Charges dropped against hobby farmer

December 7, 2011 |

thislandBy Matthew Pearson, Ottawa Citizen December 6, 2011

The Ministry of Natural Resources says it intends to withdraw four charges against an Ontario hobby farmer accused of operating an illegal slaughterhouse and distributing uninspected meat.

Mark Tijssen was charged with running an unlicensed slaughterhouse, failing to have an animal inspected before and after slaughter, and distributing meat.

The charges arose after a friend left Tijssen’s property in November 2009 carrying about 40 pounds of pork from a pig they had slaughtered on his Carlsbad Springs farm. The pork was confiscated.

The case revolves around Ontario’s Food Quality and Safety Act. Under the law, that is intended to protect consumers from ingesting dangerous food, people are allowed to butcher an animal for personal use only.

Tijssen, a major in the Canadian Forces, says he has a right to slaughter an animal for private consumption without being subject to “a warrantless after-dark armed raid” and the prospect of a $100,000 fine.

On Monday, he arrived home to find a letter from the ministry, announcing that the charges against him will be withdrawn in an Ottawa courtroom this morning.

But what could seem like a cause for celebration really isn’t, Tijssen says, because an MNR investigator “violated” his family’s privacy.

Tijssen says the investigator conducted a multi-day stakeout of his home, garage and yard from the vantage point of a treehouse on a neighbouring property without the permission of a court.

The investigator also used nightvision binoculars and – of greatest concern to Tijssen and his supporters – took detailed notes about what his two children were wearing and doing on their own property. It’s unclear if the investigator took photos of the children.

“He crossed a big line there,” Tijssen said. “When we read (the investigator’s) log, it made the hair on our necks tingle reading about the children. The fact that he was doing day and night observation of my children out playing did not feel good.”

Tijssen is demanding that all records of his children and any others who visited the property be purged from government cameras, computers and hard drives. “They had no rights to have records on our children and they better set out to make sure it’s all destroyed,” he said.

The confiscated pork and other items have not been returned, but Tijssen said his concern over the evidence pertaining to the surveillance of children is of greater concern.

Calls to the Ministry of Natural Resources’ lawyer, Alan Ryan, were not returned Monday.

But, in a letter to Tijssen notifying him the charges would be withdrawn, Ryan wrote: “On behalf of the ministry, I wanted to apologize for the inconvenience that this proceeding has caused for you.” The letter does not explain why charges are being withdrawn.

“This is not a small inconvenience,” Tijssen said of the apology, noting the legal battle has lasted more than two years and cost him close to $10,000.

But it’s the lost time with his children, ages 17 and 10, that irks him most. “All the time that we’ve spent on this has been time that we will never get back with our young children and that’s the part the Ministry doesn’t factor in with the little, one line, ‘I wanted to apologize for the inconvenience.'”

He said he couldn’t possibly guess what the ministry has spent to prosecute him. “They’ve certainly spent an awful lot of money to then drop their charges.”

The Ministry may have realized its case was on shaky ground, Tijssen said, once it was clear he knew a search warrant would have been necessary in order to conduct surveillance from the treehouse, adding that he believes the ministry just wants to rid itself of the matter.

“They’re in deep (trouble) and they know they are at this point,” he said. “It’s dawned on them that maybe if they drop the charges, that might just avoid the problem.”

With the charges soon to be withdrawn, Tijssen won’t get his day in court to fight a law he says is unconstitutional – and that leaves him feeling conflicted about this latest development.

“In order to change this law that I’ve been persecuted under, I would have to make it to court and MNR has taken that opportunity away. They’re now safe. Other regulators are free to abuse that act and abuse that regulation because the writing in it is nebulous enough,” he said.

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