WOODSTOCK, Ont. – Ontario’s provincial government is moving forward with rules designed to keep people from stopping, hindering, obstructing or interfering with vehicles that are transporting farm animals.
Four sections of Bill 156 — the Security from Trespass and Protecting Food Safety Act – officially take effect on Sept. 2. A related regulation under the Provincial Offences Act has also been amended to allow for tickets to be issued.
Protesting animal rights activists will often gather outside processing facilities, stop trucks, and surround trailers to take pictures and offer water to the animals inside.
But the practice known as “bearing witness” took a deadly turn on June 19, when activist Regan Russell was struck and killed by a truck in Burlington, Ont. A 28-year-old driver from North Perth, Ont. has been charged.
“Stopping motor vehicles in traffic when they are transporting farm animals is dangerous for everyone, including those who stop the trucks, pedestrians, livestock transporters and other drivers,” said Ernie Hardeman, minister of agriculture, food and rural affairs.
“As actions like this are on the rise and public safety is a top priority for the Ontario government, it is critical to bring these specific parts of the act into force immediately to ensure safety for everyone.”
Penalties will include fines of up to $15,000 for a first offence and up to $25,000 for subsequent offences, while comparable penalties under the Ontario Trespass to Property Act carries a maximum $10,000 fine. Courts will also be able to order restitution for injury, loss or damages.
Protesters have come to refer to the legislation as the “ag gag” law.
“This legislation is the first meaningful tool we have seen toward addressing the harassment faced by our drivers and transport companies when confronted by animal activists,” says Susan Fitzgerald, executive director of the Ontario Livestock Transporters’ Alliance.
“It is our hope and expectation that all Ontario police departments will fully enforce it for the safety of the protestors, the drivers, and the animals they transport.”
The rights of people to participate in legal protests that take place in public spaces will always be protected, provided such protests do not have the potential to cause harm, the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs says in a related release.
“This is part of the government’s commitment to protecting the health and safety of our agri-food sector, farm animal welfare, and food safety,” it said.
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