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Ontario challenged on law making it illegal for people to go undercover on farms

Last Updated Mar 14, 2021 at 9:01 am EDT

Dairy cows are seen at a farm Friday, August 31, 2018 in Sainte-Marie-Madelaine Quebec. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

An animal law organization is suing Ontario over a bill passed last year that makes it illegal for people to go undercover on farms and slaughterhouses with the intent to report on conditions.

The province passed Bill 156 after hearing from farmers who say they don’t feel safe in their homes because of an increase in trespassing, and the government says this legislation is to create a safe workplace, prevent contamination to food supply and stress to animals.

But, Animal Justice says the Security from Trespass and Protecting Food Safety Act prevents whistleblowers from revealing animal abuse behind closed doors.

This law makes it illegal for people to apply for jobs and work on farms, transport trucks and slaughterhouses, under false pretenses.

Animal Justice Executive Director Camille Labchuk says the organization is asking the courts to strike down this law, calling the bill unconstitutional, “by making it almost impossible to go undercover, to present, to film and expose evidence of what happens on farms.”

“That restricts a very important form of expression and that’s a guaranteed constitutional right that Canadians have.”

Labchuk says these whistleblowers have an important role in society because they have revealed “horrific, appalling suffering that shocks people’s conscience,” which have led to animal cruelty charges in cases and policy changes.

“People are often shocked to learn that the government actually doesn’t regulate or monitor animal welfare on farms — so there are no regulations and there’s no proactive inspections,” Labchuk says.

“Usually the only way that the public has to see the conditions that occur on farms every single day in this province are when a whistleblower comes forward with that information.”

Labchuk says Animal Justice has done undercover exposes at farms — and wishes to do more.

“It’s now illegal to do that — and that shuts off a very important source of information from the public about how animals are treated in this province. So we think that the stakes are too high to let this law stand and we believe it doesn’t comply with the charter of rights and that’s why we filed this lawsuit.”

The public deserves to know the truth about how animals are treated in the food system and where their food comes from, Labchuk says.

“We’re polite, nice Canadians, and we assume that the government is looking out for farm animals — but the truth is that they’re not,” she says.

In a statement to 680 NEWS, the province says while “this matter is currently subject to litigation, it would be inappropriate to comment any further.”

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The government says Bill 156 was created to protect the safety of food supply “and the security of farmers from risky trespass activities while also protecting the right for people to participate in lawful protests, the ability of the media to investigate and report on animal mistreatment, as well as the protection of whistleblowers to report on animal abuse.”

The province says it has a zero-tolerance approach to animal abuse in Ontario, and “that is why we passed the provincial animal welfare services act and hired provincial inspectors to investigate and protect the welfare of animals in Ontario when abuse is reported.”

Previously, the government has also said there is nothing in the act that prevents a bona fide employee from raising concerns about animal welfare issues.

In the meantime, Labchuk is urging Canadians to learn more about the farming industry and animal treatment.

“I think people who consume animal products deserve to know the truth, and they want to know the truth, and people who eat animal products don’t want animals to suffer abuse on the way to their plates,” she says.

Labchuk says while litigation is a slow process, she aims to have the suit heard by the court as quickly as possible.

Incidents of animals in distress should be reported to the Ontario animal protection call centre at 1-833-9-animal (1-833-926-4625).

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