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Fraser Valley fur farmers lose lawsuit against B.C. over mink ban

Claims against province for fur farm ban struck by judge
Mink look out from a pen at a farm near Naestved, Denmark on Friday Nov. 6, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mads Claus Rasmussen/Ritzau Scanpix via AP

Ruling that they were “bound to fail” a B.C. judge struck down lawsuits launched by Fraser Valley mink farmers who saw their industry banned during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Justice Amy Francis agreed with the provincial government that the lawsuits would have to be “struck in their entirety,” in a May 7 ruling in B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver.

In 2021, during the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the province essentially banned fur farming in B.C., putting in place a gradual shutdown for existing farms over a multi-year period.

Mink were known to be uniquely vulnerable to COVID-19. The disease had spread through fur farms in other parts of the world, and even jumped from mink to human workers.

There were concerns that mink could serve as a reservoir for the virus where it might mutate into new strains, which could in turn infect humans again.

In 2020, Denmark culled 17 million mink after outbreaks at more than 200 farms in that country.

The lawsuits, launched in November 2023 by the owners of five former mink farms located in Langley, Abbotsford, and Chilliwack, named the Ministry of Agriculture, the Ministry of Health, Agriculture Minister Lana Popham, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, and B.C. chief veterinarian Rayna Gunvaldsen.

The fur farmers claimed that the health authorities were not acting on the basis of science and expert advice, “but rather were influenced and/or pressured by others” to shut down the operations.

The closures were “for political, social and public opinion reasons,” said one lawsuit.

The legal claims did not say who allegedly influenced the decisions, but animal rights groups have long decried mink farming.

READ MORE: Mink farm shutdown caused by ‘undue influence,’ lawsuit claims

One of the claims against the government was for “misfeasance in office,” alleging that the fur farming ban by the provincial cabinet was done for improper “political, social, or public opinion reasons.”

The government officials were acting outside of their legislative powers, the farmers claimed.

However, Justice Francis found that the claim was wrong both in terms of existing legislation, and in presuming that a government can’t pass legislation for political purposes.

She pointed out that fur farms operated under an exemption from the Wildlife Act, which makes it illegal to possess mink without a permit. The shutdown of fur farming essentially removed that exemption.

Francis pointed to a similar case from 2023 over the end of the grizzly bear hunt in B.C., which was also struck down by the courts for the same reason.

The farmers claimed that the order in council that began the mink farm shutdown was “constructive taking” by provincial authorities, which is when a government improperly acquires private property for its own benefit.

They argued that the benefit to the province acquired by shutting down the fur farms was the purported preservation and protection of public health, the purported protection of animal health and welfare, and to satisfy public opinion on animal health and welfare.

Justice Francis noted that if the farmers’ arguments were to prevail, “it would signal a radical change in the law of constructive taking.”

Any infringement on property rights, whether based on policy or politics, even where the government received no benefit from the property, would become a “constructive taking,” Francis wrote.

“The claim of constructive taking is fundamentally flawed and cannot be saved by amendment,” Francis wrote.

Both claims were struck against all the defendants.

Matthew Claxton

About the Author: Matthew Claxton

Raised in Langley, as a journalist today I focus on local politics, crime and homelessness.
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