“Peace, order and good government” may well be the words fundamental to Canada’s national character. We say “sorry” at the drop of a hat, devoutly anxious that we might somehow have disturbed the peace and order of our neighbours. Our laws and regulations define what we can and can’t do, especially in matters regarding freedom of speech; unlike the US, where the onus is on the defamed party to prove injury, Canada’s laws regarding libel and defamation favour plaintiffs, encouraging individuals to respect others.
But farmers, who the province is set to exclude from the definition of persons for the purposes of land exclusions under Bill 15 (set to pass shortly after this issue goes to press), are in danger of losing their protection from defamation.
The recent decision of Crown prosecutors to drop charges against an animal rights activist who entered an Ontario hog farm because they didn’t think the case would result in a conviction – even though the activist herself admitted to the act and had video footage of what she had done – could well embolden activists there, as well as in BC.
It’s already happening, in fact. Two years ago, undercover footage of livestock mistreatment by staff at a Chilliwack chicken catching business grabbed headlines. But the province’s privacy commissioner told the business it couldn’t equip staff with body cameras to monitor animal handling practices. “Video surveillance should only be used as a last resort,” the commissioner said.
It wasn’t true for activists then, and it wasn’t true this spring when cameras were installed at a hog farm in Abbotsford, resulting in footage that triggered an invasion of the farm by protestors at the end of April and a cybertattack that compromised the business of the packinghouse it supplies. Police are investigating the break-and-enter that led to the footage, but the BC SPCA notes that the footage is hardly grounds for convicting some of filming it. Even someone claiming to have shot the video isn’t enough; there must be proof that the suspect actually installed the cameras.
While the BC SPCA has found no evidence the farm mistreated its animals, the defamatory footage will live on because, it seems, no one can be held accountable for releasing it. It’s one more instance where farmers have lost their rights under the law.
There was neither peace nor order when activists descended on the BC hog farm at the end of April, and no one seems sorry for the inconvenience caused the farm or the rest of the supply chain. Good governance demands more, especially in a province where industry codes of practice for livestock are, as of this month, part of provincial statutes that also include right-to-farm legislation.
We all want to protect livestock. Who will protect farmers?