Today’s court proceedings in Newmarket were merely the opening round in what promises to be a protracted legal process, the end result of which could be the effective criminalization of anyone in Ontario distributing, sharing or giving away raw milk to another person. Advocating raw milk would likewise become a criminal act under the injunctions being proposed by York Region Public Health, and by the Crown.
The record turnout of raw milk consumers and supporters at today’s rally — an estimated 250-300 men, women and children — underlines just how unpopular such a move would be with the constituency that would be most affected by the proposed injunctions. The courthouse security police, who know Michael Schmidt from the many times he’s come to this courthouse before, told him that “every time you come here, there are more people”.
Durham-area farmer Michael Schmidt has been a lightning rod for raw milk issues in this province since 1994, largely because he has been very open in the way he operated.
On many occasions over the years Michael has sought various avenues to legalize the much-in-demand product, whose production and sale in the province remains largely underground. But the response to Michael’s overtures has not yet led to any improvement in raw milk’s legal status.
In his talk, Michael praised other raw milk farmers for also “coming out of the closet”. For instance, Michael was not the farmer who brought a cow to today’s event and milked it in front of the crowd. But even this could be just a tip of the black market iceberg.
One of the attendees at today’s event was a (still closeted) farmer who serves the downtown Toronto market and said he has over 200 members in his cowshare operation. That’s nuch bigger than Glencolton.
A young women who was demonstrating at the rally said it’s easier to buy crack cocaine than raw milk, in Toronto these days — which would indicate that in spite of the thriving black market, the demand for raw milk is still far from satisfied.
American Celebrity Guests
David Gumpert, the well-known American blogger (The Complete Patient), and author of several books on raw milk, made the trek from New England to take part in today’s rally. Gumpert had also been on hand for Michael’s one legal victory — the historic and legendary January 2010 acquittal by Justice Kowalski.
In his talk at the rally today David noted that the way that acquittal was subsequently overturned in an appeal by the Crown, would never have been allowed under the American system of justice, where trying someone twice for the same offense is disallowed as “double jeopardy”.
David also noted that at the time Michael Schmidt started his fight for legal raw milk in Ontario, there were 25 states in the United States in which raw milk was allowed. But since then, 17 more have legalized it in some form, leaving only 7 states in which it remains prohibited. Likewise, among the G8 countries, Canada is the only one to prohibit raw milk.
Liz Reitzig, who hails from Maryland — one of those 7 remaining States that prohibit raw milk south of the border — also made the trip to Newmarket to take part in this rally. Liz has helped with publicity and promotion for Michael’s raw milk campaign in Ontario and helped promote this event through various channels including her blog, “Nourishing Liberty“.
What’s at Stake
While in the past the focus of raw milk prosecution has been on Michael Schmidt, the court process that started today would shift that focus of enforcement to any John Doe or Jane Doe — in effect, anyone — who distributes (which includes sharing or giving away) raw milk to another person or persons in the province, after the proposed injunctions come into effect, if in fact they are approved by the court.
Judging by the tentative schedule that was agreed in court today, it looks like that could happen as early as Sept. 27th, 2016. To the best of our understanding, criminalization means that any such person could be arrested, detained, jailed, fined and left with a criminal record. Also criminalized under the proposed injunctions would be continuing to operate what the Crown calls “a milk plant” without a license, such as, for instance, at Glencolton Farms. Counseling other people to consume raw milk would likewise be criminalized under the proposed injunctions.
Parties subject to charges under the injunction against operating a milk plant would be members and directors of the Agricultural Renewal Cooperative (ARC) which had taken over ownership of the operation from Michael Schmidt. Directors of ARC are specifically named in the proposed injunction, and include Michael Schmidt’s wife Elisa VanderHout, and his son Markus Schmidt.
The Christian Community Church, in the parking lot of which distribution of raw milk has been taking place, is named as one of the parties in the injunction put forward by York Region Public Health.
While Elisa and Michael will be defending themselves in court, Toronto lawyer Davin Charney has been retained to represent ARC, The Christian Community, and Markus Schmidt.
In recent years, Davin has come to prominence through taking on and winning the case of Adam Nobody, who was abused by police at the G20 demonstrations in Toronto in 2012.
Media on hand for the rally included a couple of independent filmmakers including Norman Lofts, maker of the first-ever documentary about raw milk and Michael Schmidt that aired on CBC Newsworld back in 2008.
Also on hand was a camera crew from Global TV who covered the rally and interviewed cowshare spokesperson Mascha Perrone, and other attendees.
Liane Kotler, the producer of the latest doc on Michael Schmidt and raw milk, was on hand throughout the proceedings. It was announced that her documentary — which includes footage from the recent Guelph Raw Milk Symposium in January — will air next Monday March 21, on Steve Paikin’s show “The Agenda”, on TV Ontario, at 8 pm and again at 11 pm, after which it may be available online on the TVO website.
What Can You Do?
Michael has been talking to politicians at Queen’s Park and what they’ve told him is that if the government’s handling of raw milk is a problem for people, they (the Members of Provincial Parliament) need to hear about it from their constituents. So if this is a concern of yours, write to your MPP, call their office and keep writing and calling until you get satisfaction.
When in discussions with government, people were advised to talk about food rights, and freedom to choose, rather than arguing about whether or not raw milk is a healthier choice. People can decide that for themselves. What’s crucial is that government recognize the rights of individuals to make that decision for themselves and for their children.
Read David Gumpert’s take on the day’s events, on The Complete Patient blog.