TORONTO – National animal law organization Animal Justice is denouncing a law passed in Ontario today that will further conceal animal cruelty at farms and slaughterhouses, and interfere with lawful protests.
Bill 156, the Security from Trespass and Protecting Food Safety Act, is what is commonly known as “ag gag” legislation that restricts people’s ability to expose animal cruelty on farms. The new law could make it illegal for employee whistleblowers to seek out and expose animal abuse on farms, violations of workplace safety laws, and filthy conditions that could breed pathogens and threaten public health.
Bill 156 is similar to ag gag laws that have been struck down as unconstitutional by courts in Idaho, Utah, Iowa, Kansas, and North Carolina. Over 40 Canadian legal experts wrote to the government in February to advise that Bill 156 is unconstitutional because it attacks freedom of expression and could make investigative journalism at farms and slaughterhouses illegal.
“Today is a dark day for animals in Ontario, and for transparency and free expression,” said lawyer Camille Labchuk, executive director of Animal Justice. “Ontario’s ag gag law makes a bad situation far worse for animals. Animal farming is already highly secretive, with animals locked up behind closed doors with no regulations to protect their welfare, and no government inspections to monitor their well-being.
“Whistleblowing employees are often the only way the public has to see what conditions are like on farms. Whistleblower exposés have aired on national news programs, revealing horrific suffering and leading to animal cruelty convictions. In 2020, citizens expect meaningful public oversight for farmed animals—not an unconstitutional law that will inevitably be struck down by the courts after a costly legal challenge.
“Transparency in the food system is needed more now than ever before. Slaughterhouse workers across the country are being infected and dying of COVID-19. Meanwhile, deadly viruses regularly emerge from factory farms, including bird and swine flu. Legislation that covers up conditions that can cause zoonotic diseases, unsafe work environments, and animal cruelty will have deadly consequences for humans and animals alike.”
Although the government has described Bill 156 as an attempt to crack down on farm trespassers, trespassing on farms is already illegal under the Trespass to Property Act, with some of the highest fines in the country. Instead, the bill targets whistleblower exposés and lawful protests outside slaughterhouses.
Bill 156 was also opposed by Canadian Journalists for Free Expression, the Canadian Association of Journalists, and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association over concerns that it violates the Charter-protected right to free expression, among other issues.
A copy of Animal Justice’s brief to the Standing Committee on General Government regarding Bill 156 is available here.
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