after her flock of sheep
was hidden from government kill order
Adrian Humphreys | November 28, 2016 | Last Updated: Nov 29 10:23 PM
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NEWMARKET, Ont. — A six-year battle by a shepherd trying to protect her flock of rare sheep from government slaughter ended under an avalanche of more than 14,000 pages of paperwork Monday.
An Ontario Superior Court of Justice judge threw out charges against Linda “Montana” Jones, an eastern Ontario sheep breeder, and Michael Schmidt, a well-known agricultural scofflaw, blaming prosecutors and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) for its reluctant disclosure of massive amounts of government documents.
It brings to a close the strange yarn of a fugitive flock, secretly removed from Jones’ farm hours before the CFIA arrived to slaughter them.
It started in 2010 when a sheep in Alberta tested positive for scrapie (a degenerative disease similar to the “mad cow disease” that affects cattle). The CFIA said it came from Jones’ farm where she bred Shropshires, a rare breed that traces its lineage to the first sheep imported to Canada from England. Her farm was placed under quarantine and the CFIA moved to slaughter her flock as Jones fought to keep them.
On April 2, 2012, when CFIA officers and police arrived at her farm, 170 kilometres east of Toronto, with an order to destroy 31 sheep they learned the flock had gone missing during the night.
A handwritten note, hammered into a post near the barn’s door, said the “Farmers Peace Corp.” had taken the flock into “protective custody.”
After two months on the lam, the missing sheep were found on a farm near Chesley, Ont., a five hour drive from her farm. They were then slaughtered and tested by CFIA. None tested positive for scrapie.
Officials were always skeptical about Montana’s involvement and the government alleged it was an inside job — a conspiracy between her and Schmidt, along with Robert Pinnell, a motorcycle enthusiast who worked on Schmidt’s farm, and Suzanne Atkinson, an agricultural reporter with Ontario Farmer.
Last month, charges were dropped against Pinnell; in 2014, Atkinson pleaded guilty to unlawful transport of quarantined animals without a license. She admitted she was part of a group that planned the sheepnapping and housing the sheep that night at her dairy farm.
The Crown planned to use her testimony at trial.
The case, however, ground down over habitually slow disclosure by the Crown of a massive amount of paperwork. Prosecutors didn’t turn over the requested documents for years.