Meat The Victims Challenges Ag-Gag in Court

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On October 3, 2021, more than 200 animal rights activists from across Canada staged a mass protest at a Hybrid Turkeys breeding farm in southern Ontario, a week before the Thanksgiving holiday. In what would have been one of Canada's largest factory farm occupations, 6 activists were arrested before they even left their dwellings. They were all charged with Conspiracy to Commit Indictable Offense while some were pinned as organizers and received an additional charge of Counselling Indictable Offense. Police hoped this would disrupt the action, but activists were not deterred and still gathered in the name of the victims of Hybrid Turkeys.
Under the banner of "Meat the Victims," activists are bringing attention to abuse that regularly occurs at Hybrid Turkeys and other commercial farms, which is nearly always hidden from public view. However, filming abuse and livestreaming inside facilities like Hybrid Turkeys has been outlawed by Ontario's new ag gag law. But, with no laws for on-farm animal welfare, and no government inspectors to proactively monitor farm conditions, one of the only ways that abuse on farms has been brought to light is when whistle-blowers and activists expose it.
At Hybrid Turkeys and other similar farms, turkeys have been altered to the point where they are too big to breed naturally. Male breeding turkeys are "milked" for their semen which is injected into the females via artificial insemination. This aggressive process is repeated, over and over, often causing hens to develop collapsed organs and prolapses due to this volume of egg-laying. Once they are deemed unprofitable, these "parent" turkeys are slaughtered for dog food; their babies-the birds that humans eat are slaughtered at 3-4 months old.
Hybrid Turkeys, the world's largest primary turkey breeder which supplies 60% of Canada's grocery store turkeys, was previously exposed in 2014 by the advocacy organization Mercy for Animals. That investigation revealed shocking treatment of birds, including workers kicking and throwing turkeys, crushing their spines with bolt cutters, and viciously beating them with shovels and metal rods. Video footage also revealed turkeys with gaping, puss-filled wounds and rotting eyes who were left to suffer and slowly die. As a result of this exposure, the company was convicted of animal cruelty in 2015.
Hybrid Turkeys is by no means an isolated problem in the animal agriculture industry. Increased exposure of animal abuse in commercial farms in Canada have given the public a glimpse of the suffering that farmed animals endure. In an attempt to stop activists and others from exposing cruelty at commercial farms in Canada, the industry lobbied to pass ag gag laws in Ontario and other provinces to more effectively cover up their abusive practices.
Ontario passed its own ag gag law in June 2020. Anyone who violates Ontario's Bill 156 could be subject to arrest, prosecution, fines, and/or imprisonment.
While ag gag laws are relatively new to Canada, courts in several US states have found ag gag laws to be unconstitutional violations of free speech rights and have recognized the public interest in exposing animal suffering. In 2020, before Bill 156 was adopted into law, more than 40 leading Canadian constitutional and criminal law experts expressed concern that these laws will interfere with rights guaranteed under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Earlier this year, Canada's national animal law organization, Animal Justice, filed suit against the Ontario government challenging Bill 156 on the basis that it conceals animal suffering and violates people's Charter-protected rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. This is the first lawsuit to challenge the constitutionality of an ag gag law in Canada.
"This dangerous law was pushed by the powerful farm lobby to silence whistle-blowers and conceal animal cruelty from the public," said Camille Labchuk, a lawyer and executive director of Animal Justice. "We are hopeful the court will strike down this troubling ag gag law and make it clear that Ontario and other provinces cannot interfere with Charter rights to protect the profits of the meat industry."
Clearly, ag gag laws will not prevent activists from exposing the sickening cruelty that farmed animals face, because no legal repercussions could ever compare to what farmed animals endure. The activists hope their actions encourage everyone to stop supporting these violent, abusive industries and adopt a plant-based diet. They also hope to prompt much-needed legal change to protect animals and their advocates.
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