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Know your rights and recourses!

Defamation, harassment, and intimidation have become issues for the agricultural community in recent years. This page was created to inform producers about the legal concepts associated with these issues and offer tools and ways to handle the various situations that may arise. Specifically, it deals with the notion of breaking and entering on private property and potential recourses under both civil and criminal law.

Defamation, harassment, and intimidation
Basic concepts
Recourses
What to do

What is defamation?

Generally speaking, defamation consists of the communication of statements or writings that cause someone to lose esteem or consideration or that arouse unfavourable or unpleasant feelings about someone else. Statements may be considered defamatory by virtue of what they express directly or what they insinuate, for example through the use of irony or the association of facts. The assessment of the defamatory nature of targeted statements is made according to an objective standard. Thus, the question must be asked whether an ordinary citizen would consider that the remarks made, taken as a whole, bring the reputation of the targeted person into disrepute. This means that not every critical or unfavourable comment will automatically be deemed defamatory: each case must be examined on its own merits.

 

What about harassment and intimidation?

The courts define harassment as vexatious conduct characterized by repeated actions, words, or behaviours that are intentionally offensive, contemptuous, or hostile toward a person or persons and that result in detrimental consequences for them..

Harassment is based on behaviour—in the general sense of the term—as opposed to defamation, which has to do with words.

The Dictionnaire de droit québécois et canadien defines intimidation as an offence in which one person—with the intent of illegally forcing another person to do or refrain from doing something—inflicts violence towards another person or their family, damages their property, persists in following them from place to place, or surrounds their home or workplace.
 

What about freedom of expression?

In Quebec, every person has the right to have his dignity, honour, and reputation safeguarded. These protections are enshrined in the Civil Code of Québec and the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms.

These rights must, however, be reconciled with the other rights that every person has, including freedom of expression. Thus, the right to freedom of expression must be exercised with respect for the right to protection of reputation, and vice versa. The role of the courts is therefore to strike a balance between these two rights and not to arbitrate matters of courtesy, politeness, or taste.

 

What purpose does a civil remedy have?

An action for defamation, harassment, or intimidation, may seek to condemn the perpetrator:

  • To cease the alleged acts and/or withdraw the defamatory statements;
  • To pay a sum of money in the form of compensatory damages and/or punitive damages;
  • To publish an apology.

 
What must be proven to win your case?

To be successful, the plaintiff must prove fault, damage, and the existence of a causal link between the fault and the alleged damage.

Fault

Fault arises from a behaviour that differs from the standard of behaviour that a reasonable person would adopt. It can, for example, be a malevolent action in which a person, acting consciously and in bad faith or with injurious intent, attacks the victim’s reputation. It may also be a behaviour by which someone damages another’s reputation through negligence, recklessness, or carelessness. Defamation may result if the author makes unfavourable remarks about a person knowing them to be false, or if he makes unfavourable but true remarks about a third party in a slanderous manner and without just cause. Communication of information, whether true or false, may be defamatory.

Damage

This is the harm suffered by the victim. It can be material (loss of income), moral (stress or anxiety), or bodily (physical injury). For a damage to exist, the statement must be deemed defamatory in the eyes of an ordinary citizen.

Causation

The victim must demonstrate a link (i.e., the cause-effect relationship) between the fault committed and the damage suffered.

 
 
Limitation period to file a lawsuit

Defamation
One year from the day you find out about the defamatory statement. However, this period is three months if the remarks are published in a newspaper.
Regardless of the amount claimed, it is not possible to sue before the Small Claims Division of the Court of Québec.
Before the Court of Québec if the amount at stake is less than $85,000.*
Before the Superior Court of Québec if the amount at stake is $85,000* or more*.

*These thresholds are subject to change.

Harassment or intimidation
Three years from the time of the offending behavior.
Before the Small Claims Division of the Court of Quebec if the amount at stake is $15,000* or less.
Before the Court of Quebec if the amount at stake is less than $85,000*.
Before the Superior Court, if the amount at stake is $85,000* or more.
 

