This week’s guest commentary comes from Keith Currie, Vice President, Ontario Federation of Agriculture
Trespassing on farm property is becoming an increasing annoyance for Ontario farmers. And the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) is taking a tough stance with recommended amendments to the Trespass to Property Act. Currently, there is no minimum fine for trespassing on farmland, and a poor process for reimbursing farmers for damages caused by unwanted visitors.
Farm fields are enticing wide open spaces for rural neighbours and visitors straying from designated trails or adjacent land. It’s not uncommon for these uninvited trespassers to ride around farm fields on their ATVs, damaging crops and property, disturbing animals and even posing a threat to the farm’s biosecurity.
The Trespass to Property Act was enacted in 1980 to protect the rights of landowners. The act restricts entry to rural properties and allows compensation for property damages. But the current fines under the act are so low they do nothing to discourage trespassers.
The OFA is recommending two main amendments to the current act – imposing a minimum fine of $500 for trespassing, and broader police enforcements of the act to address farm safety and biosecurity concerns related to trespassing.
The current act has no minimum fine for trespassing, but does specify a maximum of $2,000. And damage awards are set at $1,000, which doesn’t go very far to repair fences, recover lost or injured animals, compensate for lost crop yields due to damage or fix damage to barns and farm buildings. The OFA is requesting the ceiling on damage awards be increased to $25,000, the current ceiling for Small Claims Court.
And the low level of enforcements when offenders are caught and charged means farmers are often on the hook for damages.
By adding minimum fines and increasing damage awards, the OFA also hopes to elevate the seriousness of this trespassing situation with regional law enforcers.
Biosecurity is becoming an increasing concern on farms, where the spread of plant and animal diseases is a continuous threat. When unwanted visitors enter farm property on foot or ATVs, they could unknowingly carry a much bigger nuisance than trespassing, spreading the risk of disease. And that’s a problem with a much bigger price tag than a $1,000 in damages.
The OFA has been working with government and policy makers to amend the Trespass to Property Act since 2005. We need this act updated to reflect the severity of trespassing and the damages that result from thoughtless or reckless behaviour.