On December 2, 2019, the Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, introduced legislation entitled, Security From Trespass and Protecting Food Safety Act, 2019 in the Ontario Legislature. The proposed legislation, if passed, is aimed to protect farmers, their animals, livestock transporters and the province's food supply.
The proposed legislation would create "animal protection zones" on farms, processing facilities and other prescribed premises. Animal protection zones include animal enclosures, areas marked with signs in accordance with regulations and other areas on the property the Minister may prescribe. Explicit consent must be obtained from the property owner before any person can access an animal protection zone.
Protection of animals under the proposed Act
The Ontario Government stated that the proposed legislation would maintain and enhance animal health by:
- Reducing the risk of animals being exposed to stress and disease by trespassers.
- Including exceptions to allow access for those enforcing animal welfare legislation, as well as emergency personnel, federal and provincial inspectors, municipal by-law officers and other authorized people.
- Containing a clause to allow the reference to animal welfare legislation to be updated to the Provincial Animal Welfare Services (PAWS) Act if both are passed by the legislature.
Providing greater deterrents to trespass
The proposed legislation also recognizes the unique risks posed by trespassers on farm or food processing facilities and would deter such trespassers by:
- Providing escalating fines of up to $15,000 for a first offence and up to $25,000 for subsequent offences, compared to a $10,000 maximum fine under the Trespass to Property Act.
- Allowing the court to order restitution for any injury, loss or damages suffered as a result of the offence. This could include loss of livestock to stress or disease or loss of food due to safety protocols not being followed and potential contamination.
- Prescribing aggravating factors that would allow the court to consider factors that might justify an increased fine. If the court choses not to increase the fine based on the aggravating factors they must provide reasons for their decision.
- Increasing protection for farmers against civil liability from people who were hurt while trespassing or contravening the act as long as there was no intent to do harm or reckless disregard.
- Prohibiting the stopping, hindering, obstructing or interfering with a motor vehicle that is transporting farm animals.
- Prohibiting interfering or interacting with farm animals being transported by a motor vehicle without explicit prior consent.
Making it easier to prosecute trespass
The legislation would further enhance Ontario’s trespass laws by:
- Requiring that a person have explicit prior consent before entering an animal protection zone.
- Invalidate consent if it was obtained under false pretense or duress.
- Expand the limitation period in which charges can be laid to two years from the day of the offence or two years from the day when evidence of the offence was uncovered. This compares to a limitation of six months under the Trespass to Property Act.
While the proposed Act would further safeguard Ontario’s food supply, farmers and food processing facilities should take the following actions:
- Post signs indicating private property and no-trespassing around animal protection zones.
- Keep gates secured to impede access to animal protection zones.
- Use security cameras to monitor animal protection zones.
- If a person does trespass, inform the person to leave and phone the police immediately, ensuring you advise the police that there is a threat to both human and animal safety. Do not engage with them further or attempt to remove them from your property.
- Assess any damages you may have incurred and discuss your rights to recover your losses with a Lerners agribusiness lawyer.