So the trial, informally referred to as the “pig trial” has come to a close and the farming community leaves the courtroom with disappointment.
Rather than a one-sided legal win for animal rights activism, the verdict delivered in this mischief case actually supports Ontario farmers in a number of ways.
Let’s start with the main conclusion.
The mischief charge central to this case related to an animal activist impeding a load of pigs during transportation to a Burlington processing plant.
As described by Justice David Harris in his verdict, this charge pursued by the crown was dismissed because activists did not directly stop or impede the truck from moving; instead, they took advantage of a red light.
The “unknown substance” issue around giving water to the animals in the truck also failed to prevent any change in the regular delivery and processing of the hogs. Justice Harris concluded there did not appear to be any obstruction, interruption, or interference with the lawful use, enjoyment, or operation of the pigs.
That said, Justice Harris reaffirmed the right for farmers to raise and transport livestock unhindered. He also recognized the “highly regulated” nature of livestock transport, where things like temperature, humidity and ride duration actually do factor into decision making.
In addition, Harris referred to some of the defendant’s views as taking things “much further” than what was supported by testifying scientists, scientists that were specifically chosen to support the defence team. He pointed out, for instance, the contextual irrelevancy and absurdity of comparing the defendant with civil-rights icons, while highlighting the juicy media clips such comparisons provided.
He also disagreed with some of the “expert” opinions delivered in support of the defence, in part because the individuals providing testimony were not qualified to make many of their conclusions and because of obvious biases.
In terms of the act of giving water to pigs, Justice Harris also noted the defendant “did not need to break the law” to achieve her initial objective; providing water for “temporary relief” was, he says, ineffective anyway since the pigs would all have been watered upon arriving at the plant in a few minutes.
He pointed out that had the pigs really been in such a poor state, they all would not have been accepted at the plant, and they were.
Overall, he judged the defendant would not have been acting with “legal justification or colour of right” even if the law had indeed been broken.
Notably, Justice Harris recognized that the whole case was at its core, an opportunity for animal rights groups to promote their worldview in the media.
As his verdict describes, the whole affair required five days of evidence, one day of submissions, one day for judgment, and countless remand appearances.
All in all, this provided the defence with “all the publicity they could hope for.”
And while this trial was going on, on the final day of testimony, a murder trial in the next courtroom had neither spectators nor media.
The whole thing was a circus, and one that became more visceral once the verdict was handed down.
The initially docile activist group even got a little physical and that’s to say nothing of the rather colourful emails and phone calls received into our office after the fact.
Still, the fact remains that the legal result has changed little.
What remains to be seen, however, is how protesters fare with and use their next charge of obstructing police.
Matt McIntosh is with Farm & Food Care Ontario.