On June 18, 2020, Ontario enacted a new ag-gag law, the “Security from Trespass and Protecting Food Safety Act.” The law is not unlike those being passed, and rightfully deemed unconstitutional, in the United States. According to leading experts on the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the ag-gag law infringes individuals’ rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.
Ontario’s ag-gag law severely limits anyone’s ability to perform vital undercover investigations on farms. Undercover investigations in Ontario have played a crucial role in confronting cruelty in the agriculture industry, leading to more than 20 convictions for animal cruelty, the banning of veal crates, and other massive animal welfare reforms. Ontario’s law creates disturbingly named “animal protection zones” which actually protect the farms, not the animals. Within these Orwellian zones, there is no lawful entrance for the true animal protectors, i.e. undercover investigators. What’s more, farmers are permitted to physically arrest suspected violators without police assistance.
Stiff penalties for animal activists
Camille Labchuk, Executive Director of Animal Justice in Canada, argued that the legislation “makes it illegal to essentially expose cruelty on farms.” First offenses can be penalized with up to a $15,000 fine, and subsequent offenses up to $25,000 – a significant increase from the typical maximum trespass penalty of $10,000. In contrast to the idyllic-sounding “animal protection zones” portrayed by the law’s language, this ag-gag law effectively creates animal nightmare zones where cruelty and abuse can run rampant and abusers can legally silence anyone who seeks to reveal the truth.
The ag-gag law also restricts animal activists’ abilities to conduct Save vigils or document animal cruelty on transport trucks. At vigils, protesters bear witness to animal suffering and provide water to sick and injured animals headed to slaughter. Under the ag-gag law, no person may “stop, hinder, obstruct, or otherwise interfere” with a vehicle transporting farmed animals. The law also allows truck drivers to demand activists cease protesting and provides an additional penalty for those who refuse. This justifiably outrages animal activists, especially after Regan Russell, a long-time Toronto Pig Save member, died after a transport truck struck her during a protest on June 19, 2020.
Ag-gag proponents make unsubstantiated claims
No evidence exists that vigils, protests, or undercover investigators cause a food safety issue. Still, proponents of the law continue making unsubstantiated claims that these activities increase the risk of disease transmission. In reality, the surest way to rid the world of zoonotic pandemics is to stop farming animals – the very thing animal activists in Ontario and elsewhere demand. It is also noteworthy that in a 2017 case involving activist Anita Krajnc, an Ontario judge recognized that giving water to pigs did not amount to interfering with the food supply. Under this new law, Krajnc likely would have been penalized thousands of dollars.
Exposing the cruel truth of animal agriculture
Stateside, Animal Outlook’s undercover investigations time and again reveal the cruel truth about animal agriculture. Violent abuse of cows, painful mutilation of chickens, and animals buried alive are just some examples of the cruelty exposed by activists. Investigative videos have led to real victories against some of these practices. For example, following its undercover investigation of the nation’s largest lamb slaughterhouse, Animal Outlook sued and in 2019 secured a settlement against Superior Farms, which included monetary payment and the implementation of training and procedures for compliance with the federal Humane Methods of Slaughter Act.
Undercover investigations help hold animal abusers accountable and pave the way for meaningful change, but Ontario’s ag-gag law only offers greater protections to farms that abuse animals. Moreover, since there is no evidence that food safety was ever at risk from Save vigils or undercover investigations, there can be no doubt that the ag-gag law’s true purpose is to silence activists and restrict public access to the violent and cruel truths of animal agriculture.
To contribute to Animal Outlook’s work exposing truth through undercover investigations, visit animaloutlook.org/donate.
Legal intern, Animal Outlook