It was a dark and rainy afternoon in Thornhill — a sleepy northern suburb of Toronto — when around 2 pm yesterday Sept. 29th, five York Region health department officials and two police arrived at the church parking lot where Glencolton Farms Farmshare members have been coming each week to collect their milk and other dairy products from their farm.
Glencolton Farms and Michael Schmidt
Glencolton Farms has been closely associated, since the mid-1980s with farmer and raw milk food rights advocate Michael Schmidt, though in recent years it has been reconstituted as a cooperative with shareholders, each of whom have invested $2,000 to buy a legal joint-ownership share of the entire farming operation.
The logic here, is that just as no one questions or takes any issue whatsoever regarding the widespread practice of farmers and members of their household drinking raw milk from their own farm’s bulk tank, so also this group of urban raw milk fans should be able to own a farm together and drink the milk from their own farm’s cows.
Last Tuesday’s Raid
According to Michael’s wife, Elisa, the officials arrived right at the start of the distribution and at first wanted to seize all the milk. They were eventually persuaded to just take samples. However, Elisa told them they would not be allowed on the van without a search warrant.
The police went to get a warrant and returned with it a while later. Health department officials were then admitted to the van, and took samples of all the dairy products. The officials said they would be back next week. Presumably they are going to test them to see if they have been pasteurized, even though Elisa said she told them that the milk was raw (ie unpasteurized).
2006 and all that
It’s been quite a few years since scenes such as this one have unfolded around raw milk distribution in York Region. The last round of interest from officials started with a raid on the farm itself in November of 2006. That was followed up by public health officials showing up at what was then “the blue bus” in Thornhill multiple times, all which was following by many years of public demonstrations, news conferences, private members bills, hunger strike, news stories, documentary films, and eventually, court cases, in which Michael Schmidt was first acquitted, then later convicted and sentenced. Subsequent appeals upheld that conviction. In the end, Michael even tried to take it to the Supreme Court of Canada, but they refused to hear the case.
Apparently, under American law, trying someone twice like this for the same offense, would be considered “double jeopardy” and not allowed. Of course, in many parts of the United States, sale of raw milk is permitted, even in stores. And then there’s Europe, where in many places anyone can get raw milk from automats, set up by farmers in urban areas. And in England, raw milk sales are allowed at the farm gate. Meanwhile, Ontario has been getting their knickers in a knot over raw milk for quite some time now. One wonders if its just the corporate interests, trying to protect their dwindling market share.
In contrast, Canadian media polls have repeatedly shown strong support for the rights of individuals to obtain raw milk for personal use. Poll results usually show something like 80% in favour, which would indicate that the case for raw milk is at least being won in the court of public opinion. Now if we could only get regulators and governments to recognize that…
A conference at Guelph University in April of 2014 was a good first step towards a common understanding with the health protection community.
Meanwhile, Michael Schmidt has been embroiled in the protracted preliminary hearings (which have been taking place in Oshawa) regarding the sheep-napping case which also involves Montana Jones. The defendants’ efforts to expose what they see as government wrongdoing through the airing of evidence in the court proceedings have been stymied by the Crown asking for and being granted a news blackout on the hearings. Which is why we haven’t heard much about them, after that first story in the National Post, some months ago. Here’s a summary of what can be said about the situation.
Speculation is that the Crown’s strategy may be to bankrupt the defendants through piling up legal costs for hearings and trials that drag on interminably. This is the perception that has prompted David Gumpert’s lastest post on recent developments in the case.
One mainstream media outlet that’s already covering the story is The Canadian Press news service. Their story appeared here already yesterday on CP24 Toronto’s Breaking News.