Usually fall elicits thoughts of seasonal chores such as moving the cow herd home or weaning calves. Feedlots and auction marts are gearing up for the fall calf run and we’re all thinking about winter.
But this year, some in the livestock sector are weighing the likelihood of vegan activists trespassing onto their operation and “liberating” their animals.
This has been happening in other livestock sectors, and it seems like a matter of time before activists target a beef operation. In Ontario, Jennifer McQueen broke into a pig barn and stole a piglet. Since then she has been posting photos and videos and encouraging others to follow suit via social media. In fact, her Twitter profile picture features her making off with a piglet, which I presume is the one she stole.
Despite the clear case of porcine banditry, the Crown eventually dropped the charges, stating there wasn’t a reasonable chance of conviction. McQueen seems to have moved from lifting little piggies to encouraging people to yell things at the Toronto International Film Festival (Jennifer Lopez and Canada Goose raised activists’ hackles).
Many readers have also likely heard about the group of protestors who staged a sit-in at a turkey barn on Jumbo Valley Colony, which is not far from Lethbridge, Alta. I imagine that activists picked the colony at least in part because it’s an easy drive from the city.
The Hutterites handled it with an enviable level of calmness, giving the protesters a full tour of the operation and even letting them leave with five turkeys. If the activists had been nicer, they might have been invited to stay for lunch (although perhaps that’s less appealing to vegans than the rest of us who know better than to turn down a good Hutterite lunch). Instead, they were eventually talked into leaving by the local RCMP.
“If they want to sit all day and look at the turkeys, they can,” said Mark Tschetter, the colony’s minister, to a Global News crew after the fact.
The Global News reporter stated that her news crew had full access as well. The folks at the colony had also filmed the encounter and provided footage to the news crew.
The whole thing seemed a touch absurd to me. Even the group’s name (Bow Valley: Vegan Activists) and the name of their “mission” (Liberation Lockdown) sounds like something from a satire site such as The Onion. I wonder whether they got what they wanted from their foray onto Jumbo Valley Colony. The turkeys weren’t in cages and had access to the outdoors. To me, the turkeys looked well-kept and the Hutterites were more than reasonable.
Trev Miller, a spokesperson for Liberation Lockdown, justified the group’s actions to the Calgary Herald by noting that the farm entrances were unlocked and there weren’t signs prohibiting trespassing. He also said activists didn’t want to cause inconvenience but had exhausted other options.
Well, it’s nice to know that they don’t wish to inconvenience anyone, isn’t it?
There have been plenty of other examples in Canada. In an open letter to Carolyn Mulroney, Ontario’s Attorney General, lawyer Kurtis Andrews questions why the Crown dropped charges against not only Jennifer McQueen, but also Malcolm Klimowicz, who broke into several Ontario mink farms and bragged about it on social media. Andrews also notes that a group of activists also broke into an Ontario dairy farm and stole deadstock in the middle of the day. And in Abbotsford, B.C., about 50 activists occupied a farm for several hours. You can read his letter on his website, kurtisandrews.ca.
This is happening in other parts of the world as well. In Australia, Aussie Farms has created an online map noting the locations of everything from sheep stations to fish operations to race courses, apparently to encourage people to gather footage of these places. The map has a disclaimer stating the group doesn’t condone trespassing, but that is a little thin. Aussie Farms, which is a registered charity, is trying to take that map international. While much of that information can be found from different sources in Canada, it’s not all together in an online form that will give you driving directions, and encourage you to “gather footage” of the animals (apparently without trespassing).
“What we are witnessing is nothing short of a breakdown of law and order,” Andrews writes in his open letter. “No matter what your beliefs happen to be, it is unacceptable to provide radical activists with a free pass to a break the law.”
That is the crux of the thing, and the reason this issue extends far beyond the agricultural community. What’s to stop another group of political hooligans from using these same tactics against whatever group they deem deserving of harassment? Is that really the type of society we want to live in? I sure don’t, and I sure hope Crown prosecutors grow a spine in cases where there is an abundance of evidence.
Most cow-calf operations are unlikely to be coerced into hosting a bunch of activists for an afternoon. But I would guess any feedlots or auction marts that are an easy drive from an urban area might be at risk. So might a ranch that has a bit of a public profile or presence on social media, again especially if it’s easy to find and relatively close to a city. If your operation fits into this category, it’s worth thinking about how you’d handle the situation, beyond calling 911 and filming the encounter. The first priority should be every person’s safety, even that of the activists.
Let us hope that any future encounters are resolved as peacefully as the turkey incident because this is a high-stakes game. If farmers and ranchers keep their cool, they have a good shot of winning this hand. But the more exciting the video, the greater its viral and fundraising potential. Some activists may try to provoke a confrontation. Don’t give them what they want. Stay calm and ranch on.