The PEI Federation of Agriculture has obtained the support of its national cousin in its call for an industry-government working group to explore alternatives to court action when fish kills occur as a result of extreme weather events.
Executive Director Robert Godfrey said having the support of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture will allow the focus to be expanded and the hope is now to have a national working group. The Island group made the request during the recent CFA summer meetings held in Quebec City.
"This is not just an Island problem," the executive director said."While we tend to operate in more of a fish bowl given our size and the importance of agriculture to the provincial economy, going around the table it is fair to say there is a general level of distrust between the farming community and conservation investigators right across the country."The Island federation, together with the PEI Potato Board, issued the call after two high profile court cases. Early last month, Sky View Farms and owners Alex and Logan Docherty, were found not guilty of a charge under the Fisheries Act after a fish kill in Clyde River in 2016. The incident happened after a torrential rain that dumped over 70 millimeters of rain on the province in less than an hour.
Provincial Court Judge Nancy Orr ruled evidence collected by federal and provincial investigator was inadmissible since they did not have a search warrant. Late last year, Brookfield Gardens was fined $15,000 for a Fisheries Act infraction following a 2014 fish kill. The company was originally found not guilty by Judge Orr but the Supreme Court ordered a new trial.
Federation President David Mol issued a call following the Skyview Farms verdict for provincial and federal governments to work with industry to find alternative measures to court proceedings at a time when a changing climate is resulting in more and more extreme weather events that are out of the control of producers.
Godfrey said forcing farmers to face the possibility of six figure fines and large legal bills for something that is essentially out of their control is adding a good deal of stress to the farming community.
He noted federal officials especially have been "aggressive" in prosecuting farmers under the Fisheries Act. In the Skyview Farms case, he maintains the officials violated the Charter of Rights and Freedoms by going onto the property illegally. In the case of Brookfield Gardens, after the original not guilty verdict was handed down by the Provincial Court, a prosecutor was brought in from outside the province who recommended a fine in the range of $175,000.
Godfrey is hopeful having the national support will lead to a new willingness on behalf of the federal and all provincial jurisdictions across the country to work with industry to come up with a better way to deal with such extreme events.
He noted every indication from climate change experts points to the possibility that extreme weather events will become more common. The executive director said it is only by working together in a spirit of cooperation that a more realistic way forward can be found.