TORONTO—A legal fight over animal abuse videos begins today in court, as Animal Justice sues to strike down an agricultural gag law (aka “Ag-Gag law”) in Ontario that bans whistleblowers and journalists from going undercover to investigate animal cruelty at farms and slaughterhouses. Animal Justice is joined in the case by freelance journalist Jessica Scott-Reid, and animal advocate Louise Jorgensen of Toronto Cow Save.
The law was passed in 2020 by the Doug Ford government after heavy lobbying by farm and meat industry groups. The law makes it illegal for a journalist or whistleblower to use a “false pretence” to work at or visit a farm or slaughterhouse. Hidden-camera videos shot by undercover whistleblowers on Ontario farms have revealed troubling conditions, like animals crammed into tiny, filthy cages; and unlawful abuse, like workers beating and kicking animals. The last undercover investigation Animal Justice did in Ontario exposed cruelty at a factory pig farm—the farm pleaded guilty earlier this year to two animal welfare offences.
The lawsuit also challenges restrictions on peaceful protests outside slaughterhouses where advocates photograph animals inside trucks on their way to be killed. Animal advocate Regan Russell was run over and killed by a transport truck outside Fearmans Pork slaughterhouse in Burlington, Ontario while protesting the law shortly after it passed. The Regan Russell Foundation is intervening in the case, along with the Centre for Free Expression at Toronto Metropolitan University, and Animal Alliance of Canada.
“Undercover investigations have revealed severe and unlawful animal abuse on Ontario factory farms, like animals being mutilated, beaten and kicked, and improperly killed,” said lawyer Camille Labchuk, executive director of Animal Justice. “These exposés have resulted in convictions and fines against farms for breaking animal cruelty laws. Ontario’s ag gag laws are an egregious attempt to hide this abuse, and prevent the public from seeing with their own eyes how animals suffer in the food system. We are optimistic the court will strike down these dangerous laws as a violation of the Charter-protected right to free expression.”
“These laws hinder the ability of the press to tell true stories about how animals live on Canadian farms, and how they die in our slaughterhouses,” said journalist Jessica Scott-Reid. “Consumers deserve to know these truths beyond industry marketing. Ag-Gag laws prioritize industries and profits, instead of protecting people and animals.”
“The citizens of Ontario have the right to see the raw, unfiltered reality of what we are supporting, whom we are consuming, what our tax dollars are subsidizing, and the hidden suffering that our choices may be causing to others,” said Louise Jorgensen of Toronto Cow Save. “Ontario’s law suppresses our ability to bear witness to this truth that helps us to make ethical and humane choices.”
Ag-Gag laws in the US have already been struck down as unconstitutional by judges in six states. This case is the first legal challenge to a Canadian Ag-Gag law. A similar law is proposed at the federal level via private members’ Bill C-275, which will soon be voted on by the House of Commons. Alberta, Manitoba, and PEI have also passed laws to conceal cruelty on farms.
The court case begins at 10 am in Superior Court in Toronto, 330 University Avenue, in courtroom 5-1. It will also be broadcast on Zoom (passcode 904565). Supporters will rally outside the courthouse today at 12:45 pm.
For more information on Ag-Gag laws, see here.
Written arguments of the parties are available below.
Applicants’ factum and reply submissions – Animal Justice, Jessica Scott Reid, and Louise Jorgensen
Respondent – Attorney General of Ontario
Intervener – Centre for Free Expression
Intervener – Regan Russell Foundation
Intervener – Animal Alliance of Canada
Executive Director, Animal Justice