Canadians are speaking out against the Ford government’s Bill 156. What is the government hiding?
STOP BILL 156 - ONTARIO'S 'AG-GAG' BILL
The Conservative government’s proposed Bill 156 is a dangerous piece of legislation that would hide animal abuse and prevent animal activists, whistleblowers, media, and others, from performing their vital role in exposing the horrific treatment of farmed animals. Please help us #StopBill156
BILL 156 MYTHS/FACTS
MYTH #1: BILL 156 WAS INTRODUCED FOR FARMER AND FOOD SAFETY AND TO PROTECT ANIMAL WELFARE
Bill 156 was drafted “to protect farmers, and others, from risks” in their homes and at their workplaces in Ontario. The legislation is “intended to protect farm animals” and prevent “exposing farm animals to disease and stress”. It balances the security of farmers and “the food supply”, with the right of people “to participate in legal protests”. (Source: MPP Ernie Hardeman, Ontario Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, December 10, 2019 – House Debate.)
Bill 156 was drafted at the behest of some in the Ontario animal agricultural sector. Its purpose is to conceal unacceptable conditions at their farms, workplaces and agri-businesses, and to safeguard their financial interests. It is designed to protect profits, while stifling dissent over animal exploitation and appalling agricultural practices and operations. Its goal is to suppress exposure of animal suffering and cruelty – both on farms and during transport. It is an attempt to hide unsanitary and unhygienic conditions extant on many farms and during all live transport. It aims to silence workplace whistleblowers. It will prevent peaceful protests on public property, rendering them unlawful. It allows for “force” by farmers and thus encourages violence. It will allow heavy penalties for any person deemed not in compliance. It essentially criminalizes compassion for farm animals.
MYTH #2: ONTARIO IS AT THE FOREFRONT OF DEVELOPING NECESSARY AGRI-FOOD LEGISLATION TO PROTECT FARMING COMMUNITIES AND THE PUBLIC
“We’re very proud that by bringing forward this legislation, Ontario is helping to lead the development of agri-food-specific trespass legislation in Canada. Other governments are taking steps to support their security as we are, here in Ontario.” (MPP Toby Barrett, Haldeman-Norfolk, December 10, 2019 – House Debate.)
Bill 156 is closely modeled on similar legislation in the United States, known as ‘ag gag’ laws, which have been struck down by the courts in multiple U.S. states as unconstitutional. Bill 156 is contrary to the public interest and is a violation of citizens’ rights in Ontario guaranteed under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Designed solely to protect agri-business, it will not deter dedicated truth-seekers with broader democratic priorities and humane principles; instead, it would expose the government and Crown to liability and thus incur significant taxpayer expense if challenged in court.
MYTH #3: CONSULTATION
The Ontario government consulted with key stakeholders in 2019, including “animal rights groups”. (Source: MPP Ernie Hardeman, Minister of Agriculture, December 10, 2019 – House Debate.)
No “animal rights group” or anyone in the broad-based farm animal welfare community in Ontario can recall any such consultation re Bill 156. Bill 156 was crafted in relative secrecy. There also has been no transparency in the form of disclosure to the general public or animal advocates during the preparation of the bill. We challenge Mr. Hardeman to provide proof of such disclosure and alleged consultation.
MYTH #4: FARMERS’ SECURITY IS AT RISK
Farmers are not safe in their homes. (Source: MPP Ernie Hardeman, Minister of Agriculture, December 10, 2019 – House Debate.)
At no time have animal advocates, activists, whistleblowers or any other investigators threatened farmers or their families in their homes, nor have any animal advocates or organizations ever perpetrated an act of violence against an Ontario farmer(s), or have been similarly charged. Such egregious suggestions by the Minister of Agriculture impugn the reputations of investigators, animal advocates/activists, media, and farm employees who have exposed, or seek to expose, the hidden reality and typically abusive nature of farming practices occurring in Ontario. The bill will criminalize those who wish to expose and/or publicize the adverse impact that those practices and operations have on both the farm animals and the public interest.
MYTH #5: BILL 156 PROTECTS ANIMAL WELFARE
“Our government has always been committed to animal welfare.”
“The proposed legislation…aims to protect the welfare of animals. (MPP Ernie Hardeman, Minister of Agriculture, December 10, 2019 – House Debate.)
“Speaker, there are strong rules to ensure animal welfare, no matter where those animals are located, including during transportation.” (MPP Toby Barrett, Haldeman-Norfolk, December 10, 2019 – House Debate.)
The Ontario government has shown no commitment to farm animal welfare. Agricultural animals are not protected in provincial law – there are no regulations in Ontario governing agricultural animal welfare or activities on farms. The proposed legislation further condemns farm animals to horrific conditions, by enacting provisions that will deny public scrutiny and penalize those who genuinely advocate for them.
