Alberta’s Assault on Animals

On September 2, 2019, activists entered a turkey farm at Jumbo Valley Hutterite Colony in southern Alberta to expose the conditions that farmed animals live under. One month later, on October 3, Alberta’s Premier Jason Kenney went back to that same turkey farm for an official government announcement.

Flanked by the Minister of Agriculture and Forestry, Devin Dreeshen, and Minister of Justice and Solicitor General, Doug Schweitzer, Kenney called the activists ‘militants’ and announced that his government would introduce new legislation against animal activists exposing cruelty by trespassing on farms. From the Government of Alberta news release:

Fines up to $10,000 for a first offence and up to $25,000 for subsequent offences for individuals and up to $200,000 for organizations, and imprisonment of up to 6 months.

Amending the Animal Health Act so farmers affected by bio-security breaches can recover their costs and so trespassers and protesters placing biosecurity at risk can be fined $15,000 for first offences, then $30,000 plus imprisonment of up to one year for repeat offences.

Amending the Provincial Offences Procedures Act to increase the maximum amount of compensation awarded by the court from $25,000 to $100,000.

What is most troubling however, is Kenney’s attack on whistleblowers. Kenney said the province will ensure there are, “legal repercussions for individuals who misrepresent themselves in order to gain access to farms and capture images to discredit operators.” What Kenney is referring to are farm employees that document cases of animal cruelty through video footage or photos. These whistleblowers are essential in uncovering the conditions that farm animals live under and help inform the public of what is happening in the animal agriculture industry.

This targeting of whistleblowers documenting cases of animal cruelty by the Kenney government is akin to draconian and unconstitutional Ag-Gag laws in the United States.

As the name suggests, Ag-Gag laws seek to “gag” would-be whistleblowers and undercover activists by punishing them for recording footage of what goes on in animal agriculture. They were originally designed to prevent the public from learning about animal cruelty.

Animal Legal Defense Fund

The Government of Alberta’s disproportionate reaction to criminalize citizens who are trying to expose animal cruelty is extremely worrisome. Rather than investigate claims of animal cruelty and neglect on farms, Kenney’s government has waged a war on activists by calling them ‘militants’ and targeting whisleblowers, while leaving animals behind to continue to suffer in Albertan farms without government oversight.

The need for whistleblower protection is vital in a transparent and a healthy democratic society. It allows individuals to speak out against injustices without fear of criminal reprisals. An example of the importance of whistleblowers on Alberta farms is demonstrated by a Mercy For Animals investigation into two Alberta chicken farms: Creekside Grove Farms in Spruce Grove and Kuku Farms in Morinville, Alberta.

As shown in numerous undercover videos like this one, whistleblowers across Canada and the world have shown that these are not isolated cases of abuse. Animal cruelty is endemic in the animal agriculture industry. The only time cases of cruelty come to light are through undercover investigations. Kenney’s attack against whistleblowers is a dark, suffocating cloud for all farmed animals in Alberta who suffer behind closed doors without any government oversight.

We are used to governments across Canada taking a hands-off, industry-led approach to animal welfare on farms. Jason Kenney takes it to another level. With his proposal of US style Ag-Gag laws and criminalization of whistleblowers, he is condoning the animal cruelty that happens every day in this industry and strives to keep it hidden from the public.