How to deal with defamation, harassment, or intimidation?

If you are a victim of defamation, harassment, or intimidation, it is important to keep evidence of the harassment, defamatory statements, or intimidation that has been directed towards you. To this end, it is recommended that you keep a written record of the events. Write down the sequence of events so that you can remind yourself of them at a later time, for your testimony in court, for example. Also, take photos of the elements that may serve as evidence of damages.

You should also:

  • Contact your regional federation or your specialized federation to inform them of your situation and seek advice;
  • Consult a legal advisor to determine your best options.

Below we provide a non-exhaustive list of actions you may consider to stop the intimidation, defamation, or harassment prior to taking legal action, depending on the particulars of your case. Each situation is accompanied by an example drawn from case law to illustrate how the courts have dealt with a similar issue. Note that very few decisions exist on such matters in the agricultural field.

Defamatory statements on the Web and social media
  • Use the «Block» function to prevent the person from viewing your profile;
  • After taking screenshots of defamatory comments, report them to the moderators of the web page or social media platform (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.). The moderators may sometimes intervene by removing publications from their platform, or deleting the account of a holder who adopts the denounced conduct;
  • Customize your privacy settings to block certain people from accessing information about you;
  • Avoid responding to the authors of such statements. They may stop sending such messages if they fail to get a reaction;
  • Send a formal notice to the author of these comments to apologize or retract publicly with or without a claim for damages;
  • Contact your municipal police service and file a complaint if the comments may be considered violent or endanger your life or safety.
See case law
Defamatory statements on a sign
  • Contact your municipality to find out whether such a sign is permitted and complies with municipal by-laws. In the case of an infraction, the municipality may issue a fine and require the removal of the offending sign;
  • Send a formal notice to the author of the statement asking for a public apology or retraction, with or without a request for damages.
See case law
Defamatory statements in a newspaper or online media
  • Send a formal notice to the author of the statement to apologize or retract publicly with or without a claim for damages;
  • If the article was published in a newspaper, give the newspaper three days’ prior notice before taking legal action.If the newspaper publishes a full retraction in the issue published on the day or the day following the day of the receipt of notice and justifies its good faith, only the damages in compensation for the prejudice actually suffered may be claimed.Also note that the time limit for bringing an action is three months from the publication of the article or from the knowledge of the publication, provided that in the latter case the action is brought within one year from the day of publication of the article.
See case law

 

Breaking and entering

The following section outlines more specifically the rights and recourses of producers in the event of illegal entry into their farms by protesters or activists.

Civil law

Protestors or activists who illegally enter farms violate property rights.

The right to property is recognized by article 947 of the Civil Code of Québec and enshrined in the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms. Section 6 of the Charter stipulates that every person has a right to the peaceful enjoyment of his property.

The Charter also protects other rights that may be infringed upon when a producer suffers an intrusion on his property, namely the right to privacy and the inviolability of his home. Sections 5 and 7 of the Charter state that every person has a right to privacy and that the home is inviolable.

Criminal law
Breaking and entering

Protestors trespassing on a farm may also commit the offence of breaking and entering under section 348 of Canada’s Criminal Code.

The maximum penalty for breaking and entering a premise with intent to commit an offence or actually committing an offence is life imprisonment if the offence is committed in relation to a dwelling-house and 10 years imprisonment if the offence is committed in relation to any other premise. The court may also impose a fine.

While it is recommended that you keep your buildings locked at all times, the criminal offence can be committed whether or not the doors are locked.

 

Other criminal offences

In the context of a demonstration on a farm, the following offences may also be committed:

  • Breaking the peace;
  • Mischief (damaging or interfering with the legitimate use of property);
  • Participating in an unlawful assembly;
  • Concealing one’s identity during an unlawful gathering;
  • Disguising oneself with criminal intent;
  • Assault;
  • Carrying a weapon with dangerous intent;
  • Interfering with the work of a peace officer.

 

See case law

 

Recourses

In the event that protestors break into your farm and cause damage, civil and criminal recourses are possible.

