Here’s Kate Hammer of the Globe and Mail reporting again on what we hope will be the landmark raw milk trial of farmer Michael Schmidt. Nice that the Globe editors have assigned someone who’s covered the story before. Here an excerpt from Kate’s report:
“NEWMARKET, ONT. — Ontario’s dairy dissenter, Michael Schmidt, told a packed courtroom yesterday that the laws that criminalize the sale of raw milk compromise rights protected by Canada’s Constitution and are therefore invalid.
Mr. Schmidt faces 20 charges relating to the “cow share” program he operates from his dairy farm in Durham, Ont., near Owen Sound. Drained of funds after 15 years of battling the provincial government over the sale of unpasteurized products, Mr. Schmidt represented himself at his trial, which began yesterday in Ontario Court in Newmarket.
Mr. Schmidt pleaded not guilty on all counts.
It is not illegal to drink raw milk and Mr. Schmidt has attempted to tiptoe around the law by selling “shares” in his cows rather than bottles of milk. Co-owners pay for the room and board of their cattle at Mr. Schmidt’s Glencolton Farms, then enjoy the byproducts of their investment – raw milk and raw milk products.
About three years ago, Mr. Schmidt’s scheme came to the attention of the Grey Bruce Health Unit and the Ministry of Natural Resources. The ministry infiltrated the cow-share group and purchased raw milk cheese with the help of two undercover agents, lawyers for the Crown revealed in their opening statements.
Mr. Schmidt was not licensed as a milk plant under the Milk Act, and the raw milk products he distributed had been ruled “a vehicle for the transmission of harmful pathogens” by the Health Protection Appeal Board, now called the Health Services Appeal and Review Board.
Despite cautions from Justice of the Peace Paul Kowarsky that the Charter challenge could only be dealt with after the charges before the court had been addressed, Mr. Schmidt did not directly address the charges in his opening arguments.
“There is an idea about food that it will kill us unless we process it to death,” Mr. Schmidt said. But even these processing procedures can’t “guarantee the safety of our food supply,” he added. (Mr. Schmidt’s followers often cite the recent listeriosis outbreak as an example.)
The farmer, his vest fitting more snugly after months of tending to legal documents rather than fields and cattle, told the courtroom “the core issue at stake here is not really about milk. There is no law about drinking unpasteurized milk. It is about our rights.”
His comments were met with fervent applause from the audience, which was filled to capacity with nearly 40 supporters and cow-share owners. Twenty more waited in the hallway, occasionally peering into the courtroom through two small windows.
The day’s proceedings were consumed by a voir dire during which Mr. Schmidt sought to have a statement he gave to police thrown out. He made the statement in November of 2006, after some two dozen officers from the ministry raided his farm.
Mr. Schmidt was leaving the farm when he was stopped by two ministry vehicles. The cars blocked his exit and were followed by many more vehicles.
Witnesses who testified yesterday, including ministry officers and employees of Mr. Schmidt’s farm, described a tense but polite raid, during which investigators scoured the farm and cinnamon buns were served….”