Negotiating with farm trespassers not advised

Producers are told to phone police if activists trespass on their property and then let them take care of the situation

BANFF, Alta. — A photo of the activists who occupied a southern Alberta turkey farm last fall appeared Jan. 8 in Geraldine Auston’s presentation about managing protesters and trespass at livestock operations.

The president of Ag & Food Exchange Inc. advised producers at the Banff Pork Seminar on what to do in such situations, which she said are becoming more common in Canada.

“Because of this increasing rise in activism affecting farms, the threat of trespass is very real. It’s happening, sadly, pretty much every day,” she said.

Sometimes notice is given of a pending protest but just as often it takes producers by surprise, as it did for the Jumbo Valley Hutterite Colony in September.

Auston’s advice wasn’t available then, nor was it followed at the turkey farm when an estimated 60 people came to the farm and a number of them entered and occupied one turkey barn for several hours, demanded media attention, got a tour of the farm and were granted possession of one turkey as a “rescue.”

Two adults and one minor were charged in the incident and the case for the two adults was recently adjourned until Feb. 5.

Speaking of farm invasions in general, “this is trespass gone horribly wrong,” said Auston.

If it happens, owners should not negotiate with protesters, show them other parts of the property or allow animals to leave the premises whether alive or dead.

Protest on public property is legal but trespassing is not and if that occurs, police should be called, she said.

And in that call, property owners should speak as calmly as possible, explain what’s going on, and say they feel threatened or concerned for the safety of their animals or property. They should also report any property damage and give police an idea of the number of protesters involved.

Farm owners should never threaten to take matters into their own hands if police don’t respond quickly. Such talk might get a fast response but then police might be more concerned about the caller than the protesters, Auston said.

Once the police respond, owners should be aware that they will seek a peaceful resolution.

“It might not be what you want but it’s what they’re going to do. They’re going to try and de-escalate, not escalate a situation. It can be very frustrating if you’re the victim of something like this, waiting for something to happen. Remember that these things take time.”

However, if trespass has occurred, property owners should ask that police arrest and charge the perpetrators.

Not every protest involves farm invasion and Auston cautioned farmers and ranchers to be aware that peaceful protest in public spaces is legal.

“You might not like that they’re there but they have that right. As long as it’s a peaceful protest, they have the right to express their opinion even if it is at your property line.”

Auston recommended that farmers not engage with the protesters in such cases, except to tell them to remain on public property. Protesters should not be allowed on the property for any reason.

“Don’t get into the conversation. You aren’t aligned. You don’t agree with what they do and they don’t agree with what you do so you’re not going to actually accomplish anything.”

Protesters may take photos and video from a public space, and farmers have the right to do the same from their own property or in public space. In fact, Auston said it is a good idea to take photos or videos of protesters in case things escalate or damage is done.

“Never use force with trespassers. Never…. Just don’t go there. It’s going to buy you more trouble than you need.”

Farm invasion and trespass are bad scenarios but farmers’ response to the threat should begin long before anything happens, said Auston. She advises greater security on farms and livestock operations, including adequate locks on buildings and gates, bright lighting, alarms, cameras and CCTV.

Put up “no trespassing” signs, she said, and consider signs prohibiting the taking of photos or video on the property.

Under trespass law, entry points are unwritten permission to enter, so gates and signage provide some legal protection, Auston said.

As well, farmers, employees and neighbours should report any suspicious activity. It may turn out to be innocent but report it to the appropriate person, whether that’s an owner, a producer association or the police, she said.

Farmers might also want to reach out to police before anything happens and talk about concerns regarding animal protest and activism.

Auston advocates the SCAN principle: see, contact, ask and notify.

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