Call on government to reject dangerous ag gag laws
Animal Justice is fighting to stop the spread of dangerous ag gag laws—also known as “agricultural gag” laws—which make it illegal to expose the animal cruelty that is commonplace on farms.
Ag gag laws became common in the United States in the 2010s, after animal protection organizations exposed shocking abuse and neglect through undercover footage shot at meat, egg, and dairy farms. To protect its profits, the powerful meat industry lobbied states to pass ag gag laws to outlaw hidden-camera videos, and hide the abuse from the public.
Whistleblowers and undercover investigators in Canada have also uncovered appalling conditions, and horrific animal abuse and neglect in all sectors of the meat, dairy, and egg industry. That’s why the powerful Canadian agriculture lobby has been pressuring governments to pass similar ag gag legislation to the United States.
So far, Alberta, Ontario, and PEI have passed ag gag laws. Manitoba and Quebec are currently considering introducing ag gag laws, and the meat industry is lobbying for these laws across the country.
In Canada, the government doesn’t regulate or oversee animal welfare conditions on farms. The only time Canadians get a glimpse behind the closed doors of a factory farm is when a brave undercover investigator brings the truth to light. Canadians care deeply about the mistreatment of animals raised and killed for food, which is why factory farms will do anything to hide the truth.
In the United States, courts in Idaho, Utah, Iowa, Kansas, Wyoming, and North Carolina have found ag gag laws to be unconstitutional because they violate the right to free speech. These courts have recognized the public interest in exposing animal suffering, worker health, and food safety risks on factory farms, and ensuring consumers know where their food came from. Animal Justice believes Canadian ag gag laws violate freedom of expression—an important constitutional right. Animal Justice will fight these dangerous laws in court.
Hidden-camera footage has uncovered appalling conditions, illegal animal abuse, and public health risks at farms and slaughterhouses. For instance, an investigation at Chilliwack Cattle Sales in British Columbia showed cows repeatedly punched and kicked, as well as beaten with canes. Video footage also showed a cow being hung in the air by a chain around her neck. The company and seven of its employees were convicted of animal cruelty.
In Ontario, employee whistleblower footage in 2014 showed turkeys being kicked and beaten with shovels, among other disturbing acts, at the Hybrid Turkeys facility in Kitchener. Authorities investigated and laid animal cruelty charges, which led the company to plead guilty.
Employee whistleblowers have also documented abuse of pigs and piglets, goats, mink, calves, and chickens, as well as suffering caused by standard industry practices such as grinding live baby chicks in macerators.
Alberta was the first Canadian province to ram through ag gag legislation by amending existing trespass laws. This ag gag law silences employee whistleblowers and undercover investigators by making it illegal to enter a farm or slaughterhouse under “false pretences”, punishable by up to $25,000 and six months in jail for an individual, or a shocking $200,000 for an animal protection organization. This affects the ability of whistleblowers to record and expose animal cruelty on industrial farms, as failing to disclose on a job application that a worker is linked to an animal protection organization could be considered a false pretence.
Alberta’s new laws extend even beyond farms—organizations and individuals can also be punished for going undercover to expose wrongdoing and poor conditions in places like factories, nursing homes, and daycares.
The law also outlaws journalistic investigations.
Ontario followed in Alberta’s footsteps, passing the Security from Trespass and Protecting Food Safety Act on June 17, 2020. The provincial government pushed the new law through in the midst of the pandemic, despite warnings from Animal Justice lawyers and dozens of legal experts from across the country that the legislation is unconstitutional and violates animal advocates’ Charter-protected rights to free expression and peaceful assembly. The new law makes it illegal for an employee whistleblower to publicly expose hidden animal suffering at farms and slaughterhouses, as well as unsafe working conditions and public health risks.
Ontario's ag gag law also aims to prevent animal advocates from peacefully protesting outside slaughterhouses, and document illegal violations of animal transport laws that are common inside vehicles trucking animals to their death.
Prince Edward Island passed two bills that establish severe fines for anyone who enters a farm or slaughterhouse without permission in a manner that could expose animals to disease or cause them to escape. Although the Bills were introduced under the guise of “protecting” farmed animals, and Bills 120 and 124 do not contain problematic “false pretenses” language similar to Ontario’s and Alberta’s ag gag laws, the Bills are troubling in that they could result in $15,000 fines or even imprisonment where individuals enter a facility in order to expose the conditions in which animals are being kept. Where an organization is involved, it can be fined up to $100,000 and its directors could be imprisoned for up to six months.
Unfortunately, Manitoba is considering following the dangerous lead of Ontario, Alberta, and PEI. The Manitoba government is currently considering three bills that could include ag gag components that may restrict access to areas where farmed animals are present. This makes it more difficult to detect and expose animal cruelty, including through hidden-camera exposés. Animal cruelty in the meat industry will continue to be hidden away from the public eye.
Quebec has created a committee to consider introducing some form of ag gag laws. Animal agriculture industry representatives have urged the Quebec government to follow the lead of Ontario by introducing similar ag gag legislation.