Farm animals will continue to be shipped to slaughter in extreme temperatures, over long distances, with no relief, currently, for up to 36 hours for pigs, up to 36 hours for chickens, and 52 hours for cattle. Additional wait times and extraordinary long delays at border crossings, heavy or slowed traffic, etc. will further add to their stress and suffering. They will continue to be packed into crates and/or transport trucks in extreme heat – without adequate ventilation and with no water. They will still suffer great distress from heat prostration and extreme thirst; many dying on route. In the severe cold, animals will continue to arrive at slaughterhouses frozen to the sides of the trucks, or frozen to death. Pregnant animals will continue to give birth on slaughter trucks, their newborns to die from being trampled or exposed to extreme elements. All of these inhumane conditions run contrary to the recommendations of the Canada’s National Farm Animal Care Council (NFACC) Transportation Code of Practice, yet all have been exposed as routine practices in Ontario.
It is animal advocates and concerned members of the public, not the government, that have demonstrated any consideration or compassion for these animals.
Bill 156 contains no provision whatsoever to protect farm animal welfare; it protects and shields the animal agricultural industry exclusively. In fact, the Ford government’s recent Provincial Animal Welfare Services (PAWS) Act, 2019, explicitly exempted agricultural animals. (See PAWS Act, Standards of care and administrative requirements for animals, Section 13, Subsection (2): Exception, agricultural activities.)
MYTH #6: PROTECTIVE LEGISLATION EXISTS FOR FARM ANIMALS
“…this bill, along with the PAWS Act, is part of this government’s plan to ensure Ontario has the strongest animal protection and welfare laws in the country.”
“Our government feels strongly that there is no place in Ontario for abuse or neglect of animals. We have a plan, and this bill that we started debating today is the second half of the plan.”
(MPP Ernie Hardeman, Minister of Agriculture, December 10, 2019 – House Debate.)
Within just days of passing the PAWS Act in December 2019, Bill 156 was introduced to the Ontario legislature. Although the PAWS Act was an improvement over the old OSPCA Act for domestic and some other animals, it was particularly ominous for agricultural animals. Disingenuous at best, the Ontario government is attempting to hide the complete absence of agricultural animal welfare regulations behind the new PAWS Act. The government’s assertion that the two bills jointly protect farm, and domestic/other animals, is both cruelly cynical and false.
Animal welfare conditions, practices, operations and activities on Ontario farms are in no way regulated by the province, nor are they provided for in either Bill 156 or the PAWS Act. There is no provisional oversight for farm animal welfare in either legislation. The current nationally-developed Codes of Practice, issued by Canada’s National Farm Animal Care Council (NFACC) are guidelines that do provide some welfare standards; however, while the Codes have been formerly endorsed by the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA), in reality, those standards are typically disregarded by the province’s agricultural sector. Many in the farming industry are either unaware of them – or simply ignore them. In fact, the OFA “categorically opposed” proposed animal welfare amendments to the Criminal Code.* Government collaboration with the province’s agricultural industry to promote adherence to accepted farm animal welfare standards is critical, yet aside from scant references in the PAWS Act, the government has neglected to do so.
Despite years of media exposés, peaceful protests, petitions, and appeals for reform from animal advocates and members of the public, there is no bill, or amendment to alleviate any distress, or protect or improve the welfare of animals on farms, or in transport, either by the federal government or by the Ford government – or by any provincial government. In fact, under the province’s recent PAWS Act, farm animals are expressly exempted. (See PAWS Act, Part IV, Standards of care and administrative requirements for animals, Section 13, subsection 2: “Subsection (1) does not apply in respect of an activity regarding agricultural animal care, management or husbandry carried on in accordance with the reasonable and generally accepted practices of agricultural animal care, management, or husbandry…”)
More detailed explanations of the national/provincial jurisdiction and responsibility for farm animal law enforcement can be found here: Strengthening Farmed Animal Welfare Laws
MYTH #7: FARMERS CARE FOR THEIR ANIMALS – THERE IS NO CRUELTY, NO NEED FOR WHISTLEBLOWERS
“Ontario’s farmers and food businesses work hard to protect and care for their animals…” “Ontario farmers comply with strict provincial and federal regulations to ensure they meet…animal welfare standards.” (MPP Ernie Hardeman, Minister of Agriculture, December 10, 2019 – House Debate.)
Rather than being the exception to the rule, animal abuse and cruelty is a routine and commonplace practice on many Ontario farms. Whistleblowers and concerned citizens have had recourse to relevant provisions of the Criminal Code of Canada, which were weak, often woefully unenforced and granted exceptions to the offenses of causing, or permitting, distress to agricultural animals. Now, with both the new PAWS Act, any former Standards of Care have been revoked (as of January 1st, 2020), and Bill 156 will ensure that agricultural animal “distress” will not only continue unabated, but will be further hidden from view.
