Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Inspectors' orders illegal

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The raid, food seizure and fining of a southern Manitoba family farm's charcuterie operation by a provincial department raises issues about how artisanal-craft production should be regulated. Encouraging innovative ways for small producers like Harborside Farms to get specialty meat products to market must be weighed against ensuring cured pork and beef products are safe for human consumption.

The Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives Department and small farmers and processors should move to negotiate satisfactory food-safety regulations to avoid future raid-and-seizure episodes.

However, not negotiable is how the pair of agricultural inspectors who conducted the raid dealt with a class of visiting University of Manitoba environment students. The inspectors' conduct was illegal and smacked of petty tyranny.

The officials demanded the university students who witnessed the raid produce identification. They had no right to do so. The inspectors also demanded the students delete smartphone video images of the farm and raid they'd captured. Again, they had no lawful right to do so.

The provincial inspectors tried to scare the students into thinking they had to comply with their demands or they'd be breaking some law. But even police don't have the right to make these kinds of demands.

There's no law in Canada that prohibits taking photos or recording videos either in a public place or (and more so) on private business premises such as Harborside Farms, where done, as here, apparently with the permission of the owner. Nor is there any law that prevents the public from taking photos or recording video of police, or any government official, performing their duties on private premises.

The only exception is where the recording or photographing morphs into the Criminal Code offence of active obstruction of police in the execution of their duties. But it's settled law that simply recording or photographing police doesn't constitute obstruction.

And finally, there's no law that empowers police to demand identification of witnesses, demand they unlock smartphones or demand they delete recorded images.

The provincial agricultural inspectors behaved as if clothed with legal authority beyond that available even to peace officers.

Ensuring food safety is the inspectors' job. However, policing the public isn't.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 11, 2013 A8

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