by SUSAN MANN
Grey County raw milk activist Michael Schmidt continues supplying his customers with raw, unpasteurized milk through a changed business structure that enables people to buy shares in his farm.
Schmidt says he made the change to his business structure six or seven years ago. In previous court proceedings against him, the Ontario government said Schmidt’s cow-share arrangement, where customer owned shares in the cows and that enabled them to drink the milk from cows they had ownership in, was just a way to get around provincial laws prohibiting the sale and distribution of unpasteurized milk. The Ontario Health Protection and Promotion Act and the Milk Act both prohibit the sale and distribution of unpasteurized milk. But the laws don’t prohibit people from drinking unpasteurized milk.
Schmidt’s latest court ruling involved the Supreme Court of Canada, which earlier this week dismissed his application for leave to appeal the March 11 Ontario Appeal Court ruling. The Supreme Court didn’t give any reasons for dismissing the appeal application. The Ontario Appeal Court upheld the previous conviction in 2011 by Justice Peter Tetley of the Ontario Court of Justice of 13 offences related to raw milk sales and distribution. At that time, Tetley fined Schmidt $9,150 and sentenced him to one year of probation.
The Supreme Court’s refusal to hear Schmidt’s case means the 2011 conviction still stands.
Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs spokesperson Abigail Dancey says by email the government “will review the Supreme Court decision before determining next steps.”
Schmidt says the Supreme Court doesn’t have to give reasons for refusing to hear cases. “They just agree to hear it or they don’t agree to hear it.”
In an earlier court case in January 2010, Schmidt was acquitted of 19 charges by Justice of the Peace Paul Kowarsky. The Ontario government appealed that decision. Schmidt was originally charged with the 19 offences related to the sale and distribution of raw milk after government agents raided his farm in 2006.
Schmidt says the charges dealing with the cow share operation are specific charges related to a very specific situation “which does not exist anymore now.”
Currently his customers are able to buy shares under the Ontario Co-operative Corporations Act in the farm, he says. “That changes the whole equation. They (the Ontario government) can always say we just did that to evade further prosecution but how far do they want to go if people want that (unpasteurized milk) and they want to find a legal way to obtain it?” he asks.
Schmidt says people with shares in the farm aren’t buying the unpasteurized milk “they’re basically just getting their shares.” The farm has about 150 shareholders. Everybody that previously was part of the cow share arrangement “bought into equity shares in the co-operative.”
For someone who moves away, the shares are returned to the farm and new people from a waiting list can buy them, he explains.
Schmidt continues saying he won’t pay the $9,150 fine. “The moment I pay the fine that would be an admission of guilt and I still don’t think I’m guilty.”
He also continues to disagree with the Ontario government’s position that unpasteurized milk is hazardous and that the hazards outweigh the beneficial aspects of consuming unpasteurized milk, also called raw milk. He says there’s a way to supply the market demand for raw milk through regular on-farm inspections of dairy farms that want to participate in this market. About two per cent of the Canadian population obtains raw milk, he notes.
Schmidt says he’s not afraid to go back to court but he says a more constructive approach would be to “start a proper dialogue” because “prohibition never worked.”
In the United States, 10 years ago there were 25 states that had “some way of legal means for people to obtain raw milk” and now it is 40 states, he says, adding that shows there’s a recognition governments need to deal with the issue. BF