law” and compared to similar laws in other parts of Canada.
In March, animal advocacy group Animal Justice announced it would take the Ontario government to court over its own iteration of the law. According to a CBC report, the group says it interferes with the free expression rights of journalists and activists to expose animal abuse.
Earlier this year, Agriculture Minister Blaine Pedersen told media the law won’t make it illegal for barn or processing plant employees to report abuse, or for people outside biosecurity zones to report concerns.
Bill 63’s amendments to the petty trespassing act raised concerns among some Indigenous groups that it would embolden landowners to bar them from exercising constitutional rights to hunting and gathering on Crown lands.
“That concerns me on how those situations may arise,” said Chief Dennis Meeches of Long Plain First Nation in his committee presentation.
“We don’t really want to experience another tragedy like what happened to Coulten Boushie,” Meeches said. “The man was killed, and the farmer who shot and killed him walks free… they were looking for help.”
Boushie, 22, was fatally shot by farmer Gerald Stanley in 2016. Boushie’s companions said they came onto Stanley’s yard to get help with a vehicle. In court, Stanley was acquitted of a second-degree murder charge.
Meeches said the province hadn’t properly consulted with Indigenous groups.
Justice Minister Cameron Friesen told Meeches he believed that removing the requirement to confront would, in some cases, reduce conflict. Bill 63 would not and could not interfere with First Nations’ constitutional rights, Friesen said.
Late last year the province asked for public feedback on the two bills through an online survey. A provincial consultation report says it spoke with the Manitoba Métis Federation and Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak.
Regarding Indigenous concerns, Campbell told the Co-operator that landowners need to leave confrontation to law enforcement.
More conversations needed?
The ag community needs to continue to have conversations to build trust with the non-farming public, said Kurt Siemens, an egg producer and board member with Manitoba Egg Farmers.
“If they come and talk to the farmer, the owner… they come and have a tour of their barn and we talk about all the things we do, I think they have no problem believing us,” Siemens said.
Siemens has welcomed media into his barn, near Rosenort, and says they host around 100 tours a year.
“I have nothing to hide. We’re very proud of what we do at our farm,” he said.
If they’re not doing things 100 per cent right, he said, then they can talk about it and see what can be done to improve things for the animals and employees, Siemens said.
It’s possible that many people have no concept of the biosecurity measures producers have in place, Campbell said. COVID-19 safety measures have given many a taste of what biosecurity is like.
“The scientific facts are there. There are steps and processes that help alleviate the spread of a virus.”
Both bills await royal consent before they come into force.