Pressure mounts to protect farmers from harassment

Recent animal rights actions have triggered a surge of support for farmers

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Five turkeys, full media access granted into the barn, and no charges laid.

Those three demands issued by animal rights activists (ARA) were met by RCMP during the Jumbo Valley Hutterite turkey farm siege Sept. 2 and signaled a surge of support for agriculture.

In recent weeks social media displayed an uprising of support for the rights of farmers to be safe on the job and in their homes, with provincial ministers across Canada calling for legislative reform tightening laws against on-farm ARA action.

“This attack on a turkey farm is unacceptable. Hard-working farmers and ranchers shouldn’t have to deal with harassment from illegal protesters,” tweeted Devin Dreeshen, Alberta Minister of Agriculture Sept. 2. “They shouldn’t have to worry about people entering their work, interfering with their lives or threatening the health of their animals.”

Dreeshen has begun discussions with Alberta’s Solicitor General Doug Schweitzer on the need to strengthen laws which would protect farms and resource sectors from radical activists.

Keith Currie, Ontario Federation of Agriculture president, said Ontario’s Solicitor General and Attorney General have been in discussions with the OFA, farm commodity groups, veterinarian associations, and Farm and Food Care around legislative change.

Currie said ARA’s aren’t interested in animal welfare any longer, their agenda is to eradicate meat as a food source through invading farm businesses.

“That’s a civil liberty violation,” said Currie. “We’re not telling them they can’t protest, but when you invade private – personal private property – you’re invading my civil rights.”

Julaine Treur, an organic dairy farmer in Agassiz, British Columbia, watched the turkey farm spectacle unfold and something inside her broke.

“Animal rights terrorists have once again targeted our nation’s food supply,” she wrote on her farm’s – Creekside Dairy’s – Facebook page.

“They illegally entered the barns before the farmers started their morning chore rounds, trespassing, and breaking biosecurity, and putting the birds under immense stress and bringing with them the threat of disease.”

Her post encouraged people to write their provincial and federal representatives to push for legislation protecting against “animal rights terrorists” action.

Treur said she didn’t use the word terrorist gratuitously or for shock value.

“The definition of terrorist reads ‘a person who uses unlawful violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political gains’,” she wrote.

“Receiving horrific death threats and being subject to sustained harassment, along with dire promises to attack your business and home simply because you, a law-abiding citizen, provide food for the public qualifies as violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims.”

Treur reached out to her local elected and un-elected officials after receiving an increased number of threats to her and her family over the summer.

“They threatened to call Child Services (on us) for exposing our children to animal abuse. And we should slit our kids’ throats because that’s what we do to cows,” she said – they have five children between the ages of one-and-a-half-years-old and 12-years-old.

In March she received a gruesome message from a man threatening her with death by chainsaw.

Facebook removed the message but not before Treur was able to screenshot it and file a report with the police. She shared some of the messages to illustrate the constant barrage of threats farmers face online and in their barns.

“They understand the toll that takes on farmer’s mental health,” she said of the response from her local MLA, Laurie Throness and Lana Popham, the provincial Minister of Agriculture. “They also are aware that it’s starting to feel a little bit like a tinderbox like a spark could set someone off and something bad will happen.”

Throness, MLA for the Chilliwack-Kent riding where Truer farms, recently visited to get a first-hand look at their operation. He posted a photo of Treur and her husband Johannes on social media which said, “Today I visited Creekside Dairy in my riding, a spotless, organic, SPCA-certified dairy farm that has had to block 1,200 activists spewing threatening and often violent FB messages. What’s next on the activist agenda?”

He called on Popham to do something to protect BC’s animal farmers.

Currie said Treur is 100 per cent correct – more needs to be done at the provincial level now and at the federal level after the October election.

“Where’s the centerline being drawn from authorities with respect to how we raise our animals?” he said.

Currie said when the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (OSPCA) stepped away from enforcing animal welfare on-farm it created an opportunity to discuss the creation of biosecurity zones on-farm and around processing plants, much like they have for industrial sites.

There is a real concern around processing plants where ARAs stop livestock trucks and create safety issues for all concerned, said Currie, adding meaningful action is necessary to address the problem.

Currie said it’s getting to the point where some truckers won’t deliver to processing plants because the risk of something happening with a protester is becoming too great and the lack of convictions and fines within the judicial system isn’t acting as a deterrent.

“If they convicted that woman who stole pigs and gave her a $1 fine, that sets the precedent that, ‘Okay, that’s a wrong action’,” said Currie. “She admitted it and videotaped doing it. The fact that they can’t convict her is, in my mind, a bunch of B.S.”

Currie said the judicial system needs to step up for the rights of people, not just the emotional feel-good of not thinking a conviction is necessary.

“It’s gone beyond activism and into terrorism now because they are terrorizing our farm families,” he said in support of Treur’s assessment.

“People don’t understand that not only is it a business but it’s our home too. It’s not only affecting our business, it’s affecting our mental health state too.”

AN ARA recently posted a video on Instagram, which was tweeted out, of a car window which was allegedly blown out by a Barcelona-area farmer who caught approximately 60 people breaking into his meat rabbit operation and stealing 16 animals.

Instead of the usual support ARAs have come to expect, the woman was blasted for breaking the law, mocked for the ineptitude of only getting away with 16 animals – given their numbers – and was told they all deserved to be arrested and charged.

“The number one issue we have in our agriculture industry is biosecurity,” said Ontario Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, Ernie Hardeman. “That includes any time that we have a movement of people or movement of product between, into and out of farm establishments.”

“We have to make sure that all that adheres to the process we put in place to prevent the spread of disease – that includes people who are there for other purposes, regardless of why they’re there.”

Truer’s had a surprising amount of positive support from vegans on her page, but those people were also attacked for being vegan-apologists.

They were shamed as only plant-based eaters, not true vegans because they didn’t care about the animals and were supporting farmers demands to end on-farm actions.

David Vrel, a vegan animal activist, responded to Treur’s post saying activists have no right to trespass on a farmer’s property.

“You’re doing your job and are entitled to make your money however you choose. I would never raise animals because I know how much work is involved and the pay fluctuates,” Vrel wrote.

“However I feel I must apologize for another veg-head’s actions because you pay for a house/farm and like anyone else expect no one to enter it without your knowledge.”

Vrel said activists involved in these actions are giving vegan’s a bad name, adding they aren’t changing the demand by the public for meat by invading barns and farms.

Instead, activists should be targeting consumers directly and educating them on the benefits of veganism.

“We have to be fair, and we have to acknowledge that not all vegans are crazy like that at all,” said Treur. “But it’s too bad the vocal ones are the ones that everybody uses to form their opinions of them.”

Treur will continue to encourage people online to write their respective provincial and federal representatives to push for tighter legislation and, federally speaking, for the judicial system to take these incidents seriously with some convictions.

“Our government answers to us; they are our voice,” said Truer. “Let’s use that voice to bring about stronger protections for farmers and heftier repercussions for those who threaten our homes, our families, our businesses, and our right to fuel our bodies with wholesome, nutritious animal products.”

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