Bill 156, the Security from Trespass and Protecting Food Safety Act, 2020, has received Royal Assent following a vote of 68 for, 22 against in the Ontario legislature.
The new law features heavier fines for trespassing on farms, including:
- Escalating fines of up to $15,000 for a first offence and $25,000 for subsequent offences, compared to a maximum of $10,000 under the Trespass to Property Act;
- Prescribing aggravating factors that would allow the court to consider factors that might justify an increased fine;
- Allowing the court to order restitution for damage in prescribed circumstances which could include damage to a farmer’s livestock or from theft;
- Increasing protection for farmers against civil liability from people who were hurt while trespassing or contravening the act, provided the farmer did not directly cause the harm; and,
- Removing consent to enter a farm property when it was given under duress or false pretences.
“If there’s one thing the COVID-19 outbreak has demonstrated, it’s the importance of a steady and reliable food supply and the safety of those who feed us,” said Ernie Hardeman, Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs. “I am more committed than ever to supporting our farmers, food processors and transport sector — the agri-food heroes who have worked so hard to keep food on our grocery store shelves and our kitchen tables throughout this crisis.”
The new law came under scrutiny from animal rights extremists who claim the bill is an “ag gag” law and limits oversight of animal care on farms.
“Our government will always protect the right for people to participate in lawful protests. The Security from Trespass and Protecting Food Safety Act, 2020 does not change that. However, that right has never included trespassing onto private property and harassing farmers and their families,” Minister Hardeman says in a release. “We need to do more to help our agri-food workers focus on contributing to a strong and safe food supply, instead of fearing for their and their family’s safety from unlawful trespassing and harassment activity.”
Last year, the government passed the Provincial Animal Welfare Services Act, 2019, giving Ontario the strongest penalties in Canada for people who are convicted of animal abuse. The province now has the first fully provincial government-based animal welfare enforcement system in Canada.
The Alberta government passed a similar law to address trespassing by animal rights extremists last fall, following the occupation of a turkey farm in southern Alberta.