VANCOUVER — A B.C. Supreme Court judge has denied a request for interim relief from mink farmers that would suspend the ban on raising the animals while their legal claim against the province progresses.
The Department of Agriculture announced in November that live mink would not be allowed on farms by April 2023 and the industry would be phased out two years later, citing concerns that farms would become a ” reservoir” for COVID-19 infections.
The Canadian Mink Breeders Association and BC Mink Producers Association filed for judicial review in response, arguing that the province chose to permanently shut down the industry without a clear understanding of the health risks posed by mink farming.
They argued the government’s plan impinged on international and interprovincial trade, which fall under federal jurisdiction, and said the decision to phase out the industry was unreasonable.
Mink don’t breed until March, and the farmers say in the interim petition that if they miss the chance and the court later accepts their argument, they won’t be able to resume operations in 2023.
However, in the decision posted online Friday, Judge Carol J. Ross denied the motion, saying that while there are serious questions that need to be answered, the province was acting in the public interest by phasing out the farms.
Ross says in his ruling that the farmers have demonstrated that the ban would cause irreparable harm to the industry.
“Mink are the primary domestic animal reservoir of the virus. Although no variants of concern have occurred, it remains a possibility,” Ross states in his decision.
“I agree with respondents that the pandemic requires proactive and rapid action by the government and that this will sometimes lead to significant economic consequences. There is a risk of an evolution of a new variant of concern leading to a new wave of COVID-19 which could be a potentially catastrophic outcome.”
Joseph Williams, a third-generation mink farmer and president of the BC Mink Producers Association, said in an interview Sunday that the group is now focused on judicial review, but even if the ruling is overturned, the damage is irreversible.
“They’ve ruined generations of work. There’s no phasing out. No breeding means we’re bankrupt now,” he said.
“If we had been allowed to reproduce, we could have recovered. We are now fighting for our right to farm and we will go from there.”
The Department of Agriculture said in an emailed statement that it accepts the court’s decision and maintains that its plan to phase out mink farms in the province is based on advice from public health experts. .
“The decision follows consultations, meetings and discussions with public health officials, animal health experts and mink producers on managing the threat of the virus,” the ministry said in the email.
He said he will “continue to reach out and work with mink farmers and employees to help them pursue other farming, business or employment opportunities that support their families.”
The Health Ministry did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Williams said the association understands the public health concerns, but said she disagreed with the decision to shut down the industry.
“We have serious concerns about how the government has handled this,” he said. “They haven’t even looked at the COVID mink vaccine.”
In November, Nova Scotia announced it planned to vaccinate thousands of mink against COVID-19 as it increased funding for breeders, but British Columbia said more research was needed to determine whether vaccination is an option as it phases out its mink industry.
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on April 10, 2022.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of Meta and the Canadian Press News Fellowship.