After 23 years of unsuccessfully chasing down raw milk farmer Michael Schmidt via raids and court trials, the Ontario government seems finally to have settled on its version of the “nuclear” option: Its minions are seeking an injunction against the sale and purchase of raw milk, an action that could well have the effect of criminalizing all distribution and even consumption.
The injunction seems likely to be invoked by an Ontario judge next week after arguments next Monday and Tuesday, predicts Schmidt. The effects of the injunction will be immediately chilling, he explains, because implementation of the injunction will come with a proviso that Schmidt and the 150 members of his coop pay all legal and court costs associated with the government demand for the injunction, a cost that Schmidt has no illusions about: “I can guarantee you it is in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.”
There’s an excellent summary of the current case at The Bovine.
Its conclusion: “If the courts grant the motions, all forms of raw milk processing, distribution, advocacy, or support will be criminalized. Farmers and others involved in production and distribution would face criminal charges. For the first time, criminal charges would extend to parents and other advocates even if they are not involved in raw milk production.”
As Schmidt puts it: “Mothers can be criminally charged when they pick up the milk.”
The major unknown: What will Schmidt and his coop members do if these dire predictions come to pass? Schmidt isn’t tipping his or the coop’s hand quite yet, but he notes this would be the biggest crisis yet faced by the farmer and members over 23 years of show trials, raids, and other tactics designed to make Schmidt and his raw milk followers go away. “Everyone can be arrested. They can take the property and the farm.” This, even though the coop members own the farm, and are merely consuming the milk from their own cows.
The government is counting on the threat of huge fines and possible jail time for those who violate an injunction, says Schmidt. “The government has become very smart. They don’t need brown shirts and boots. They have this regulatory scheme where they can pull one person at a time out of the bus. “
But Canadian raw milk drinkers have confounded the regulators several times in the past, most recently in 2015, when a group spontaneously organized at Schmidt’s farm and blocked a government truck from removing milk and equipment from the farm.
“I cannot predict what the next step will be this time.” But Schmidt notes that the coop and its supporters have the upper hand if they decide to act in concert. “If enough people have an uprising, what are they going to do?”
Lots of people have racked their brains trying to figure out why the Canadian ruling class is so persistent in attempting to put Schmidt out of business, and criminalize raw milk. The stated government worry is safety, yet Schmidt has never been associated with a single illness over the last 23 years, or even the hint of a customer complaint.
As guilty of over-reach as American food regulators have sometimes been with raw dairy, it’s difficult to imagine them staying with a case that has brought 23 years of terribly negative publicity and humiliation in the direction of Canadian food regulators. I’ve told Schmidt a number of times I was certain that if he survived some particular legal attack, surely the Ontario regulators would decide the entire persecution wasn’t worth the the huge expenditure of time and energy. Yet each time he has rebuffed them, they have shown up again with some other scheme designed to derail raw milk in Ontario. There just is no rational explanation for what has happened there.
The only thing I have been able to come up with is that Canada’s processed milk industry has such attractive government support and subsidies that it continues to pressure the regulators to prevent Schmidt or anyone else from threatening the existing gravy train.
Schmidt needs all the support he can get. You can join him and coop members at the courthouse outside Toronto for the injunction proceedings next Monday and Tuesday. You can also contribute to his legal costs at this fundraising site.