by SUSAN MANN
The Ontario Court of Appeal will now decide the status of raw milk crusader Michael Schmidt’s conviction last year for selling and distributing raw milk.
After a hearing in Toronto Thursday morning, Schmidt and his lawyer, Canadian Constitution Foundation litigation director Karen Selick, were granted leave to appeal his September 2011 conviction related to selling and distributing raw, unpasteurized milk. In November 2011, Schmidt was fined $9,150 and placed on probation for one year by Justice Peter Tetley.
Schmidt, 58, of Durham, was convicted of 13 of 19 original charges related to selling and distributing raw milk after the provincial government and the Grey Bruce Health Unit appealed a 2010 decision by Justice of the Peace Paul Kowarsky acquitting him of the 19 original charges. Schmidt made the unpasteurized milk available to people through a cow-share program where interested customers paid a fee for a share of the dairy herd. As partial owners, they also owned the milk and should therefore be legally entitled to consume it, a Canadian Constitution Foundation July 23 press release says.
Ontario law forbids the sale and distribution of raw milk but it’s legal to drink it. The foundation’s press release says 89 per cent of farm families drink unpasteurized milk from their own farms.
Selick says there are a lot of other people who are interested in the outcome of this matter, not just Schmidt and his 150 cow share members. “There are at least 10 other cow shares going on in Ontario that may have as many as 150 people in them” and 1,100 people who signed a petition.
Chris Munn, director of operations and policy development for the Grey Bruce Health Unit, says from their perspective Schmidt has to continue following an order issued by the health unit in 1994 telling him to not sell or distribute unpasteurized milk. Schmidt was convicted of breaching the Health Protection and Promotion Act and the Milk Act in 1994 and was fined $3,500 and put on probation for two years.
Munn says “unpasteurized milk is very well known to make people sick and that was dealt with in 1994 (during the court case) and they reviewed the whole system, looked at the science and evidence related to it.”
The view of public health authorities throughout the world is that pasteurization reduces the chance of illness because the process kills off the harmful organisms, he says.
Munn says they even recommend dairy farmers pasteurize their own milk. “The problem is it’s always contaminated,” he says.
But supporters of unpasteurized milk have said it has many health benefits and people should have the right to decide what they put in their own bodies.
Schmidt says the role of the higher court, the Ontario Court of Appeal, will be to help sort out the conflicting decisions from the lower courts. When the lower courts can’t come to a proper decision interpreting the provincial Milk Act and the Ontario Health Protection and Promotion Act, the “highest court in Ontario has a place to help with the interpretation and look at it from every angle,” he says.
The lower court decisions were based on the interpretation of the law; with one judge taking a liberal approach while the other took a narrow view. “How does anybody know then how to interpret the law when there is no case law?” he asks, noting this case has never been heard in the higher courts but it’s definitely in the public interest for the Appeal Court to hear it.
Schmidt says a date hasn’t been set yet for his hearing. But he’s pleased the matter is being forwarded to the Appeal Court. “It opens the door to a thorough review of the interpretation of the law,” he notes.
Brendan Crawley, senior media relations coordinator for the Ministry of the Attorney General, says they’re not going to comment on the matter.
Dairy Farmers of Ontario representatives couldn’t be reached for comment. BF