VICTORIA – Unanimous support for tough laws to protect agrifood operations against trespassers was a highlight of agriculture day in Victoria this year.
Opposition proposals were embraced by the government, resulting in a rare show of unity among the parties on an issue that has hit farmers hard over the past several years.
“We understand that a farm or a ranch, it’s not just a workplace, it’s a home and it’s a place with children and grandparents. Trespass, mischief, prowling at night, these are all against the law and must be treated as such,” BC agriculture minister Lana Popham told producers and representatives of farm organizations at a reception in Victoria on October 28.
The announcement was met with applause, and BC Agriculture Council chair Stan Vander Waal said farmers across the province should feel lighter as a result. BCAC urged the province to take action in April, following the invasion of Excelsior Hog Farm by more than 100 activists.
“This was a big ask from agriculture,” he said. “Most of us here feel a lot lighter tonight when it comes down to the confidence we have in our ability to do what we do for agriculture.”
Attorney general David Eby and solicitor general Mike Farnworth stood alongside Popham, pledging their support for the move.
Eby led the charge, introducing the Miscellaneous Statutes Amendment Act, which among other things addressed the province’s trespass legislation. Opposition members stepped up on October 21, with Abbotsford West MLA Mike de Jong asking for an amendment to include livestock operations among the premises protected from trespass in legislation.
Chilliwack-Kent MLA Laurie Throness jumped in October 28 with a private member’s bill aimed at protecting all forms of agrifood operations and stipulating fines of up to $50,000 on those who contaminate such “food establishments.”
“It’s our hope that the government will take this bill or respond with its own to send a strong preventative message to activists, like that sent by the government of Alberta earlier this month, and that BC will act decisively to protect farmers, processors and animals alike from unlawful trespass,” he told the legislature.
Popham, Eby and Farnworth all said that would happen.
“To have our laws reflect that care and concern that we have for the work that you do is really important,” Eby said. “We’re on your side and we’ve amended the law to make it absolutely clear to everybody.”
The bill included “a building or permanent structure designed or used for shelter for livestock,” as well as vehicles and aircraft used for the same, among the premises where trespassing was explicitly prohibited. However, no fines were specified; these will follow in regulations under the act.
The bill passed October 29 and received royal assent on Halloween.
Dairy farmers were particularly pleased with the development.
Organizing meetings for “Dairy is Scary,” a campaign launched by Canadian activist Erin Janus that raised the ire of New Brunswick farmers earlier this year, have been taking place in BC.
The meetings are hosted by Direct Action Everywhere, a six-year-old animal rights group founded in San Francisco. It was planning protests during the BC Dairy Conference in Vancouver, November 27-28. Fraser Valley farm families fear they could be next.
“Our association takes the issue of trespassing seriously,” BC Dairy Association general manager Jeremy Dunn said in response to the amended Trespass Act. “We are glad to see our government recognizes the importance of protecting our food system, and has committed to ensuring safe working environments for farming families, their employees and their animals.”