Farmers welcome charges in barn invasion

Four of the protesters who entered an Alberta turkey barn this fall are charged with break and enter to commit mischief

Mark Tschetter, the minister at the Jumbo Valley Hutterite Colony near Granum, Alta., has never been in court. But he will be in a courtroom in nearby Fort Macleod in late November to see what happens to people accused of a Sept. 2 break and enter at the colony’s turkey operation.

Tschetter and others in the agriculture community welcomed news last week of charges laid against four of an estimated 35 people who entered and temporarily occupied the colony’s turkey barns, posted video on social media and criticized the turkeys’ living conditions and treatment. Dozens of other people held signs and protested along nearby Highway 2 at the same time.

Charged with break and enter to commit mischief are three adults and one youth: Maxwell Ming Mah, 46, of Edmonton, Claire Buchanan, 28, of Calgary, Kennadi Rae Herbert, 24, of Pincher Creek, Alta., and a 16-year-old female from Calgary who was not identified in accordance with the Youth Criminal Justice Act.

The adults are scheduled to appear in court Nov. 27 and the youth on Nov. 15.

Tschetter said he is glad charges have been laid.

“It took way too long, and maybe not enough charges,” he said last week. “I think what they should have done is charge all the ones in the barn. I don’t know how they singled them out.”

Tschetter said he spoke with Fort Macleod RCMP and was told “the ringleaders” had been charged and that the investigation was hindered when some of the protesters provided false names to police.

Fort Macleod RCMP did not return calls by press time to confirm those details.

The charges prompted an Oct. 23 protest at the Alberta legislature in Edmonton, in which some protesters chained themselves to the building’s doors before being arrested, according to Edmonton media reports.

The farm invasion generated concern from the widespread agricultural community.

“People are concerned about their safety, their family’s safety and actually quite importantly, the health and welfare of their animals. These invasions are not good for any of those, so we’re hearing a lot about it,” said Alberta Beef Producers executive director Rich Smith.

“The people that are behind these activities want to stop all animal agriculture so I think none of us can think that we’re going to be immune to challenges from them.”

Smith said the fact that charges were laid against only four of several dozen people involved in the farm protest is a concern but does send a message.

“That’s the thing we see, is that it sends a signal that the law enforcement agencies are not prepared to just stand by and let these people trespass and impose themselves on somebody’s property without consequences. It certainly sends a signal to people that there will be consequences for taking these actions and we certainly think that’s appropriate.”

Smith noted animal activist activity in Canada of late seems to concentrate primarily on animals within barns but it would be naïve to think activism can’t or won’t spread to other livestock sectors.

Cor De Wit of the Alberta Provincial Rural Crime Watch Association was among those welcoming the turkey farm-related charges.

“I’m glad they charged somebody for it because whether you agree or disagree with them, it’s still an invasion of private property,” De Wit said.

Though break and enter is a charge under the Criminal Code of Canada, the Alberta government said it intends to increase fines under the provincial petty trespass act to $10,000 for a first violation and $25,000 for a second offence along with up to six months in jail.

“Whether that will stop them, I don’t know,” said De Wit. “Some of these groups are very organized … and if they’re organized, they have a lot of money behind them and to make a point, to invade a property and make a point and get on the news and get reported, it may be worth the $25,000 to them, and that’s the problem.”

De Wit said the rural crime watch organization has always had a mandate of encouraging rural dwellers to report all suspicious activity but that is no longer sufficient given rural crime concerns.

Now it encourages crime prevention through training sessions that discuss proper lighting and fencing of rural properties, sensor lights, steering wheel locks, locking valuable items out of sight and other protective measures.

Last week’s Alberta budget included a provision to hire 50 new prosecutors to alleviate court backlogs and expedite the handling of convicted criminals.

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