Montana Jones and Michael Schmidt

The Canadian Shropshire sheep case against Michael Schmidt and Montana Jones–ongoing in one form or another for the last five years–has had more weird twists and turns than the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s 11-year campaign against raw milk cheese. Except the Canadian campaign against Michael Schmidt and Montana Jones seems designed to not only deplete the farmers’ legal funds, but to get them jailed for many years. The farmers have launched a fund-raising campaign on Indiegogo, and Karen Selick, the litigation director of the Canadian Constitutional Foundation, wrote the explanation for the campaign, which is reprinted below. 

by Karen Selick

We need help raising a legal defence fund for Montana Jones and Michael Schmidt, two Ontario farmers charged with defying the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA). We have to be careful what we say here, because the government recently asked for (and got) a publication ban on this case.

Montana and Michael started out as my clients, but for reasons I’ll explain later, I can’t represent them in court on this case.  Nevertheless, I admire their courage and their principles. I think they have been treated unjustly by the CFIA, and I want to keep them out of jail.

Back in 2010, the CFIA issued an order  quarantining Montana’s farm. They suspected her sheep had a disease called scrapie, because a single sheep that she had sold almost 3 years earlier had reportedly died with scrapie more than 3,500 kilometers away.

They did live biopsies on Montana’s flock. All were negative for scrapie.

But the CFIA said that wasn’t good enough. The sheep would have to be killed, and their brains examined. . .  in order to find out whether they were healthy.

Does that make sense to you?

It didn’t make sense to me or Montana.  Even if her sheep had genuinely been exposed to scrapie (which is questionable), none of them had any clinical signs of the disease or tested positive on the biopsies. So wouldn’t the CFIA want to know what Montana was doing RIGHT in order to raise healthy sheep in the face of a possible infection? Wouldn’t it make more sense to keep those sheep alive and study them?

These were, after all, a rare breed, and killing so many of them would threaten the breed’s survival in Canada. The CFIA scientists themselves had published a scientific paper warning against reducing genetic diversity among the nation’s sheep.

I sent letter after letter to the CFIA on Montana’s behalf, proposing alternatives that would let her continue her breeding program but still let the CFIA monitor her flock for disease. Thousands of people signed a petition to prevent the slaughter of the sheep.  The CFIA wouldn’t change their minds.

On the day before the CFIA were coming to slaughter the sheep, someone removed them surreptitiously from the farm, leaving a note in the barn. It said that the sheep had been taken into “protective custody” until it was proven that they were really infected.

The CFIA mounted a huge search for the sheep. We heard that they did a barn-to-barn search of the surrounding area, and sent helicopters out to search for flocks of sheep from the air. Eventually, they found the flock about 8 weeks later, 300 km away.  The CFIA killed all the recovered sheep, and examined their brains. All tested negative for scrapie, just as Montana had predicted they would.

Now four people have been charged with criminal offences. One person has pleaded guilty.  The other three, including Montana Jones and Michael Schmidt, are awaiting a jury trial.  Their charges were laid in December, 2012, but the case is still at the preliminary hearing stage.  No trial date has been set yet.

Michael is a celebrity in the Real Food movement because of decades of activism aimed at legalizing the sale of raw milk.  It’s reported that the CFIA desperately wants to put Michael in jail.

The Canadian Constitution Foundation and lawyer Shawn Buckley are defending Montana and Michael, but it’s going to be expensive. The prosecution, with their huge resources (your tax dollars), are trying to exhaust our resources.

We need to raise $50,000 immediately to carry on with the court procedure called the “preliminary inquiry”.  The “prelim” started in February, 2015 then continued in April, and is scheduled to resume again on August 10. Our goal for this campaign is $50,000, although we’ll need more later for the trial.

The prosecution has wasted our resources (deliberately, we suspect) by bringing one long motion after another.  One of their motions was to force me (Karen Selick) off the case, alleging I had a conflict of interest because I represented both Montana and Michael. The prosecutors have now subpoenaed me as a witness (yes, against my own clients) as a technique for keeping me off the case.

They also brought a lengthy motion to force Shawn Buckley off the case, but fortunately the judge ruled that Shawn could carry on.  Then there was the publication ban motion—another long court procedure that used up the defence’s resources and hampered our ability to inform the public about government actions.

The CFIA clearly wants to put Montana and Michael in jail. When the CFIA investigator first raided Michael Schmidt’s farm in August, 2012, he crowed to Michael, “Your travelling days are over, Mr. Schmidt.”  The prosecutor once told me that he intends for them to go to a federal penitentiary, which means a minimum sentence of two years. In fact, with the number of charges facing each of them, they could conceivably end up in jail for a decade or more.

Please help keep these ethical farmers out of jail.  Please donate, then share this page with anyone who cares about healthy natural food, preserving biodiversity, freedom from rampant bureaucracy, freedom of the press, and justice in Canada’s courts.

The Canadian Constitution Foundation—”freedom’s defence team”—is a registered charity in both Canada and the US. If you donate at least $25, you’ll get a receipt that you can use to claim a deduction on your income tax return.

Thank you from all of us.