In late 2011, Ontario sheep breeder Montana Jones was notified by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) that 41 of her Shropshire sheep would be destroyed over health concerns about a transmissible degenerative disease. The disease, known as scrapie, is deadly to sheep but is not transmissible to humans.
Forty-one of her flock were targeted based on their genome pattern and their alleged contact with a single sheep that tested positive for the disease back in 2010. The CFIA’s identifying ear-tag was missing on the diseased sheep, making it questionable whether this sheep was the same one that Ms. Jones had sold back in 2007.
The destruction order was issued in March, 2012, despite the fact that none of Ms. Jones’ flock had ever displayed any symptoms of scrapie in the many years she had raised them. In fact, only four members of the original 44 quarantined sheep were even alive at the time of their alleged contact with the infected sheep. Three of these sheep had already died of causes unrelated to scrapie by the time of the order. Their bodies, after death, tested negative for scrapie. By 2012, if any of her 41 remaining sheep were infected with this disease they would have almost certainly shown some clinical symptoms. Scrapie generally manifests itself within five years and is lethal to sheep. The entire flock underwent live biopsies and tested negative.
The CFIA, however, insisted that the genetic profile of the 41 selected sheep made them vulnerable. The only way to tell whether or not they were healthy, said the CFIA, was to kill them and examine their brains. CCF litigation director Karen Selick wrote to the CFIA on behalf of Ms. Jones, pointing out the bizarre contradiction involved in killing sheep to protect them from scrapie. Ms. Jones offered several alternatives to prevent any possible spread of disease without killing the rare sheep. The CFIA refused all compromise, insisting that the sheep would have to be slaughtered.
In April, 2012, the night before the animals were to be killed, they went missing. Only a note was left in Ms. Jones’ barn saying they had been taken into “protective custody”. An extensive hunt was mounted by the CFIA and Ontario Provincial Police. Barn-to-barn searches were supplemented by helicopter surveillance of an ever-widening range of farms. The animals were eventually found about six weeks later on a farm approximately 300 kilometers away.
In December, 2012, four people were charged with criminal offences in connection with the disappearance of the sheep. Montana Jones was one. Another was Michael Schmidt, an existing client of the CCF.
Michael Schmidt is well known in Canada because of his long battle with the government over raw dairy products. Mr. Schmidt is an Ontario dairy farmer who specializes in producing organic dairy products using biodynamic methods. His desire to provide unpasteurized or “raw” milk to consumers is hindered by federal and provincial laws banning the sale of this unprocessed milk. (Consumption of raw milk is entirely legal in Ontario; but the sale, distribution and delivery of it are illegal.) While concurrently advocating for a change in the legislation, Mr. Schmidt had tried to supply raw milk to consumers through an innovative “cow-sharing” program. This program has resulted in several legal battles spanning decades.
THE CURRENT CASE
Montana Jones, Michael Schmidt and two other individuals who are not CCF clients are facing criminal charges of obstructing a CFIA inspector under the Health of Animals Act, transporting an animal under quarantine, and conspiring to do both of these. They also face the bizarre charge of defrauding a public agency, possibly added to vilify them in the minds of the public. Ms. Jones and Mr. Schmidt have pleaded not guilty to all charges. Lawyer Shawn Buckley, a specialist in both criminal and constitutional law, has been retained by the CCF to defend them. We will ask the court to rule that the original conduct of the CFIA was unlawful and unconstitutional, thereby clearing our clients of any criminal wrongdoing.
The conduct of the CFIA has been egregious from the beginning. Its destruction order was unreasonable because it did not properly take into consideration Ms.Jones’ specific facts and circumstances. The CFIA failed to exercise the discretion granted to federal agents under the Health of Animals Act (HAA).
Furthermore, the CFIA even failed to follow its own rigid and unreasonable policies.
Our clients will also argue that the CFIA’s policies actually endanger, rather than secure, Canada’s food supply, by narrowing the genetic pool within Canada’s “national flock”. A diverse genetic pool makes it less likely that the entire national flock will be obliterated by some future epidemic.
The same unreasonable, unyielding attitude has been displayed by the CFIA throughout the course of the criminal proceedings. Months were wasted on a motion by the CFIA to remove lawyer Shawn Buckley from the case due to the CFIA’s perception that a conflict of interest might arise between Ms. Jones and Mr. Schmidt. This motion was finally defeated in June, 2014. By that time, Ms. Jones and Mr. Schmidt had been facing charges for 18 months.
This case has generated mountains of documents, and is expensive to defend. Lead counsel, Shawn Buckley, resides in British Columbia, and has flown to Ontario on several occasions to represent our clients. Several additional trips, and much additional work, will still be necessary.
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