by Beverley Viljakainen
Three of the five men charged with obstructing a peace officer during the October 2, 2015 raid on Glencolton Farms comprised the defence at the trial that began in Walkerton on March 6, 2017: Robert Pinnell, Michael Schmidt and John Schnurr, each representing himself. Robert Pinnell was acquitted during the second week of proceedings and the trial was adjourned on March 23 until additional dates and court space can be arranged, to be finalized on April 12. It is anticipated that another three days will be needed, the judge’s ruling to be handed down thereafter.
As one of Michael’s witnesses, I was unable to be in the courtroom until after I testified, but I did spend some time in the waiting room in support of those inside. The rather large police presence, both inside and outside the courtroom, was not missed on anyone. Each day there were usually four OPP uniformed officers, heavily armed at the waist, sitting or standing across the back of the courtroom, while three others sat in a small meeting room adjacent to the waiting room until it was their turn to relieve those inside. It felt like a very them-us situation and I began to wonder if they felt safer in there? Was it a status thing? Were we who were waiting in the larger area the proverbial ‘other’ to them? Suffice it to say that, for me, it was a very strange way for a police officer to spend his or her working day and there were a lot of them having to do just that.
The bigger question here, of course, is why the show of force? Are small farmers too independently minded to be trusted? Farmers have led revolutions in the now distant past, but there’s no sign of that happening here. Only a handful of farmers involved in providing unpasteurized milk to non-farmers have ‘come out’ thus far, although the number is increasing slowly. If a revolution there must be, it will more likely come from the general public, the majority of whom, when polled, think everyone has the right to make informed decisions about the foods they eat and to be able to access unprocessed foods if they think that will improve and sustain their health.
To this end, it is “interesting” to note that after 23 years of raids and other kinds of intimidation and harassment, directed primarily at one farmer, Michael Schmidt, who does not even own Glencolton Farms, there is never any mention of the validity or legality of the farm’s intricate cooperative structure, involving approximately 150 families as farm share owners, nor even that such a structure exists, clearly distinguishing it as other than a privately owned enterprise. Instead, hours of testimony have once again been heard about how troublesome we bystanders are to yet another “investigation”, law enforcement-ese for why the raids have to happen, why the surveillance cameras mounted on trees, poorly camouflaged as though wanting to be found, and why several millions of dollars have been spent, with no end in sight, on whatever these investigators do between times in preparation for their next surprise appearance and the very expensive court proceedings that follow. The entire effort would appear to be solely to prevent one farmer from providing nutritious food to informed people who want to be able to acquire the food that is produced on their own farm. How sane is that?! These, by the way, are the very people the crown is attempting to portray as pawns in Farmer Schmidt’s hands. Apparently, he has only to command us to block vehicles that have been filled with our food, our farm equipment, our computers, our files, and anything else the investigator authorizes his subordinates to take, and we’ll jump to attention and do his bidding. Excuse me? Hardly!
We are of one mind, I’ll grant you, farmers and non-farm members alike, about taking anything off the farm when no one’s been harmed, especially when these government employees, whose salaries we pay, are prepared to force themselves on to the farm with what may well be too-easily acquired search warrants. When will the fact that in 23 years and several search warrants later, no one has been made ill, harmed or died be shifted to the front burner and other agendas of possibly overly zealous investigators moved to the back or laid to rest altogether?
As someone who has been connected with Glencolton Farms since 1990, my eyes have been opened wide to the realities of how easily we can lose what I think of as the universal right to quality food, unadulterated food that is not grown and produced as a profit-making commodity. Canada is now growing very little of its own food, depending instead on imports from parts of the world where the supply could be very easily interrupted, especially given the increasingly precarious nature of weather, politics and the maturity levels of national leaders currently dancing about on our world’s stage. Governments that do not take care of locally-produced food supplies, and who are actively trying to stop them from existing, are not only not fulfilling their mandate but are being exceedingly irresponsible and untrustworthy.
Observing our judicial system in the context of Glencolton Farms, I see only unlevel playing fields. Those we employ with our tax dollars are spending even more tax dollars trying to overwhelm us in our attempts to acquire quality food. No one has ever been ill from the dairy products our farm makes available to its members and no one has died. The same cannot be said of too many of the food producers our governments do sanction. The irony here, or course, is that we can smoke, drink, drug and prescription-drug ourselves to death, but our public health officials have decreed that all unpasteurized milk, no matter how well handled, is not safe for us to drink and we must be protected from ourselves should we deem otherwise.
For me, the Stratford Festival is an apt metaphor for all of the charges that have been laid against Michael Schmidt over the years. If it were at all funny, I would liken it to a multi-ringed circus. There’s the main stage on which the crown is seeking an injunction to shut Glencolton Farms down altogether and put one Michael Schmidt behind bars. This performance has been going on for the better part of a quarter of a century. And there’s a variety of side stages, two of which feature surveillance camera theft, which those charged, including Michael, have now been acquitted, and the obstruction-of-a-peace-officer charges under discussion here. These latter two productions are rather shoddy affairs wherein local police have aligned themselves with an MNR investigator and perhaps others. To what end, one may well ask? To ‘discourage’ the troublesome Michael Schmidt? Troublesome to whom and why? No discussion to resolve the issues, just a cops-and-robbers style drama at the taxpayers’ expense. As things now stand, the third stage production has been suspended for the time being and, perhaps incidentally, perhaps not, its delay has complicated the ability of one Michael Schmidt to adequately prepare for his performance on Stage One in Newmarket at the end of May. Hmmm . . .
