'Everything' on the table: MPP responds to complaints about animal activists

The concerns of Ontario farmers about overzealous animal rights activists have been heard loud and clear, the province's agriculture minister says.

Ontario Agriculture Minister Ernie Hardeman

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The concerns of Ontario farmers about overzealous animal rights activists have been heard loud and clear, the province’s agriculture minister says.

Ernie Hardeman was approached by Southwestern Ontario municipal government leaders at last month’s Association of Municipalities of Ontario meeting with a plea to take action against activists farmers say are growing more “aggressive” with their protest tactics. Those tactics have begun to include breaking into local farms and harassing farmers online, leading farmers to ask their local politicians for support.

“It’s not a matter of finding out whether there’s a problem. I think it’s pretty clear there is one,” Hardeman said Wednesday. “People have a right to be safe in their homes. We want to make sure that people feel protected.”

Hardeman says he intends to meet with farm groups “as fast as possible,” after which his ministry will decide on a definitive course of action, one that may or may not lead to provincial legislation.

“We’re putting everything on the table in terms of what we can come up with,” said Hardeman, adding “it’s very important” those found breaking the law are held accountable — another prevalent concern for livestock farmers.

Rural police in Southwestern Ontario have had their hands full with animal rights activists over the past few years. In June 2018, Kingston activist Malcolm Klimowicz was charged with breaking and entering after an incident at an Enniskillen mink farm in Lambton County, but those charges were stayed. Charges were also stayed against Toronto activist Jenny McQueen, who said she took a piglet from a Lucan-area farm in March 2018. There were also raids by animal rights activists on mink farms in Brantford and Wellington, Oxford and Perth counties in 2015 and 2016.

Those cases, among others, have turned some local farm groups against a justice system they say fails to hold activists accountable for their actions.

Rural mayor Jackie Rombouts brought the concerns of her constituents to Lambton County council over the summer and reached out to Hardeman in August. At a council meeting in Wyoming earlier this month, she assured agricultural leaders that something is being done while applauding Hardeman’s response.

“It was really important for me to put a face behind the (farm safety) resolution that we had passed, to really give him an idea of what was happening,” Rombouts said at the time. “He was fantastic. He totally understands where we’re coming from.”

Rural frustrations have not gone unnoticed by those in the animal rights community. A letter responding to the county council meeting days later from London stated “when animal ag suspends its speciesist activities against fellow non-human animals … activists will no longer be forced to non-violently rescue the victims of its industry.”

A meeting is tentatively scheduled between Hardeman and rural stakeholders in October. In the meantime, farmers are encouraged to secure their facilities and post signs warning people not to enter livestock facilities, as doing so could compromise the health and safety of animals inside.

With files

lpin@postmedia.com

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