The Criminal Code of Canada prohibits anyone from willfully causing animals to suffer from neglect, pain or injury. The provincial Animal Care Act is enforced by the chief veterinary officer of Manitoba. Operations are regularly inspected, and nobody is prevented from reporting incidents to the relevant authorities. Both pieces of legislation are legally binding on the care of animals on farms, contrary to what you may hear from animal-rights activists.
What is troubling for our industry and our members is the idea that trespassing and crime in our operations is the cost of doing business, and that these acts do not represent a real threat to rural Manitobans. That could not be further from the truth. Farmers deal with financial pressures that are far outside their control, including trade barriers, the increasing carbon tax and, now, a new set of challenges brought forward by a global pandemic.
Criminals and lawbreakers represent a separate challenge, one that should see farmers protected under the law and legislation strictly enforced.
We have seen cases of large-scale protests across the country, including in Alberta, where 30 protesters invaded a turkey barn for six hours in violation of the law and biosecurity protocols. Another case in British Columbia involved protestors breaking and entering a hog operation, and over 60 protesters sitting among the animals.
In Manitoba, activists are known to follow semi-trucks of livestock and attempt to interact with the animals in truck-stop parking lots and receival yards. In June, that kind of activity resulted in the tragic death of a 65-year old woman who was part of the Toronto Pig Save movement.
The Manitoba government has now launched an online survey to consult Manitobans on rural crime issues, including potential changes to the Animal Diseases Act. This public engagement is crucial, and we applaud the government for taking steps to consider what is happening, both in other provinces and on our farms. Much of the legislation the government is consulting on is out of date and is not in line with the needs of modern agriculture.
When protesters rush into secure operations and violate these standards, they are jeopardizing food security for all of us. A breakdown in biosecurity protocols in a livestock operation can mean entire herds must be culled to prevent disease breakouts.
Free speech is a bedrock democratic principle in our country. The right to assemble and protest is fundamental to who we are as Canadians. What is not permissible in this country is the belief that anyone can enter private property at any time and attempt to take over the operations of a private business.
Our membership has been clear that no one has the right to intimidate, harass, trespass, break and enter, or interrupt farm businesses, whatever their intention. We believe the strengthening of trespassing rules needs to involve real repercussions, and we look forward to working with the provincial government to ensure that our food system is protected.
Our industry and the farmers in this province have high standards for themselves and stringent requirements they must meet when it comes to the food on your plate.
Bill Campbell is the president of Keystone Agricultural Producers of Manitoba, an organization that speaks up on behalf of all farmers and producers in Manitoba. He is a crop and livestock producer from Minto.