Proposed legislation targets animal activists

Alberta Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer visits with children at the Jumbo Valley Hutterite Colony near Granum, Alta., Oct. 3. He and Premier Jason Kenney and Agriculture Minister Devin Dreeshen visited the colony to announce plans to stiffen penalties for people who trespass and invade farms. The colony’s turkey operation was invaded by activists on Sept. 2.  |  Barb Glen photo

Alberta plans to introduce legislation to strengthen the Petty Trespass Act to address trespass on agricultural land

GRANUM, Alta. — There are new “no trespassing” signs at the Jumbo Valley Hutterite colony turkey operation near Fort Macleod, Alta., along with a few new locks.

They are a response to a Sept. 2 incident in which animal rights activists entered the turkey barns, sat with live turkeys and held signs protesting animal agriculture.

“What more can we do? We don’t know,” said colony minister Mark Tschetter.

Last week, the Alberta government responded with more.

On Oct. 3 it announced plans to impose harsher penalties against those who trespass on farms, harass farmers and threaten biosecurity.

Premier Jason Kenney, Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer and Agriculture Minister Devin Dreeshen met at the Jumbo Valley colony to discuss plans for legislation to be introduced in the fall session that is designed to increase fines and discourage further animal activism.

“I’m here today to say that the government of Alberta will not tolerate trespassing and bullying of our farmers. We will stand up for and with Alberta farmers in protecting the rule of law,” Kenney said while standing in the colony metalworks shop.

He took issue with those who called the Sept. 2 event a protest, saying it was instead an illegal invasion of private property and trespass.

“We should not dignify this by calling it some kind of act of legitimate protest. If people want to criticize farming, if they want to criticize poultry or livestock, they have every right to do so. But they have no right, no right, to enter the private premises, private property of a farm, to invade it, to harass the farmers, to create a biohazard for the animals and to violate several laws in so doing.”

Kenney said legislation would be introduced to strengthen the Petty Trespass Act to address trespass on agricultural land. Fines of up to $10,000 for a first violation and $25,000 for a second offence, along with up to six months imprisonment for violators, will be proposed. Organizations would be subject to fines up to $200,000.

The government also intends to appoint a dedicated crown prosecutor for agricultural offences to ensure they are pursued, said Kenney.

“Our current system isn’t doing enough to protect our producers, their families or their businesses and we’re going to fix that.”

The government is also considering amendments to the animal health act that would see those who place biosecurity at risk fined $15,000 for a first offence and $30,000 plus up to one year’s imprisonment for repeat offences.

Agriculture minister Devin Dreeshen said breach of biohazard measures would also become a finable offence with perpetrators subject to pay up to $100,000 in compensation.

“It’s not a joke. It’s not a stunt. It’s not entertainment when these out-of-control activists trespass on farms, disrupt people’s lives, damage businesses and put the health of animals at risk. No one should have to tolerate that sort of attack,” said Dreeshen.

Schweitzer, who has been holding rural crime meetings across the province in the past month, said the Jumbo Valley farm invasion was raised at virtually every gathering.

“One thing we are trying to convey, though, to our law enforcement officials as well as our prosecution is that rural considerations need to be taken seriously. We need to make sure that our justice system in Alberta respects rural Alberta,” said Schweitzer.

Kenney said some have opined that there is a fine line between the right to protest and the expectation of respect for private property.

“The fine line is the farmgate. When you invade somebody’s property without their consent, when you break into their buildings, when you violate agriculture regulations by creating a biohazard, when you harass people who are simply going about their jobs legally, none of that constitutes a legal or legitimate protest. All of that constitutes trespass and harassment.”

Tschetter said he was pleased with the government announcement.

“I really feel more secure that we have a government that cares for the farmers,” he said.

Conrad Van Hierden, a dairy farmer with an operation near the Jumbo Valley turkey farm, said he also viewed government plans as positive. He saw the protest unfold on Sept. 2 because the barns are along busy Highway 2 south of Fort Macleod.

Van Hierden said rural crime watch has a role to play should there be similar incidents on farms in the future.

“It’s a crime and it’s trespassing, so I think we’ll have to work together to support each other. I don’t know where it will go from here but I think we have to do that.”

Alberta’s planned legislation, if enacted, will be among the most stringent in Canada regarding farm trespass. Ontario is also considering changes as a result of an incident earlier this year that saw charges dropped against an animal activist who took two animals from a hog barn.

Activists also invaded an Abbotsford, B.C., pig farm in April to protest what they said was cruel treatment of the pigs.

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