A Member of Parliament has reintroduced a dangerous agricultural gag (“ag gag”) bill that threatens to jail animal protection advocates who expose animal suffering on farms, and hit them with fines of up to half a million dollars.
Conservative MP and agriculture critic John Barlow introduced Bill C-275 on May 30, 2022. Bill C-275 co-opts genuine concerns about the spread of infectious disease on farms, using “biosecurity” as a pretext for targeting animal protection advocates. It does so by prohibiting unauthorized entry into a farm building, which bill proponents say is necessary to stop pathogens that could harm animals and the food supply.
Biosecurity is obviously a serious concern, especially with avian influenza spreading across Canada and leading farmers to cull millions of chickens, ducks, and other birds. But the ag gag bill misses the mark. Trespassing on farms is already illegal, and on the rare occasions when animal advocates have gone inside a barn to expose conditions, they are generally prosecuted. There has never been a single documented case of an animal advocate causing or contributing to a disease outbreak in Canada.
According to federal disease data analyzed by Animal Justice, disease outbreaks are usually due to standard farming practices and poor adherence to biosecurity protocols by farm owners and operators. Many outbreaks investigated by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency were traced back to troubling practices like sharing needles and equipment, feeding animal body parts back to animals, failure to properly disinfect trailers, and the exposure of farmed animals to virus-carrying wild animals. Plus, research shows that compliance by farm operators with biosecurity protocols is notoriously poor.
Yet Mr. Barlow’s bill doesn’t apply to farm owners and operators—even though disease outbreaks caused by the actions of farm owners and operators are numerous, well-documented, and have had devastating consequences for animals and public health. The bill is obviously intended merely to severely punish animal advocates, rather than meaningfully protect animals or the food supply.
This isn’t the first time Mr. Barlow has tried to pass an ag gag law—the new bill is nearly identical to a previous ag gag bill he introduced in the last session of Parliament. His last bill was strongly opposed by animal advocates across the country, and Animal Justice supporters mobilized to send in concerns to their members of parliament. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency—which oversees biosecurity in Canada—also opposed the bill, as did the Liberal government. In a huge victory against this draconian legislation, the Agriculture Committee amended the last bill so that farm owners and operators could also be held accountable for breaching biosecurity protocols and exposing animals to pathogens that could reasonably harm them. The last version of the bill died when the 2021 federal election was called.
Many provinces have already passed dangerous ag gag laws that are designed to hide animal abuse on farms, including Alberta, Ontario, Manitoba, and Prince Edward Island. Animal Justice is challenging Ontario’s ag gag law in court, claiming that it unconstitutionally restricts freedom of expression by making it illegal for an undercover whistleblower to get a job at a farm or slaughterhouse.
Animal Justice will continue to oppose ag gag legislation in any form. Take action today by telling federal members of parliament to again vote NO on Bill C-275, and to instead create binding farmed animal welfare laws and public inspections.
Banner image by Konrad Lozinski