Investigators and whistleblowers, together with the mainstream media, have recorded and documented shocking animal cruelty and revealed the footage to the Ontario public. This included cruelty to chickens at the Maple Lodge Farms slaughterhouse; horrific conditions for pigs at Crimson Lane Farms; and abuse of turkeys at Hybrid Turkeys, which led to 11 charges and cruelty convictions under the Criminal Code of Canada, for the commercial farm and its individual employees.
Investigators and witnesses have also frequently filed formal complaints with the Ontario government re extreme cruelty and/or neglect to farm animals, along with evidence that had been caught on camera. Many of those complaints have been acknowledged as received by the provincial government, but were otherwise disregarded with no subsequent follow-up with complainants or charges (see examples of animal cruelty footage, below):
- pregnant sow with prolapse
- nursing sows in crates so small they cannot turn around in, or reach their babies
- sick and diseased pig on slaughter truck
- gasping, suffering pigs on slaughter truck
- fire hazard, filth at the pig breeding facility
- chickens in trucks with dismembered legs
- cow bleeding from head
- cow with large tumour on its leg
- downed/injured cow on slaughter truck
(See PAWS Act, Section 15, Subsection 4 (c): “Distress – Causing Distress, Permitting Distress, Exposure to Undue Risk of Distress: Exception, agricultural animal care, management or husbandry”. )
MYTH #8: SYSTEMS EXIST FOR THE PREVENTION OF FARM ANIMAL ABUSE OR NEGLECT, AND PROSECUTION OF PERPETRATORS
“We have systems in place that if anyone suspects neglect or abuse of any animal, they should call the authorities and report it immediately.” – (MPP Ernie Hardeman, Minister of Agriculture, December 10, 2019 – House Debate.)
Should a farm or industry employee, or any other person, witness and/or report animal neglect or abuse in, or near, an agricultural facility, under the proposed provisions of Bill 156, that individual would be subject to:
1) Citizen’s arrest by the farm owner or farm industry employee; and,
2) Physical harm, due to the bill’s provision of allowable “force” by an arresting farm owner, or farm industry employee; and,
3) No recourse to the courts for remedy for damages sustained from a farmer protected against civil liability; and,
4) Financial loss, either incurred via a fine, and/or ensuing litigation; and,
5) Firing from his/her job at a farm or farm industry site, on the basis of the bill’s provision of “interference” with animal agriculture/industry; and,
6) Arrest, charges, incarceration, exorbitant fines, and/or other penalties allowable under the provisions of Bill 156 ; and,
7) Unwitting trespass, due to the bill’s vague language, such as so-called “animal protection zones”; and,
8) Arrest for other similarly undefined terms and provisions that defy fundamental civil rights, such as the denial of legal protest on public property near an agricultural animal facility; and,
9) Delayed arrests/charges/prosecution of up to two years for alleged violations; and,
10) A violation of his/her constitutional rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
(Source: Bill 156 – An Act to protect Ontario’s farms and farm animals from trespassers and other forms of interference and to prevent contamination of Ontario’s food supply)
MYTH #9: BIOSECURITY IS THREATENED BY UNAUTHORISED ENTRY
“Individuals who enter a farm or enter a processing facility or other prescribed premises where farm animals are located without authorization…may unknowingly introduce risk to:
—animal welfare, through stress or trauma;
—public health, by inadvertently spreading diseases that can be transmitted to humans by animals;
—animals, by unknowingly transmitting diseases to them; and
—our food supply, by introducing contaminants in food processing plants or from interacting with animals.” (MPP Toby Barrett, Haldeman-Norfolk, December 10, 2019 – House Debate.)
“From Keith Currie, the president of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture: ‘Farmers implement biosecurity measures to protect against unwanted diseases.’ Think about that. We don’t want disease in our animals, because that is part of our food security.” – (Quoted by MPP Dave Smith, Peterborough-Kawartha, December 10, 2019, House Debates.)
The suggestion by the Ontario government that farm animals are subjected to “stress or trauma” by peaceable observers of their conditions, particularly their suffering, neglect, or abuse, is clearly absurd. But the allegation that unauthorized individuals pose serious health risks to a farm, transport truck, or food processing plant requires a response.
