Alberta beefing up penalties for farm trespassers

GRANUM, AB Premier Jason Kenney says legislation is coming this fall to crack down on protesters who trespass on farms and agricultural land.

Kenney says free speech must be protected but not when protesters trespass, create mischief and pose potential biohazards on farms.

“Farmers shouldn’t have to worry about people entering their workplace, interfering with their lives, or threatening the health of their animals. This incident made it clear our farmers need stronger protection. We will act to protect our farms and ranches from radical activists.”

On top of trespassing, unauthorized or improper entry on farms and in barns can introduce disease and threaten the health and welfare of animals. It can also have a detrimental impact on business operations and on the well-being of farm families.

Criminal charges are outside the province’s control, but Kenney says it will beef up provincial fines for trespassing on agricultural land along with potential jail time.

He says Alberta will also dedicate a Crown prosecutor to handle agricultural cases, along with funding 50 new Crown prosecutors to be tougher on criminal behaviour.

Kenney spoke at the Jumbo Valley farm near Fort Macleod on Thursday , where dozens of protesters alleging concern over the treatment of turkeys occupied a barn on the property a month ago. While dozens of activists occupied the farm, dozens of others protested outside of the facility.

The farm operator said animal welfare standards and rules were being followed, and the protesters left without any being arrested.

The planned legislation would Amend the Animal Health Act so farmers affected by bio-security breaches can recover their costs and so trespassers and protesters placing biosecurity at risk can be fined $15,000 for first offences, then $30,000 plus imprisonment of up to one year for repeat offences.

The government will also amend the Provincial Offences Procedures Act to increase the maximum amount of compensation awarded by the court from $25,000 to $100,000.

(With file from Government of Alberta release)