I have tried to provide ongoing coverage of Canadian raw dairy farmer Michael Schmidt’s seemingly endless legal travails. It is a challenge, though, because of the relentlessness of the government assault. (If you want to look back on some of this blog’s coverage, do a search under “Schmidt”.) Food rights activist Liz Reitzig has been monitoring Schmidt’s most recent court cases, and here provides an update.

by Liz Reitzig

Michael Schmidt discusses a raid on his farm with a regulator. This 2015 raid led to resistance by Schmidt supporters that is now the subject of one of the legal cases against the farmer.

When Canadian raw dairy farmer Michael Schmidt began his journey through the Canadian legal system in 1993, Jean Chretien was Prime minister of Canada, Bill Clinton was president of the U.S., and Boris Yeltsin was president of Russia. The Internet was still a pipedream, as were smart phones.  

Since then, Canada has had seven Federal and eleven Provincial Ministers of Agriculture, along with ten federal and provincial Ministers of Health. Enough of these officials have seen fit to continue harassing and prosecuting Schmidt that the case has continued, in various forms, for 24 years.

Ironically, as Schmidt frequently points out, not a single person during that period has died from raw milk consumption, while 875,000 Canadians died from smoking legal tobacco products.  

Yet the legal beat goes on nearly unabated for Schmidt. Now, he’s facing two simultaneous legal battles, and it’s even more of a crapshoot than ever, if that is possible after so many years under the legal gun.

In one action, Schmidt and Elisa VanderHout face the threat of court proceedings from an injunction to “enforce” the ban on “distribution” of raw milk. Michael and his wife, Elisa, argue that the milk act does not apply to the shared ownership arrangement that governs the operations at Glencolton Farms.

The submissions for the injunction case are over. A ruling from the judge could come any day on whether or not he will grant the injunction from York Region and the Ontario  Ministry of Agriculture. If granted, the ruling will move  the prosecution into criminal proceedings (contempt of court) to any farmers, mothers, community leaders, etc. who participate in a milk drop or handle raw milk for human consumption. In the case of Glencolton Farms, the farm is a cooperative structure, which means that many members own the farm and benefit from everything that the farm produces. This case in Canada is an important one to watch as the ruling—either way–will significantly affect what foods Canadians have access to and how the regulatory agencies and courts will target individual farmers and producers.

In a second and more dramatic case, Schmidt continues his trial on the charges of obstruction of a peace officer . These charges, against Michael and originally four other men, stem from the raid on Glencolton Farms by Glenn Jarvie and the Ministry of Agriculture and Food in October 2015. During the raid, the government confiscated computers and some documents before 80 farm owners, friends and neighbours showed up and blocked the driveway. Farm members stood in the cold driveway at the farm, blocking the government vehicles from leaving as long as the trucks had the farm owners’ property in them. Only five people were charged. Over the course of the hearings for the obstruction charges, all were dropped except the charges against Schmidt and two other defendants.

Schmidt provided a recent video update where he speaks about the bureaucratic mishaps that have him labeled as a Canadian “terrorist,” in the words of at least one law enforcement person involved in the court proceedings. The irony of this is that Michael is a firm advocate of peaceful resistance. The entire time Michael has stood up for his rights as a farmer and for the rights of consumers to procure the foods of their choice from the producer of their choice, he has done so with an emphasis on non-violence.

Just after he gave that update, Schmidt was back in court. During that court proceeding, after a particularly agitated exchange between the defendants and the judge, a spectator left the courtroom and said aloud that the court proceedings were not seeking the truth or justice. This led to the court police assaulting the man, giving him injuries that led to his being taken to the hospital where he was released after treatment later that day. Schmidt provided another video update about the incident. 

Being on the front lines in support of raw milk is excruciatingly difficult. The farmers who choose to feed their families and communities by providing raw milk—whether it is through a cow share, herd share, direct sales, coop, membership contracts or other means, often find themselves at odds with the regulatory agencies. This attack on farmers and others who provide the fresh dairy, puts huge levels of disruption and unnecessary stress on their lives affecting their families disproportionately. Clearly, food rights is a defining civil rights battle of this generation. It is incumbent upon us, as a broader food community, to make the effort to support those on the front lines.

You can support Michael Schmidt and the Glencolton Farm community here: https://www.gofundme.com/foodrights