by SUSAN MANN
Four incidents of vandalism on agricultural and agri-food operations in the Niagara Region, several of which took place when animal rights protests were underway nearby, and the possibility of more protests to come in late July prompted at least one farm group to warn its members to be on the lookout for suspicious activity.
“We wanted our producers to be aware of this activity, as dairy could be targeted as well,” the July 26 Dairy Farmers of Ontario website notice said.
The notice, which has since been removed, said the facilities that were vandalized were small to medium operations located in partly secluded or in isolated areas. All were easily accessible from the road with no barriers, such as fences or gates. All the farm-related incidents occurred at the same time as “significant animal rights protests were held in the area,” it said.
Graham Lloyd, general counsel and communications director, says DFO published the notice because they had learned there were potential animal rights activities planned for the weekend of July 27 and 28 and “we wanted to give our producers notification so they could avoid potential conflict.”
The protests were against MarineLand Canada and slaughterhouses.
DFO removed the notice because it was a “weekend threat that we are aware of and so it’s not active any more to our knowledge,” he says.
No dairy farmers reported vandalism during the late July weekend, he says.
Const. Derek Watson, media relations officer with the Niagara Regional Police Service, says the Animal Liberation Front appears to be linked to incidents on two chicken farms that took place in late November 2012 during which equipment and buildings were damaged, the letters “ALF” were spray painted in red paint on walls, along with other words. Damage estimates for one farm was $25,000 and $150 for the other.
A June 15, 2013 entry on the website Bite Back further attributes a June incident at Cami International Poultry to a lone Animal Liberation Front activist. In that incident, several truck tires were punctured with an ice pick, Watson says. Damage was estimated at $1,000. Suspects are not known in that incident “at this time and there are no known witnesses,” he notes.
It is not clear, however, whether a September 2012 incident in which several mink were released from a Niagara Region farm can be linked to activists, Watson says. “It looks like there were some blogs or reports” of animal rights activists taking credit for the vandalism on blogs, he says, but there’s no other sign of their involvement. Most of the animals were recovered in the incident that caused about $500 in damage to a fence.
Will Hazlitt, press officer with North American Animal Liberation Press Office confirmed the ALF letters found in some of the Niagara vandalism cases stand for Animal Liberation Front. But he says he’s not familiar with the incidents.
He describes the Front as a title or banner under which unknown individuals “take direct action. It’s not an official organization,” he says.
The Press Office, on the other hand, is a legal, above ground entity that releases and clarifies communiqués it receives from anonymous, underground activists. The Press Office doesn’t know “who they are; we don’t know when they will strike,” he says.
ALF activists’ main goal is to raise awareness and “to have animals be free from suffering and exploitation,” he says.
Crystal Mackay, executive director of Farm & Food Care Ontario, says her organization had also issued a notice to livestock commodity groups about the July protests and the potential threat to farmers.
Mackay says there is increasing pressure from animal rights activists on animal agriculture. That pressure includes protests at processing plants, advertising campaigns, obtaining shares in companies buying farm products – such as Tim Hortons – and proposing resolutions about animal handling at the companies’ meetings, lobbying politicians about regulations and meeting with food industry leaders.
The groups use animal welfare arguments, such as wanting to ban cages for hens and stalls for sows, but the “heart of their efforts is to promote a vegan agenda,” she says.
“These are people who are willing to break the law and we’re seeing some of this in Ontario now,” Mackay notes. The vandalism is “quite scary.”
Stephanie Brown, co-founder and a director with the Canadian Coalition for Farm Animals, says they want to see the consumption of meat being reduced but that’s not their only goal. “We want to change the system where animals are so intensively confined.”
To do so, the group has aired commercials on television and bought shares in Loblaw Companies Limited. But it draws the line at vandalism, she says.
In its notice, the DFO advised farmers to take the following precautions:
- Be aware of vehicles and people scouting your property.
- Record any details, such as license plate numbers and descriptions.
- Immediately report any illegal activity to police, your commodity organization and Farm & Food Care Ontario.
- Put up barriers, fences and “no trespassing” signs if your property is easily accessible from the road.
- Maintain an awareness of animal rights activities in your area.
Watson also recommended neighbours pay attention to what’s going on in their neighbourhoods.
“The bottom line is if we’re all looking out for each other, it’s a far safer place,” he notes. “If you’re a neighbour and you see something that’s unusual, you should call it in. We’ll come down and we’ll check it out.” BF