Gordon Watson sues Fraser Health over attempts to shut down “Our Cows” raw milk farm in Chilliwack, B.C.

From Randy Shore, in the Vancouver Sun:

“Raw milk activist Gordon Watson has filed a civil lawsuit against the Fraser and Vancouver Coastal health authorities and their officers, alleging they exceeded their authority by acting to shut down the Home on the Range dairy in Chilliwack.

“The main thing is to make civil servants accountable,” said Watson, a founder of the dairy now operating as Our Cows.

He alleges in the suit filed this week that the health authorities acted against the dairy with no evidence that it was a threat to public health, destroyed his property (the milk) and acted beyond their authority.

Watson maintains that because the products of the dairy are not offered for sale to the public, public health statutes do not apply.

The raw milk dairy is a cooperative farm that produces unpasteurized milk and dairy products for the families that own shares in the cow herd.

It is legal in B.C. for farmers to produce raw milk for their own use. Watson argues that cow-share members are the owners of the herd and can legally use the products.

No statement of defence has yet been filed, but a Fraser Health spokesman said in an interview Thursday that a health authority inspection of the farm in 2008 found raw milk was being packaged for distribution.

Roy Thorpe-Dorward said Fraser Health served the dairy’s operators with a cease-and-desist order, ordering them to stop producing and distributing raw milk products and alleging the operators were violating health hazards regulations of the provincial health act.

Fraser Health later obtained an injunction from the B.C. Supreme Court to enforce the order.

In granting the injunction, Justice Miriam Gropper said the dairy breached the Public Health Act and that the law prohibits anyone from willingly creating a health hazard.

Watson and interim dairy manager Michael Schmidt have been charged with contempt of court for their role in continuing operations at the dairy. A trial is scheduled for April 2012….”

Read it all in The Vancouver Sun.

Read more: http://www.vancouversun.com/health/milk+activist+splashes+health+authorities+with+lawsuit/5868332/story.html#ixzz1ghzw5JoG


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25 responses to “Gordon Watson sues Fraser Health over attempts to shut down “Our Cows” raw milk farm in Chilliwack, B.C.

  1. BC Food Security

    What about if all the members of the former “Home on the Range ” Dairy filed individual small claims courts actions against the Fraser Health Authority and the BC provincial government ? A thousand-headed (monster) approach would also generate incredible public and media interest and guarantee to keep it on the front page for a very long time ?The point is not so much to “win or lose ” the small claims court action as to “kick up a fuss ” and be “in the government’s face ” . They are less likely to pull dirty and undemocratic tricks in full public view. I don’t understand why Michael Schmidt and Gordon Watson have to keep taking all the direct “body blows” from the government by themselves when thousands of people are benefitting from the raw dairy cosmetic products ? Isn’t it time that the individual consumer also fight his or her own battles ? Another approach might be for groups of 5 or 10 coop members to jointly sue the Fraser Health authority in small claims court ? This would perhaps divide the expenses ?

  2. Unfortunately, I think Gordon — and any of us who have herd shares in BC — is on thin ice. Hidden deep away in the “Public Health Act, Transitional Regulation, Section 7”, is the following language:

    Health Hazard Regulation (unpasteurized milk)
    7 Milk for human consumption that has not been pasteurized at a licensed dairy plant in accordance with the Milk Industry Act is prescribed as a health hazard.

    The corresponding Public Health Act says:

    Must not cause health hazard
    15 A person must not willingly cause a health hazard, or act in a manner that the person knows, or ought to know, will cause a health hazard.

    I guess a judge could give Gordon some leeway on the word “willingly” there, but otherwise, it seems clear that, according to the law, anyone in possession of raw milk is guilty of causing a health hazard.

    This means a farmer cannot drink his own raw milk in BC.

    Are we having fun yet?

  3. thebovine

    Perhaps the mysterious appearance of that section in the regulations could be the subject of discussion in the court, as I understand it also has been among some members of the B.C. legislature.

    • I think Nadine Ijaz has been trying to track it’s provenance down in the Hansard archives. They make it very difficult to follow the thread, and even when you find it, it does not always identify why a given change has been requested, nor by whom. So much for the “transparency” of Westminster-style democracies.