Civil recourses

It is possible to bring a civil liability action against someone who has entered your property without your permission. As in cases of harassment, in order to win, you must prove fault, damage, and causation between the fault and the alleged damage. In this regard, refer to the previous section, What must be proven to win your case?

Such an action may be brought against a particular activist, against several activists, or against the association that represents the group, provided that the group has a separate legal personality. In the latter case, it is wise to make sure that the association has a legal existence in Canada and the funds to honour a judgment that would order it to pay a sum of money.

Recourses under the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms

When a Charter right is violated, money may be claimed for punitive or exemplary damages in addition to money for damage suffered. The damages may be awarded to a natural person or a corporation, such as a company.

Punitive or exemplary damages are sums that are awarded to the victim as reparations and whose primary objective is to punish the wrongful and reprehensible behaviour of the perpetrator. Their purpose is to prevent and deter undesirable behaviour.

Depending on the circumstances, a producer who suffers damage (material, psychological, or bodily) may claim sums not only for the damages suffered, but also for additional sums in the form of punitive or exemplary damages.

For such damages to be awarded by the court, the offence must be unlawful and intentional. In the case of breaking and entering by activists whose actions appear peaceful, the intent to cause damage may be difficult to prove.

A number of decisions have been rendered on this point, including the following:

See case law
Criminal and penal recourses

The judicial process for criminal matters is somewhat different from the civil process. With the exception of the extremely rare case of a private complaint (very exceptionally, a citizen may file a criminal complaint himself or herself), criminal and penal accusations are laid by a criminal and penal prosecutor. This prosecutor assesses whether the evidence collected is sufficient to lay charges, and it is up to this person to determine which charges, if any, are laid. If the prosecutor decides the evidence is insufficient, he may close the case or call for further investigation.

If the producer has reasonable grounds to fear that activists will reenter his property, endanger his life or the lives of his family, or damage his property, he may seek an order from the court that the persons concerned enter into a peace bond. Depending on the circumstances, this agreement may state that the concerned parties must refrain from disturbing the public order and conduct themselves properly, prohibit them from being within a certain radius of the producers’ property, prohibit them from communicating with or approaching the producer or the producer’s family, prohibit them from carrying weapons, and so on.

 

Activists on farms: How to handle them?

If activists come onto your property:

  • Calmly but firmly ask the spokesperson or leader of the group to leave your property, specifically by invoking the right to private property and biosecurity rules;
  • Call 911 to have the police service intervene if the activists refuse to comply, if they threaten your safety or that of your employees, or if they damage your property;
  • Call the UPA network at 1-888-285-4976;
  • Take photos and videos;
  • Take notes to remind yourself of the sequence of events.

If a protest is taking place on a public roadway in front of your property:

  • Call the police if the protest impairs traffic or endangers your safety or that of public roadway users;
  • Request that the police service monitor the situation on the scheduled date, if it is known.

 

Preventing cases of breaking and entering: what steps should a producer take?

  • Display signs stating that the property is private, that entering the property without permission is not allowed, and that biosecurity rules apply to your buildings and/or around your fields;
  • Install surveillance cameras (indoor and outdoor);
  • Restrict entries and lock buildings if possible;
  • Use a visitor log that includes a policy governing the presence of visitors in restricted areas;
  • Implement best practices and train your employees on animal welfare;
  • Ask job applicants why they want to work on your farm;
  • Add a clause to your employment contracts stating that employees may not take unauthorized photos or videos;
  • Check your employees’ references.

 

This guide is intended as a reference tool for farm and forestry producers regarding defamation and harassment in agriculture. It does not constitute an opinion, advice or legal advice. If you have questions, please contact the UPA’s Legal department by calling 450-679-0251.
 
L’Union des producteurs agricoles
Legal department
555 Boul. Roland-Therrien, Suite 100
Longueuil, Québec, J4H 3Y9

Email: bhlf@upa.qc.ca
Phone: 450-679-0251

Documents Activists on farms: how to handle them