Animal Activism on Canadian Farms
Farmers fear for their safety, seek protection under law.
During the warmer months in Canada, many of us travel to nearby farms to buy local produce or join a farm tour. With fewer Canadians living on farms, such visits connect urban and rural communities and showcase modern farming.
Unfortunately, many farmers are worried about unexpected visitors these days, in the form of animal activists staging protests on farm property. Most farmers live where they work, so activist trespassing can feel something like a home invasion.
Apprehensions spiked in Ontario this May, when the crown attorney’s office in London dropped charges against Toronto animal activist Jenny McQueen. McQueen was charged with break-and-enter and mischief in October 2017, after breaking into a pig barn and stealing a piglet. She belongs to an activist group that opposes animal agriculture.
According to the crown attorney’s office, the charges were dropped because there wasn’t enough evidence to go to trial. This explanation is something of a head scratcher, given the fact that McQueen video-recorded herself breaking into the barn. She posted the video online and encouraged others to follow her lead.
The decision to drop charges was met by fear and frustration in Ontario’s farming community. Farmers worry that failure to charge in an apparently open-and-shut case like this will embolden activists. They fear that future attacks could endanger their farm businesses, their families and their animals. They worry that their protections under the law have been jeopardized.
In an open letter to Ontario’s attorney general, lawyer Kurtis Andrews described the case as “nothing short of a breakdown of law and order.” Andrews specializes in farm and animal welfare issues, but classified this case as a matter of justice miscarried. “All farmers,” he wrote, “should be confident that the authorities will protect them like any other citizen of this province.”
Canadian agriculture advocates are concerned about the potential for violence, especially if farmers believe that the law will not protect them. Reactions have been strong in other parts of the world, as activists continue to interrupt normal farming practices. In the Netherlands this spring, for example, farmers countered an activist occupation of a Boxtel pig farm by tipping the activists’ cars into the ditch.
Farm organizations in Canada are urging their members to remain calm and be prepared for unwanted visitors. Police, too, have offered safety recommendations like adding surveillance to farm buildings.
Still, it’s up to individual farmers whether or not to press charges against trespassers. Many feel that pressing charges only gives activists the media platform they’re seeking. Debates on how best to respond is ongoing.
Public trust is vital to a thriving agriculture sector, and most farmers welcome conversations about their work. But it’s difficult for them to be both welcoming and worried, if radical opposition becomes the new normal in Canada.