Trespassers not welcome on Manitoba farms

Manitoba may follow the lead of Ontario and Alberta, by passing legislation that protects livestock producers from trespassers and activists.

For now, the province is consulting with farmers and landowners about legislative amendments, but the intent is to strengthen the Animal Diseases Act and other laws.

“Manitoba is exploring potential legislation that would protect biosecurity at food production premises where livestock or other animals are being kept in order to protect animals from hazards that may compromise food safety,” a provincial website says. “The approaches taken by other governments has been to designate areas as ‘biosecurity areas’ or ‘animal protection areas’ and to restrict who can enter these areas to those who own/operate the livestock operation.”

The potential amendments are part of larger changes to trespassing rules in the province. Manitoba’s agriculture and justice departments are working together to modernize trespassing legislation, which includes amendments to the Petty Trespasses Act, the Occupiers’ Liability Act and the Animal Diseases Act.

“Our Trespass Act is really behind,” said Manitoba agriculture minister Blaine Pedersen. “(There are) lots of instances across rural Manitoba of thefts… and you’ve seen some examples lately of people trespassing on fields and driving over top of crops.”

The province is taking action on trespassing, partly because of lobbying from Keystone Agricultural Producers. Last fall, KAP passed a resolution calling on the government to deal with activists, who they say have been invading farms across Canada.

“Animal rights activists do not have a right to intimidate, harass, trespass, break and enter, interrupt farming businesses,” KAP said in its resolution.

“There needs to be real repercussions (for such actions), such as charges laid and convictions made.”

In the last few years, protest groups and individuals have illegally entered dairy, hog and poultry farms across Canada.

In September 2019, for example, about 30 protestors invaded a turkey barn on a Hutterite Colony near Fort Macleod, Alta. They left six hours later, but four were eventually charged with break and enter to commit mischief.

Following the incident, the Alberta government increased fines for trespassing. The maximum fine for trespassing without notice went from $2,000 to $10,000 for first offences. And $5,000 to $25,000 for subsequence offences.

As well, it is now illegal for a corporation to “direct, counsel or aid a trespass” in Alberta, with a maximum fine of $200,000.

Pedersen didn’t discuss potential fine increases in Manitoba, saying that falls under the jurisdiction of the justice department.

He said the legislative amendments are much broader than trespassing laws that deter animal rights activists.

“The other part is what kind of protections do we have for rural residents from thefts and deliberate damage to their property,” he said. “Our farm people live and work on their farms. They’ve got kids out in the yards and to have unauthorized people coming in is a safety issue…. It’s about the safety and protection of families.”

Manitobans can share their thoughts on trespassing, rural crime and legislative changes until Oct. 31 at https://engagemb.ca/

Following the public consultation, the province plans to table legislation later this fall.

Contact robert.arnason@producer.com

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