      Nadine commented that a strict interpretation of these two Public Health Act laws would seem to make human breast feeding illegal, as well. We need to make these laws look as ridiculous as they really are!

      • Kurtis

        If this regulation is valid the health department needs to shut down every artisan raw milk cheese producer in BC. File the complaints folks and see how long it takes dairies to help us get rid of this regulation.

  4. BC Food Security

    The government uses every dirty trick in the book and chronically refuses to engage in substantive debate or research (i.e even just a basic no-brainer comparative review of other countries who have always allowed raw milk subject to testing and some reasonable rules ) . So we are reduced to playing legalistic word games. So if the word game can reduce the issue to “human consumption” then why isn’t the farmer allowed to sell the goods as pet food or cosmetics providing it is labelled as a deadly poison (skull and bones for effect ) and the label states in bold capital letters , “Not for HUMAN CONSUMPTION ” ? Perhaps the government should ban the sales of turpentine and bleach and liquid detergent and window cleaner and paint since this are all clearly health hazards if drunk by unsuspecting humans ? I wonder how much lower and for how much longer will the BC government stoop on this issue ? I would also even try directly contacting the Milk Marketing board in BC and explaining to them in no uncertain terms that we, the tiny herdshares, are not interested in threatening your monopoly (and could not if we wanted to ) and to remember that 25% or more of the population doesn’t drink milk anyways regardless of the government’s trickery here and in other ways. We just seek a humble and quiet coexistence among our private members . We are not even gunning for every Loblaws or Superstore or Save-on foods to be able to sell raw milk or an adulterated and watered down form of it . But if you keep creating phoney obstacles that is what ultimately will happen for better or for worse.

    • Peter

      I get the distinct impression that you perceive government conduct to be ridiculous. And you are welcome to perceive it that way.
      I would like to suggest that “they” have a perspective which, to “them”, is not ridiculous. Nor are “they” perceiving “themselves” to be using dirty tricks. So… which perspective is right?

      • With a little sarcasm I have to admit I was wondering where Peter or George or Charlie was the last couple days.
        I missed the intellectual twists and turns of the arguments until nobody could follow the train of thought anymore.
        Thanks BC Food Security for having the patients to respond to Peter, George or Charlie or who ever it is, it seems a waste of time to beat a dead horse over and over again.
        Some seem to know everything until reality hits home, once challenged in the current reality of our world everything is different.
        Peter, George or Charlie I would welcome some constructive proposals how to move forward instead of rehashing over and over again the same old song.
        Thanks Peter,George or may be Charlie for reminding me that very often the intellectual analysis of our world is conveniently removed from heart and soul.
        Therefore l rather try to embrace the reality of the human unpredictability, which allows the impossible to happen.
        Thinking without heart leads to intellectual cancer of thought.

      • Winifred

        Personally, I don’t think Peter’s questions or views are necessarily wrong, nor do I understand the acrimonious tone taken towards him (or her?). I may agree with some of his/her ideas, and I may disagree with some. Whether or not one agrees or not, differing thoughts or questions (regarded as insightful or not) can aid another in clarifying one’s own position to oneself and others. What then is the harm done? I have not sensed an absence of feeling in Peter’s words, at least no less than anyone else who has posted replies. I would agree thought and rightful feeling (not that I am the one to make that judgement call) is an important blend. I would also agree that the former combination differs from thought and emotion (emotion that can blind right, fair, true or principled thoughts).
        No one individual is 100% right nor are groups….so there are always valid and different views. We should be able to express them, without recrimination. If someone is harming another….or one group harming another group or individual, then that is a different matter.

