Victory! Animal Justice Defeats Ontario Ag Gag Law in Court

A win for animals and free expression! Animal Justice lawyers have successfully defeated much of Ontario’s ag gag law in court—a law aimed at silencing whistleblowers and journalists who go undercover to investigate and expose animal suffering in the meat, dairy, egg, and fur farming industries.

In 2020, Ontario passed Bill 156, the Security from Trespass and Protecting Food Safety Act, a dangerous law designed to shut down undercover investigations in farms and slaughterhouses, and limit peaceful protests where advocates bear witness to animals in transport trucks en route to slaughter. The animal agriculture industry lobbied heavily for the legislation to protect its profits, and to keep rampant animal cruelty hidden from public view.

Under Ontario’s ag gag law, it became illegal for a whistleblower to use a false pretense to get a job at a farm or slaughterhouse, meaning that if someone seeking a job at these facilities wasn’t transparent about their intentions to document conditions, or denied affiliation with an animal rights group, they could be hit with heavy fines.

Numerous Canadian undercover exposés have revealed a shocking pattern of abuse and illegal cruelty in the animal agriculture industry—including animals suffering in deplorable conditions, enduring painful mutilations, and being violently kicked, beaten, and killed with botched methods. 

Shocking secretly-recorded footage has also received widespread media attention, showing the public heartbreaking standard practices on farms, including locking mother pigs in tiny metal cages, tearing newborn calves from their mother cows, and confining hens in wire cages that are so tiny, that they can’t even spread their wings.

Justice Markus Koehnen of the Superior Court found that the law and its regulation restrict undercover investigations, both in their intention and outcome. Justice Koehnen ruled that multiple provisions of the Regulation are unconstitutional as they violate the right to freedom of expression guaranteed under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. 

Hens in battery cage at Quebec farm.
Hens in battery cages at Quebec egg farm.

The lawsuit also challenged restrictions on protests outside slaughterhouses where advocates photograph animals inside trucks on their way to be killed, but unfortunately the Court upheld restrictions on interacting with animals inside trucks bound for slaughter. 

There are no proactive government inspections on farms, and farmed animal treatment is largely unregulated, which is why the court also recognized the importance of transparency and accountability in the agricultural sector.

Animal Justice was joined by two applicants in the case whose work on behalf of animals is jeopardized by Ontario’s ag gag laws: freelance journalist Jessica Scott-Reid, and animal advocate Louise Jorgensen with Toronto Cow Save. Intervenors in the case included Animal Alliance of Canada, the Centre for Free Expression at Toronto Metropolitan University, and The Regan Russell Foundation.

The Importance of Undercover Exposés

Over the last decade, more than a dozen Canadian investigations into factory farms and slaughterhouses have exposed the hidden practices of the animal agriculture industry, unveiling the disturbing truth of the suffering endured by cows, pigs, turkeys, and chickens in the food system.

These exposés are shocking and powerful, and have resulted in convictions and fines against farms for breaking animal cruelty laws. Animal Justice’s last undercover investigation in Ontario before the law came into effect was conducted at Paragon factory pig farm, and the farm later pleaded guilty to two animal cruelty offences for cutting the tails and testicles off of piglets without anesthesia, and performing an illegal c-section on a live, conscious pig.

First Court Win Against Canadian Ag Gag Laws

This is the first time in Canadian history that an ag gag law has been challenged in court, and this victory bodes well for the continued fight against these dangerous laws across the country. In recent years, ag gag laws have been passed in Ontario, Alberta, Manitoba, and PEI, and are being proposed at the federal level under Bill C-275.

In the US, ag gag laws have been struck down as unconstitutional by judges in six states, including Iowa, Kansas, Utah, Wyoming, Idaho, and North Carolina.

Thank you to everyone who has been by our side for the last four years as our team has fought relentlessly to defeat ag gag laws. Our work is far from over—we will continue our efforts to challenge ag gag laws in court, and prevent new ones from passing. Take action today to join our mission, and consider making a gift to help us keep fighting!