Farmer and activist Michael Schmidt has more than one legal controversy on the go. A couple of weeks ago Michael was in the news for taking Ontario raw milk case to Ontario’s highest court.
On February 5th, 2014, a panel of three judges at the Ontario Court of Appeal at Osgoode Hall in Toronto heard arguments from Michael Schmidt and his Canadian Constitution Foundation lawyer, Derek From, as to why his 2011 convictions on raw milk charges should be overturned. The charges on the same ones on which Michael was acquitted in January of 2010. They stemmed from a November 2006 raid on his dairy farm in Durham Ontario.
About a month ago you may have seen news stories that were circulating on social media to the effect that raw milk was now legal and Michael Schmidt had been acquitted. And wasn’t that good news and about time? While that was a true story and a real news report, the story was from January of 2010. There’s been a lot of raw milk under the bridge since then. It’s a mystery as to why people suddenly started circulating it again. But it was a nice thought while it lasted.
Just a few short months after the events reported in that story — the 2010 acquittal of Michael Schmidt by Justice Kowarsky — the Ontario government appealed the decision. That appeal by the Crown led to Justice Tetley’s 2011 conviction of Michael on many of the same charges, and to his subsequent sentencing to $9,150 in fines and costs in the summer of 2011.
Not long after that, Michael’s lawyer Karen Selick (litigation director of the Canadian Constitution Foundation) requested leave to take the case to the highest court in the Province. Leave was granted. And that appeal was finally heard on February 5th, 2014.However, it will be weeks if not months before a verdict is announced. But if Michael loses this appeal, there is still a possibility that the Supreme Court of Canada would agree to hear the case.
One of the key arguments made by the appellant (Mr. Schmidt) in the Feb. 5th appeal, is that the current laws are an infringement of people’s right to security of the person, as guaranteed in Section 7 of Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Michael argued that people feel they need raw milk for their health and well being, and they’re willing to take the risks involved.
Crown lawyers on the other hand, argued that raw milk is by its nature an inherently hazardous substance and that raw milk drinkers pose a risk of second-hand infection to society. Michael’s lawyer countered that past Crown lawyers didn’t seem worried about shaking the hand of Michael Schmidt, in spite of the fact that he was a known raw milk drinker.
It’s anyone’s guess how many more years it will take before the status of raw milk in Ontario is settled. Meanwhile, Michael’s lawyer estimated in court that some 50,000 Ontario residents drink raw milk obtained through black market channels.
Regardless of the outcome of the appeal, one positive outcome for raw milk is that the media exposure raises questions for more people every time raw milk is in the news. This time a Google news search showed 43 major news outlets carrying the story a couple of days after the appeal hearing.
A poll in the Toronto Sun showed 86% of people favoured legalizing raw milk. That’s in line with the results of other polls over the years. So it would seem that raw milk is winning the public relations war, if not yet the legal battle.
By Michael Schmidt’s reckoning, his raw milk struggle in Ontario has been going on for 20 years now. That’s since what he calls the first raw milk war in 1994, the one that cost him half his farm.
Michael is also involved in another food rights controversy in Ontario regarding a flock of rare heritage sheep. These Shropshire sheep belonging to Montana Jones went missing the day before the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) was planning to kill them for testing. Although the sheep were eventually found, killed, and tested negative for the suspected scrapie disease, Montana, Michael and two others face charges of conspiracy, related to that disappearance, that could land them in prison.
Recently the CFIA has been arguing in court that Michael must get a different lawyer because the CFIA speculate that there may in future be a conflict of interest if he persists in using BC lawyer Shawn Buckley.
Word is that the CFIA is asking for a four week trial for the case. Perhaps they have a lot of evidence to present. Pre-trial documents already stack to four feet. Michael has been unable to travel, until very recently, due to bail condition restrictions in the sheep conspiracy case.
Michael is also involved in a raw milk case in B.C. regarding the cowshare farm formerly known as “Home on the Range” but more recently reconstituted as “Our Cows”.