When will our legal system start protecting farmers?

Canada’s legal system must take the illegal activities of animal rights protesters more seriously than the judgment in a recent Ontario break-and-enter case implies.

It isn’t just a matter of the law — though that is important. It’s also a matter of jeopardizing the physical property of farms and the safety of animals. Breaking into barns also creates the possibility of violent confrontation between farmers and protesters.

Ontario prosecutors recently dropped break, enter and mischief charges against animal rights activist Jenny McQueen after she sneaked into a hog farm near Lucan in southwestern Ontario and stole two pigs she claimed were in distress. The crown concluded there was no reasonable chance of conviction, despite the fact that McQueen posted a video of herself in the act on Youtube.

McQueen is a member of the activist group Direct Action Everywhere, which describes itself as an “open rescue” organization, meaning activists don’t hide their identities while invading farms.

Some animal rights activists have vowed to keep illegally entering properties. They’re not so much motivated by farmers doing the wrong things to animals, they’re motivated by the idea that farmers have animals.

One of McQueen’s supporters is Anita Krajnc, who was charged and cleared after she gave water to pigs just before they entered a slaughterhouse in Burlington, Ont., which violates important biosecurity protocols.

During Krajnc’s trial, the defence argued that pigs should be considered persons, not property. The argument was dismissed, as was the defence’s contention that Krajnc should be compared to people who assisted Jews in Nazi Germany.

Livestock producers are dealing with activists who would impose their values — and laws — on society by vowing to break the law over and over again, and the law is not stopping them.

In April, about 50 activists from a group called Meat The Victims occupied a hog farm near Abbotsford, B.C, while more than 100 others held a protest nearby. Protester Amy Sorrano, who calls herself an “animal liberation activist,” was charged with breaking and entering and mischief. Like the operation in Lucan, the farm owners were not found to have violated industry standards.

If animal rights activists don’t like what’s going on, they can report an operation to the proper authorities. If they don’t like industry standards, they can lobby politicians. But breaking into farms and risking violations of biosecurity and potential violent confrontations must carry ramifications.

These protesters aren’t pushing legal boundaries, they’re just getting away with it.

Testifying before the House of Commons agriculture committee in April, Gary Hazelwood, executive director of the Canadian Mink Breeders Association, said Canadian farms have “been faced with pig farm protests, lamb releases, pet store vandalism, mink releases, truck sabotage, economic sabotage, personal threats and false information.”

He recommended the committee consider legislation similar to the United States’ Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, enacted in 2006, which prohibits any person from engaging in animal activities “for the purpose of damaging or interfering with the operations of an animal enterprise.”

Canadian laws are not useless. A summary conviction of break and enter can bring a six-month jail term and a $5,000 fine. It’s just that the laws we have are not being enforced.

McQueen has lamented that: “Family farms are not cute enterprises anymore. They’re all big, white sheds in the countryside with animals stuffed inside.”

It’s not clear when hog barns were cute, but producers do have to follow the laws and treat animals humanely.

She called the dismissal of her charges “an absolute win for animal rights activism.”

Yet the barn owners were not found to have done anything wrong.

When do they get to win?

Karen Briere, Bruce Dyck, Barb Glen, Brian MacLeod and Michael Raine collaborate in the writing of Western Producer editorials.

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