The low-level law enforcement officers who we are dealing with or, more accurately, have been told to deal with us, have no other recourse than to arrest us if we decide to prevent them from doing their jobs, i.e., hauling our food, equipment, files, and computers off the farm with the intention of sending them all over the country for “analysis”. Towards the end of the day of the October 2015 raid, when told we would be arrested if we didn’t let them off the premises, of course we put up our hands and said, “Arrest us already, but we cannot let you just drive off with our stuff to once again dump good food into the controlled substances area of the local dump. It’s just not right!” There was never any question of not letting the officers or their vehicles leave the farm. What wasn’t going to be allowed off the farm was our stuff. There can be no dialogue with those taking the loaded vehicles off our farm, even if they were willing to talk with us, because they don’t know why they have been told to do what they are trying to do, and they definitely have no authority to do anything other than to follow orders. “I’m just doing my job,” is their mantra, and we are in their way. In all fairness, too, I’ve also heard from a few who listened to our complaints about the injustice of it all, and then exclaimed, “I had no idea!”
As for public health officials, they appear to be unaware of science other than the mostly old research that supports their fear-based preaching that all raw milk is akin to poison, based on what they’ve been taught. Of course, they too are simply doing what they’re told for the most part while wielding what little power they have to close things down when something isn’t to their liking. They also have the not-so little power to remove our children from our care should we be so incorrigible as to feed them farm-fresh milk, inviting possible irreparable physical and psychological harm to children and parents alike. This ‘just doing my job’ response is proving to be very dangerous and unfortunately comes from several rungs up the various hierarchies. This we have experienced as we attempt to ensure our right to take responsibility for our own health. The ignorance of many of the people supposedly taking care of us must be experienced to be believed. All the more reason for each of us to think ourselves through this entire process, clearly and carefully.
While it’s impossible to make sense out of what is fundamentally senseless, many truths can surface from the senselessness itself. Yes, someone thought it would be a good idea and more profitable to have cows in the city, raise them in filth and handle the milk in highly unsanitary ways, which in turn made a lot of people with compromised immune systems sick and many died. The project was short-lived and happened almost a hundred years ago; yet health officials today still maintain that unpasteurized milk is patently life-threatening. Why, then, we might well ask, did it enable our ancestors, especially in the northern hemisphere, to get us here? They survived the winters on dairy products, along with root vegetables and preserved fruit, when nothing was growing and meat was scarce. When we know that unsanitary conditions were what led to pasteurization, surely we can assume that proper animal husbandry and handling of the milk with cleanliness is enough for people to be able to benefit from its health-giving nutrients. Even the inventor of pasteurization must have sensed that things could get out of hand, since he is known to have said on his death bed that he had been wrong about germs, that it was the terrain in which they were allowed to thrive that was the real problem. Why didn’t we pay attention? Why don’t we pay attention to what makes sense now? A strong immune system is what keeps us well, not the absence of germs.
This all being said, the safety issue is not that simple because the majority of today’s farms would not pass the sanitary test, the pasteurization process designed to lessen the inherent danger. This is why those of us who insist on unpasteurized milk want to be able to access it through small farms whose practices are quite other than those on the mega-agro-business dairy farms. Our farm and others like it follow ancient traditions that are tried and true, using only those modern methods that maintain the quality and safety of the original food. Since unprocessed milk has long been known to provide all of the nutritional components the human organism requires, what is our problem?!
When people just do what they are told to do without knowing why they are doing it, it behoves those of us negatively affected to move to the next level of pressure and ask for clarification, discussion and resolution. We’ve tried to do this in so many ways, but there seems no one to talk to who has the authority to work with us and resolve a very simple matter. We meet only those who don’t know the facts but do want us to cease and desist with the unpasteurized milk, period. Very early on, we realized that this long drawn-out process has nothing to do with milk, health or safety. It has to do with controlling the food supply under the guise of improved public health. I sometimes think of those behind the scenes who are applying the constant pressure to put this one farm or, more accurately, this one farmer, out of commission, using Ontario’s tax revenues for what are, in the opinions of many, very nefarious ends. They are harming themselves really since to do unto others what you would not have done to yourself is sick-making in itself. I think of them every time we assemble over a glass of farm-fresh milk to toast the Queen of the Commonwealth, who consumes unpasteurized milk to this day, and I even go so far as to invite them to join us rather than to create so much mischief, unseen and from the shadows.
Those of us who have acted as witnesses in this court case and so many others relating to our universal rights as human beings have enjoyed being able to say what we feel needs saying when, for almost a quarter of a century, we’ve not been even listened to, let alone heard. It has strengthened us and our resolve to do the needful. We did not start this fiasco, but we can stand firm. We are not criminals and there is work that really needs to be attended to by those we employ to enable our societies to be healthy and wise; wealthy enough comes to all when health and intelligence prevail.