      • Peter

        Michael, thanks for your commentary.
        It was merely my attempt that we engage in an objective observation (i.e. try to see things from “their” perspective). If going there is not constructive, please feel free to dismiss my commentary.
        You make reference to beating a “dead horse” over and over again, and rehashing the same old song. Could you clarify “what” the dead horse is, and what the same old song is?
        I concur that today’s administration of justice in the courts of law is removed from heart and soul. Adjudicating what is fair in human eyes according to law is not according to heart, soul, emotion, or the like. Law is that which is set or established. Heart, soul, emotion, or other subjective sensations are not set. So asking the judiciary to administer justice according to their subjective sensations is not administration of justice according to law.
        I concur that it is personally prudent to embrace the subjective sensations that comprise part of the human experience, and the unpredictable outcome of our experiences. As such, what is the guiding principles of our lives? That which is set by our intellectual mind? Or our subjective sensations? And which of those would be better applied to the administration of civil justice?

  5. BC Food Security

    Peter : I will attempt to answer your answer question after you answer my question as to why the BC government should not ban turpentine since somebody might drink it by accident or unintentionally ? I believe my question and logic is as reasonable as the one you have just posed.

    • Walter's Dad

      The simple answer is this:
      Turpentine is not intended for human consumption.

      If someone was to distribute a beverage intended for human consumption that was, in fact, turpentine then the government would declare it a health hazard. And rather quickly, I suspect.

      PS – Jan Steinman’s post (December 16, 2011 at 6:37 pm) summarizes the applicable legislation quite nicely. It seems pretty cut and dry out in BC. I’d be very surprised if Gordon’s lawsuit is successful.

    • Peter

      I will gladly answer your question unconditionally. Please don’t feel compelled to do anything on my account.
      My (simple?) answer is that the BC government has no compulsion to ban turpentine, even if someone might drink it. Neither is the BC government obliged to ban raw milk. Those are political determinations (subjective). It is all a matter of responsibility and liability. And the political decisions are not merely physical health issues. They encompass economic and environmental, and other considerations as well.

  6. Thanks for the nod, Walter’s Dad, except that BC Food Security has a point: the BC Public Health Act Transitional Regulation specifically mentions “milk for human consumption.”

    However, there is the matter of the BC Milk Industry Act, Section 6, which says:

    No sale of dairy products unless pasteurized
    (1) A person must not sell, offer for sale or supply [emphasis mine: JS] any dairy product unless the dairy product has been pasteurized in accordance with this Act and the regulations.

    So, not only is mother’s breast milk illegal under the Public Health Act and its doppelgänger, the Public Health Act Transitional Regulation, but merely supplying another person with unpasteurized milk is illegal under the Milk Industry’s (freudian slip) Act.

    So you’re a dairy farmer, and your mother just died. You fly back to Moose Jaw for the funeral, and your neighbour milks your cows, and “supplies” the milk to your chickens. BZZZT! Go to jail; go directly to jail. Do not pass GO. Do not collect $200. You’re busted!

    I still think something like what Brits call “work to rules” might be effective here, if we could get enough people together. Young mothers could nurse their babies and present themselves for incarceration under the two Public Health Acts. Farmers could “supply” their neighbours with white liquid chicken feed and present themselves for incarceration under the Milk Industry’s Act.

    If the government declines to prosecute, those who are persecuted can claim selective enforcement.

    Fill the jails until the sheeple awaken! I’ll go if you will!

    • Walter's Dad

      Thanks for that link. Re: whether the Public Health Act Transitional Regulation applies to breastfeeding mothers, I think it would depend on the definition of “milk”. Since the wording of Section 7 of this regulation already ties into the Milk Industry Act, it seems logical that they would would also use the same definition of milk – i.e. the “normal lacteal secretion obtained from the mammary gland of a dairy animal”. And humans are not listed in the definition of “dairy animal”. Clearly we don’t have to sound the alarms for breastfeeding mothers everywhere…

