NEWMARKET, ON—Charges were stayed today against Montana Jones and Michael Schmidt, two farmers charged with criminal conspiracy and other offences in December, 2012 following the disappearance of Jones’s sheep from her Hastings, Ontario farm.
Justice Laura A. Bird of the Superior Court of Justice accepted the submissions made last week by defence lawyer Genevieve Eliany during a three-day motion for dismissal. Eliany argued that the delays in bringing the case to trial were largely the fault of the prosecution, and had not been caused by either the accused or defence counsel.
Among other things, Justice Bird found that the Crown wasted approximately 12 months on a motion seeking (unsuccessfully) to prevent Jones and Schmidt from jointly retaining lawyer Shawn Buckley. The Crown also delayed for years in providing full disclosure of important evidence to defence counsel, even though defence counsel had sent a detailed list of required disclosure within the first month after charges were laid. The Crown eventually provided huge volumes of documents (for example, 5,240 pages on a single date) which necessitated adjournments for the defence to read.
The Crown has one month to appeal Justice Bird’s decision. However, no appeal is expected.
The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the right of an accused person to be tried within a reasonable time. In July, 2016, the Supreme Court of Canada held in an unrelated case that a delay of more than 30 months is presumptively unreasonable.
Jones and Schmidt have already waited for trial almost 48 months. Although a six-week trial has finally been scheduled to begin in April, 2017, the delay by the end of that trial will have been almost 54 months.
They have been assisted by the Canadian Constitution Foundation, a registered charity whose mission is to defend the constitutional rights of Canadians.
Jones was an Ontario sheep breeder whose rare-breed flock came to the attention of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) in early 2010, when an Alberta farmer reported that an animal on his farm had died of a disease known as “scrapie”. Jones had sold an animal to the Alberta farmer approximately 18 months earlier. Her farm was quarantined and her sheep were given live biopsies, but the biopsies showed the rare Shropshire sheep in her flock to be free of disease.
Nevertheless, the CFIA issued a destruction order for 31 sheep with rare genetics, to be carried out in April, 2012. The targeted sheep disappeared from Jones’s farm the night before the CFIA arrived to slaughter them. A note from the “Farmers Peace Corp [sic]” was found saying that the sheep had been taken into protective custody until proof of their being diseased was provided.
The sheep were eventually recovered after an extensive search throughout Ontario farming country. They were killed and tested for scrapie. All tested negative. Jones was never compensated for the destruction of her sheep. The quarantine of her farm (which continues to this day) has prevented her from conducting her sheep breeding business and has severely impacted her income.
In December, 2012, four individuals were charged with criminal conspiracy and other charges relating to the violation of the quarantine and destruction orders. One accused, Suzanne Atkinson, pleaded guilty in December, 2014. A second accused, Robert Pinnell, had his charges dropped by the CFIA in October, 2016. Today, the final two accused (Jones and Schmidt) were cleared of charges.
Michael Schmidt is a farmer in Durham, Ontario who has championed the cause of legalizing raw milk sales for decades.
Jones says it was never clear that the infected sheep found in Alberta was the animal from her farm. The animal’s identity appears to have been subject to possible confusion both by the Alberta farmer and by the CFIA once the allegedly diseased tissue sample was in its possession. Problems with continuity of evidence and sample identification emerged at the preliminary inquiry.
Additional arguments that would have been made by the defence if the trial had occurred are described here: R. v. Jones, R. v. Schmidt: In Detail.
Scrapie is a disease that affects sheep and goats. It is not communicable to humans. It has been known to exist for more than 280 years, but Canada’s program to eradicate it was not implemented until 2005.