Most pathogens and organisms are spread to agriculture animals via farm personnel, who move from one infected area to another, or through contaminated feed. There is no evidence or history of any disease or contamination on Ontario’s farm facilities as having being caused by unauthorized visitors. In fact, all of the disease outbreaks that have threatened the public health over past decades in Ontario have been traced to improper adherence to biosecurity protocols by farm or slaughterhouse personnel themselves, or from within the agricultural community. It must be stressed that biosecurity requirements at the farm level have been merely voluntary in Canada until recent months, and are now mandatory only for dairy farms. All farms have been permitted to jeopardize the public health by loosely adhering to biosecurity requirements that are limited to either self-assessment, or recommendations – if they participate at all.
It is also important to note that when the National Farm Animal Care Council (NFACC) consulted with all stakeholders last year – including those from within the agriculture sector and the general public – biosecurity concerns ranked far below animal welfare concerns when it came to transportation. (Source: At-a-Glance: Transportation Survey Results.) Given these facts, why has the Ontario government alleged that biosecurity is such an overriding issue that it requires legislation that harshly penalizes animal advocates?
On average, barns in Ontario burn down at an alarming rate of 80 barns per annum, killing thousands of animals and threatening workers’ and visitors’ lives. Why has the Ontario government not moved instead on drafting Fire Code amendments to help ensure that barns in Ontario are no longer exempt from the provincial Fire Code?
Animal activists have recorded and documented electrical wiring that is shockingly sub-standard and would violate any Fire Code legislation, should mandatory inspections exist for Ontario farms. The obvious jerry-rigged wiring on some Ontario farms is truly frightening and continues to place all lives – human and animal – at great risk. So why is the Ontario government pointing its finger at animal advocates when it comes to farm safety?
Whistleblowers and independent investigations have established that farm animals are often maintained in filthy and fetid conditions that create breeding grounds for the E.Coli pathogen and other serious infections, such as salmonella. Sick and dead animals and those forced to exist in their own excrement are the norm at many farms. In feces-soaked transport trucks, some animals, often too weak to stand, are recorded as hyperventilating, vomiting, or convulsing. Animal activists have also video-recorded numerous animals on their way to slaughter with open, festering wounds and tumours. These animals, who are clearly ill, are permitted to enter the food chain and put the public at risk.
As has also been widely reported in the media, farm run-off has contaminated produce in Ontario, which has been responsible for multiple outbreaks of E. Coli that has led to deaths, most infamously in Walkerton in 2000. The deadly listeriosis outbreak at the Toronto Maple Leaf Meatpacking plant in 2008 was determined to be the result of unhygenic practices at the plant. In that single outbreak, 22 people died. Most recently in December, 2019, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) cancelled the operating licences of 3 major Toronto slaughterhouses, shutting them down in a move that rocked the beef industry. After a massive recall of the processing plants’ E.coli-contaminated meat products, CFIA’s investigative team also found that the companies provided false or misleading information about the findings of their lab results. Animal advocates had long documented appalling animal abuse at this same facility – an action that would be denied to the public by Bill 156.
Thus, the allegations that independent investigators, or “activists”, place the food supply at risk is an unsubstantiated and a pseudo-scientific scare-tactic that is not motivated by the public interest and deflects from the real cause of infectious disease in Ontario’s animal agriculture.
MYTH #10: ONLY ACTIVISTS OPPOSE BILL 156
Since Bill 156 was first tabled in December, 2019, tens of thousands of concerned citizens have signed petitions against its draconian provisions. The official Opposition of the Ontario government is opposed to key sections of Bill 156, as is the leader of the provincial Liberal Party. In a letter to the Attorney General of Ontario and ON Minister of Agriculture, 32 esteemed legal scholars and constitutional and criminal law experts in Ontario and across Canada added their voices to the call for a major overhaul of Bill 156, which they have determined violates citizens’ rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (Charter, Section 2 (b). (Read the letter here: Ontario “Ag Gag” Bill is Unconstitutional.)
SUMMARY OF FACTS
Bill 156 is proposed legislation in Ontario that is unilateral, arbitrary and undemocratic. It is contrary to the public interest and discourages public confidence. It silences opposition to farm animal abuse and distress, and attempts to hide that abuse and distress from the people of Ontario. It is unconstitutional. In short, Bill 156 criminalizes compassion for farm animals and imposes a chill on all concerned Ontarians.
Bill 156 is an attempt to impose legislation in areas over which the province has questionable jurisdiction, such as conditions pertaining to agricultural animals in transport. It is the federal government, not the government of Ontario, that governs and monitors farm animals in transport and at slaughterhouses. Hence, this bill is a classic example of ministerial overreach, writ large.
Bill 156 is divisive – rather than fostering improved communication and understanding between animal advocates, investigators, and farmers, it promotes distrust, antagonism, and violence. This is a grossly irresponsible step in the wrong direction by the Ontario government. The people of Ontario deserve better, and we demand better.
Farm animals – we are their hope, we are their voice, and we will not be silenced!