    • Kurtis

      here is a loophole there considering we have raw milk cheese producers in BC

  7. BC Food Security

    Winifred : I agree with you that we all can learn from a different perspective. But at some point the debate is finished and action one way or another is required . Why this preference to endlessly chase ‘one’s tail” so to speak ? Let us agree to create something specific or move on to the next page ? Michael Schmidt and others have to go to court . So it would not be useful if they spent the next 4 months deliberating on whether or not they should wear brown pants or white pants or blue pants to the courthouse ? . He needs to spend those 4 months becoming crystal clear about why he is doing what he is doing and how is he going to communicate this most effectively to the friends, media and supporter and COURT . I recognize that there is something very ZEN about court room debates and arguments and that is definitely a useful skill to have and to understand and to incorporate. But it can never represent the totality or the big picture of life. I am sorry but it is also a perfectly legitimate question to ask “what is your , Peter, my own, the BC Government or the Ontario government’s or Michael Schmidt’s intention in all this ? ” Some of us have concluded that the BC Government’s intention is a “convoluted Monkey Business ” . Where was the honest debate there ? They either ignore us or respond with a lot of fear-based cliches or worse a lot of threats and recriminations etc. The debate is very simple : Raw Milk is SAFE and NUTRITIOUS so why does every other major Western country have a method to deal with it and why does the Canadian government behave like an ostrich with its head in the sand and avoid the issue and the research that is so freely available ? Who gave them the right and power to behave so unprofessionally an unaccountably like that ?

    • Walter's Dad

      BCFS, I agree with your brown pants-white pants-blue pants analogy. You’re proably right that far too much effort is wasted chasing dead ends.

      I would suggest to you that it’s also pointless to waste time arguing why the government isn’t banning turpentine in case someone might drink it, or promoting ‘cosmetic’ labelling of milk when it is clearly intended for human consumption, or chasing down “convoluted Money Business” conspiracy theories. These are all dead ends. Similarly, the claim that “raw milk is SAFE and NUTRITIOUS” when compared to it’s pasteurized counterpart is, unfortunately, not supported by the full body of research that is currently “so freely available” to us and the policy-makers.

      If you want to have one crystal clear argument to focus efforts on, stick with “freedom of choice” and nothing else.

      • “If you want to have one crystal clear argument to focus efforts on…”

        I don’t think that’s a good strategy, particularly with those whose job it is to limit freedom of choice on things that have no obvious benefits. Public health regulators see it thus: since pasteurized milk is “the same as” raw milk except for the pathogens, whatever reason is there to insist on this “freedom?”

        You can see how this argument has fared with marijuana users, people who don’t like motorcycle helmets, and people who want to build their own unsafe buildings, for example. The “public good” will always trump personal freedom.

        I’m also involved in the third case above. You just can’t take a bunch of sticks and nails and make a house. Even if you claim you’re only endangering your own life, the building inspectors say, “What happens to the public when you sell or pass on?” So we have to vigorously promote the benefits of natural building, while also demonstrating the safety of the result — as well as merely thumping our chest and saying, “It’s our right.”

        So arguments for the benefits of raw milk, as well as arguments regarding the comparative safety of raw milk, must go hand-in-hand with “freedom of choice” arguments. A stool with just one leg is easily toppled.

      • rainhard pitschke

        Sorry jan….I don’t buy it. The guy buying the house better be able to recognize what a house is, and read the disclosure very carefully before he signs. If he’s been cheated then he can personally seek remedy directly from the seller in as creative and severe ways he likes or as last resort…in civil court for damages which all go to him. But no, in case of trouble most people want to contract that out to cops, lawyers and courts. Then they wonder why they are still left with a crummy house….and lawyer’s bills for more than the price of the house. There’s no insurance on it because they know better and wanted no part in it. I’m sure you didn’t bother a bank to loan you money for it either. All this kind of thinking about regulations is a confusion. If rights are infringed it’s only by consent. The courts will assume liability for you (you won’t get any recompense for damages or time then though) but then they also assume the responsability to give you the benefit of jail if you disagree with the huge mountain of data they have amassed over thousands of years…..to foist their scam on you.

      • Walter's Dad

        @Jan Steinman
        I get what you’re saying, but currently the benefits of raw milk are almost exclusively anecdotal (except for maybe a couple of legitimate studies that have shown a possible relationship to fewer allergies) and based on the literature the comparative safety of raw milk vs pasteurized is, unfortunately, clearly in their favor.

        It’s like a three-legged stool where two of the legs are broken and cannot bear any weight. So in practical terms, you still have a one-legged stool. If you want to fix the broken legs, we are talking about years and maybe decades of research needed (if you can find a sympathetic university researcher that will do it). Unfortunately these two arguments are of no help to the current lawsuits. Don’t get me wrong though, properly supporting these arguments is precisely what’s needed in the long term – sufficient scientific evidence that shifts the ‘pros’ of raw milk to outweigh the ‘cons’ will be the only thing that can change the minds of the policy-makers who justify their actions for the ‘public good’.

