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A recent protest of Ontario Bill 156 has caught the attention of media outlets but the coverage of it can sometimes be misleading. One CBC headline recently read, “Animal rights activists decry Ontario bill that would limit farm protests“. That’s true, it would do that, but there are reasons for not allowing protesters to trespass that don’t seem unreasonable to reasonable people.
One paragraph in the article reads, “An offender could be fined as much as $25,000, a significant hike from the current $10,000 maximum under the Trespass to Property Act.” The $25,000 fine only comes into play for people who are reoffenders, a detail worth mentioning.
The problem here, as far as I can see, is that the animal rights activists are expressing their right to free speech but what muddles this is that the location that they’re expressing it is private property, and furthermore, someone’s home. Farming isn’t your typical occupation, it doesn’t abide by a regular schedule. It’s a lifestyle.
The land you work is also your home, most farmers houses are a stone’s throw from their barn. A cow may calve in the middle of the night, a storm may take out a fence or a coyote may get into the chicken coop. Farmers choose to be farmers, they don’t just fall into it.
In any major industry there will always be a few bad apples, but the majority of farmer’s take pride in what they do, and proper sanitation for animals is a big part of that. The issue with animal rights activists is that their concern has little do with sanitation or practices but with the concept of livestock itself. The fact that they don’t want anyone to consume meat or animal byproducts keeps means they’ll never be pleased until the farms are completely shut down. They also don’t seem to go after the giant corporate factory farms that supply to McDonald’s and their counterparts but rather, medium scale, honest, hardworking family farms.
Another issue is that you can’t reason with someone that has no respect for what you do. I’d be willing to bet my last buck that no activist drives all the way from Toronto up to some farm in rural Ontario only to say, “Actually gang, we think this farm looks pretty good. Although these hogs will eventually go to slaughter, their living conditions are pretty tranquil and the farmer does seem to have an innate appreciation for his livestock. Pack it up folks, I guess we missed the mark on this one.”
Many activists view these farmers as mass murderers. Harvesting an animal is akin to murdering a human, according to their signs. This makes it very difficult to find some common ground and civility, particularly after they’ve trespassed onto your home to begin with. I’m all for free speech, all the way, but it should be exercised within a public space. I think there is nothing wrong with animal rights activists protesting in a town square and voicing their message online, but once you show up onto someone’s property with hidden cameras and the intent to destroy their livelihood, it’s obviously going to end poorly, for everybody. Property rights matter too.
If somebody wanted to bring back Prohibition because alcohol is quite damaging to one’s health there would be a fundamental difference between them protesting in the street and storming the doors of a microbrewery. Protestors often damage property when they arrive at people’s farms, so much so that section 15 of Bill 156 would require restitution for damaged property on behalf of the protestor(s). Section 15 is a direct response to this being an ongoing problem.
Bill 156, as far as I can tell, is less about silencing protestors and more about protecting farmers and their families from inexcusable and illegal behaviour from the animal rights activist mob.