The leader of Keystone Agricultural Producers says the recently released bills on trespassing and farm security address most of their concerns.
“As an organization we are very pleased that they have been able to move forward with some of the suggestions that were presented by our organization,” said KAP president Bill Campbell. “We view this as really positive for producers’ protection with regards to trespassing.”
Why it matters: Farm leaders say better trespassing laws will mean less likelihood of conflicts and confrontations.
The province distributed the texts of Bill 62, the Animal Diseases Amendment Act and Bill 63, the Petty Trespasses Amendment and Occupiers’ Liability Amendment Act on March 10.
Bill 62 would make it illegal for people to enter biosecurity areas like barns or processing facilities or to interfere with animals in transport.
Bill 63 adds further definitions of when a person can be charged with trespassing and removes the landowners’ requirement to confront trespassers in most cases. It also decreases landowners’ legal liability if someone gets hurt while trespassing on their land.
Campbell said there has been past issues with the definition of trespassing, and said it’s not usually in the landowners’ best interest to confront trespassers.
“We fully defend and support the right of a landowner to legal protection from trespassing,” he said.
Results from public engagement supports these bills said Justice Minister Cameron Friesen on a call with media March 10.
In September and October the province asked for public feedback through an online survey and consulted with KAP and other agricultural producer groups, the Manitoba Métis Federation, the Association of Manitoba Municipalities and Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Inc., a provincial consultation report says.
Just under 800 people completed the online survey, the report says. Almost half said they were landowners, homeowners or leaseholders. Sixteen per cent said they were farmers, with an unspecified number of ranchers also responding.
The report says 59 per cent of respondents strongly favoured changes that would add more clarity to laws about when permission to enter land is needed or that would take away the need for landowners to either fence off land or confront trespassers.
Twenty-one per cent either somewhat opposed or strongly opposed those changes.
Eighty per cent agreed or strongly agreed that some exceptions should be made, such as first responders or authorized service people.
About three-quarters of survey-takers favoured increased protections for landowners in cases where trespassers are injured or killed on their land.
Fifty-eight per cent somewhat or strongly supported changes that would keep people out of designated biosecurity areas or from interfering with animals in transport.
Thirty-two per cent strongly opposed these changes.
Similar biosecurity and farm trespassing rules have drawn criticism as “ag gag” laws in the past.
Last March the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, a left-leaning think-tank, called laws introduced in Ontario and Alberta “chilling.”
It cited a 2015 case where a whistleblower employee exposed “shocking abuse” of turkeys on an Ontario farm.
“This was not an isolated incident,” the article says, citing other whistleblowers at Maple Lodge Farms’ meat-processing facility, also in Ontario, and others.
This month, animal advocacy group Animal Justice announced it would take the Ontario government to court over the Security from Trespass and Protecting Food Safety Act, says a CBC report. The group said the law interferes with the free expression rights of journalists and activists to expose animal abuse.
The Ontario law made it illegal to enter a farm or processing plant under “false pretences,” the article says, or to interfere with a farm animal in transport trucks.
Bill 62 does not contain an explicit prohibition against entering a farm under false pretences.
In a call with media on March 10, Ag Minister Blaine Pedersen said 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.
Pedersen said livestock producers are held to strict biosecurity and animal welfare protocols.
“We fully support people’s right to free speech and public (protest) but I don’t believe that should be in a place of biosecurity and on private property,” said Campbell. “There are channels and laws and avenues for public concerns.
“We as agricultural producers follow a strict protocol… there’s a lot of measures taken to ensure that the food is safe,” he said. “Producers’ livelihood depends on the health of these animals, so why would they jeopardize their animals when that is their livelihood?”