        But for right now (or over the next 4 months as BCFS was mentioning) the only solid argument is freedom of choice. I’d say it’s better to take the one good leg, center it, and reinforce it with a strong base. Then at least the stool has a chance to stand on it’s own.
        Not sure if my analogy makes any sense but you get the idea…

      • @Walter’s Dad wrote: “currently the benefits of raw milk are almost exclusively anecdotal…”

        Not true at all.

        What is true is that most of the studies are old, which makes them out of favour with regulators. But they are still legit. (The only reason there are not many current studies is because the industrial milk system has tied up all the research funding.)

        What is also true is that health regulators’ claims that there is no nutritional difference is based solely on comparison of a small number of essential nutrients: some 22 amino acids, some minerals, and gross levels of carbohydrate and fat. (They even go so far as to say that the destruction of certain vitamins is “insignificant,” based on gross quantities.) In other words, it’s a reductionist, quantitative argument, not a holistic, qualitative argument based on actual health studies — because if they dared look at the latter, they would find more than anecdotal evidence. Look for the Pottinger raw milk studies, for instance.

        “based on the literature the comparative safety of raw milk vs pasteurized is, unfortunately, clearly in their favor.”

        Again, not clearly true at all.

        What is true is that epidemiological data is opaque and difficult to interpret, primarily because the numbers of raw milk drinkers is unclear. With certain interpretations of US CDC data (such as removing queso blanc from the numbers), raw milk and pasteurized milk actually have a statistically insignificant difference in illness rate.

        Read “The Untold Story of Milk,” by Ron Schmid, and google for studies done by epidemiologist Dr. Ted Beals.

  8. rainhard pitschke

    You want to move forward? Then claim your rights. That means taking on full liability. In this case it means the customers. You all want your milk, and own shares in the cows then go and milk the damn things and drink it. If someone stops you then fight your battle with them too! Irresposible child-like whiners say…”You didn’t tell me not to drink the turpentine. Somebody should make sure it’s not intended for that and say so on the label.”
    We have these lowliest laws…acts, statutes, codes, constitutions even, because most people aren’t responsible for harm they incur….or do…to themselves and others. If I go to Walmart and ask the drone for a butcher knife to kill my wife with, he’s an accesory to murder. If I don’t tell him, he’s not. Exactly the same when Michael sells milk and tells people it’s safe to drink. How can he know? What business is it of his what the buyer does with it or what happens to it after it leaves his hands? the buyer assumes total liability.

    • rainhard pitschke

      You all obey even lower laws. You obey everything if it’s ‘posted’. All notices. You cross your legs and squeeze waiting for the ‘ladies’ washroom while the ‘mens’ door is open. Yuk, yuk! People will obey anything if you post it. I tried an experiment and it worked. I taped 2 notices on 2 different bank doors. Five words which had a profound implication since they were the same ones a man put on his own door after killing his family and before going inside to kill himself….because his house was lost…to a bank. The words were…”Do not enter, phone police”. And sure enough, no one entered (the banks were closed), and some ‘publid’ phoned police. I watched from a sidewalk sipping coffee as lights flashed, dogs sniffed, etc. The next day I inquired at the police what the trouble was. I was told it was ‘under investigation’….”Do I know anything about it?”……”Yes”…..”Are you ‘involved”???……”Yes”….Would you like to leave your name and phone number?”….”Sure, here you go, bye now.”
      I was hoping for at least a ‘mischief’ charge. But they thought about it…..and talked a bit. Ultimately anyone can post any notice they like….to warn people.
      If they had charged me at the police station, I had another notice ready for their door. “Do not enter, phone bank.” Yuk, yuk………performance Haiku art at its finest! I love being me.

      • rainhard pitschke

        If they were any good at their job, they would have sealed the street immediately, looked at the video of me, and captured the culprit quickly while he was ‘smoking outside but under a canopy’.

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