After an impassioned statement to the court and an exchange with the judge, first Elisa van der Hout, and shortly thereafter, Michael Schmidt declared that they were withdrawing from the court proceedings contesting the injunctions being sought by York Region and by the Milk Director of Ontario to shut down the “milk plant” at Glencolton Farms and the milk distribution in Thornhill and to criminalize those who transport raw milk or advocate its consumption.
These statements came around 11 am after the court had listened to a lengthy presentation by lawyer Davin Charney, who had been continuing his arguments from the day before as to why the the two applications for injunctions should be converted to an action. Mr. Charney was representing Markus Schmidt, Agricultural Renewal Coop, and the Christian Community Church.
What Elisa said in Court
Elisa started by saying this was about people seeking a sustainable self-produced local food movement. She said that the ownership structure of the farm enterprise had been revised twice recently in attempts to find a form that would enable people to get raw milk while not contravening the law.
She said that the first thing it would be helpful to know — before we go any futher in legal deliberations — would be whether the farm’s current ownership and operating structure is in fact legal or whether it violates the Milk Act or the HPPA. Elisa said she believes that it does not violate these acts and is in fact legal.
The judge wanted to know how the farm structure is different now from what it had been.
Elisa explained that she is a member of both ARC (Agricultural Renewal Coop) and OFOF (Our Farm Our Food coop) and that she has a pretty good idea of how the farm operates.
She said that the land and buildings are owned by ARC, and that ARC is a worker-owned coop. The people who work on the farm are members of ARC, not employees.
OFOF is a consumer owned coop, which owns all the cows and all the equipment relating to milk production and packaging. OFOF rents space in the facilities owned by ARC to milk cows and get the milk into a form suitable for consumption.
Elisa explained that there is a management contract between the two coops whereby ARC is hired by OFOF to house and feed the cows, and to extract the milk from them, because the people in ARC have the skills to do that.
All of the milk from the farm is consumed by a community of people who know one another and the products of the farm are not available to the public. Elisa stated that she believed that with this arrangement “we have not contravened the Milk Act or HPPA”.
At this point the judge said “from your point of view you want the court to rule on whether the present ownership arrangement does or does not comply with the legislation. You want to find a way to be able to legally consume raw milk”.
Elisa replied that “we know that it is not illegal to consume raw milk in Ontario. We believe we have put together a [production and distribution] structure that’s not under the act.”. Elisa explained that if their present arrangement — which is much different from the arrangement on which all the previous court rulings had been based — is in fact legal, then the rest of the statements on the applications for injunction are in fact moot, and there’s no need for her to spend time she doesn’t have producing factums when she needs to be looking after her children and running the farm.
Elisa explained an idea she had that “couldn’t we just sit down with the regulators and have a discussion about how we should be doing things to stay within the law.” She said they had tried that with York Region Public Health but with little satisfaction.
The judge replied “That will never happen. They can’t give you legal advice….They can’t do that because your positions are opposed in law.”
Elisa said she and Michael had taken what learnings they could from the outcomes of previous cases. Elisa said she was going to do what she thinks is right.
“Actual justice will not happen”, Elisa said. “I might as well withdraw from the case. I’ve been asking for dialogue…. Let them get their injunction. Put me in jail. I welcome it.”
The judge, Madame Justice Mullins, said to Elisa, “I hope I didn’t offend you. No one wants you in jail”.
Elisa reassured the judge that she had not offended her.
At this point the Judge called for a fifteen minute break, after which Michael Schmidt was the first to speak.
What Michael Schmidt said in Court
Michael began by saying he was not going to apologize for his wife, that in fact he had compassion for her suffering.
Michael said he wanted to help the court and to clarify his own position. He talked about taking part in court proceedings in 1994, 2010 and 2014. He said that the courts had generally agreed among themselves in regards to the character of Michael Schmidt — that he was an honest and credible man, but misled in his views.
He said he has recently been involved with other court cases based on search warrants and surveillance, and that he was recently acquitted in one case recently (regarding cameras).
Michael said he has never been affiliated with the Freeman movement as some people allege. He said he has respect for the courts and their proceedings. However he said he has been going in and out of courts for 22 years without satisfaction.
He said he was for 39 days on a hunger strike with a mission to have a discussion with the Premier of Ontario. He said he has had meetings with officials about public health policy.
Then Michael started talking about deaths from tobacco — the distribution of which is approved by Health Canada. Michael said that 100 people die every day from tobacco related illnesses. That’s 200 in the course of this two-day hearing, 36,300 since the start of this application for injunction process, 798,600 over the course of the 22 years he’s been in the courts over raw milk. And in that time how many people have died from raw milk? None.
Michael then spoke about how someone in Alberta was recently charged with “paper terrorism”. Michael suggested that dealing with the huge stacks of paper churned out by court proceedings was also”paper terrorism”.
“In the end”, he said, ” I wonder why we keep coming to court. We try openly and honestly to push the debate on raw milk. But we are met with surveillance, and I am accused in the application record of constantly flouting the law.”
“What remedy do I seek?” said Mr. Schmidt. “Perhaps you could order the crown to sit down and consult with us on how we could work this out… I also withdraw myself from these proceedings. Let the application go ahead. I will be arrested. I am willing to go to jail. No further comments.”
Motion to Convert Application to Action Withdrawn
Over the course of lunch time consultations among the lawyers, it was decided that Mr. Charney would withdraw the motion to convert the application to an action, since it was becoming clear from what had transpired in court that it was unlikely to be granted.
Part of the agreement was that associated costs would not be assessed at this time, but the final decision as to costs was reserved until such time as the court proceedings around the application were concluded.
And although it was agreed that a day of court time had been spent presenting and discussing the motion, the judge noted that only 15 minutes of that had been taken up by each of Michael and Elisa, implying that if costs were to be assessed, their share would be small. In the context of discussing costs, lawyer Doug Smith, representing York Region said that Ms van der Hout’s take on the case had actually been very helpful.
OFOF Intervener Status and Representation Granted
Madame Justice Mullins concluded the day by ruling on the motions around intervener status for the Our Farm Our Food coop (OFOF). She had no difficulty approving that motion since it was unopposed by any of the other parties. She did however, leave open the question of whether OFOF could subsequently be liable for a share of costs.
She deliberated at greater length on the question of whether non-lawyer Lewis (Skip) Taylor would be allowed to represent OFOF in their intervener role. However she did in the end approve the motion to have Skip represent OFOF, given the constellation of circumstances, and her assessment of his abilities.
Region of Peel and Simcoe Muskoka Added to Application
Another item on the day’s agenda was a motion to add the Region of Peel and the municipality of Simcoe Muskoka to the application by York Region. This was requested because during the raid on Glencolton Farms in October of 2015, information was found indicating that additional milk delivery locations in these regions were being used by the farm. This motion was not contested, and was approved by the court.
News Conference Wed. Sept. 28th, 3 pm in Thornhill
Michael Schmidt has called a news conference for tomorrow, Wed. Sept. 28th, at 3 pm in the parking lot of the Christian Community Church at 901 Rutherford Rd. in Thornhill.