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Mink farm shutdown caused by undue influence, lawsuit claims

COVID-19 was blamed when health authorities closed Fraser Valley farms in 2021
A mink stares out of its pen at a fur farm near St. Marys, Ont., Thursday, July 9, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Geoff Robins

British Columbia’s ban on mink farming in B.C. was done “under the guise” of health concerns during the COVID-19 pandemic, a lawsuit brought by Fraser Valley farmers alleges.

Three fur farms in Langley and Abbotsford are suing the provincial authorities over the 2021 shutdown of mink-farming operations in the province.

Dogwood Fur Farm and Williams Fur Farm, located in Aldergrove and Langley, and Engebretson Fur Farm, in Abbotsford, all launched lawsuits against a host of B.C. ministries and agencies on Nov. 3.

The lawsuits name 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 Williams and Dogwood lawsuits were launched by the same lawyers and use substantially the same language in their statements of claim against the government. Due to a court filing error, documents detailing the Engebretson lawsuit were not immediately available, but they were filed on the same day as the other actions.

The lawsuits claim 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,” says the Dogwood lawsuit.

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

In 2008, animal rights activists released about 6,000 mink from a Langley farm. Most were recaptured.

There have also been mink escapes from area farms, and it is not uncommon to see mink in rural areas of Langley and Abbotsford.

The Williams and Dogwood lawsuits recount the history of the COVID-19 pandemic and mink farms.

READ ALSO: B.C. Supreme Court sides with government’s precautionary decision to shut down mink fur farms

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It was discovered early in the pandemic that mink were uniquely vulnerable to COVID-19, with some fur farms suffering major losses when the virus jumped to the animals from 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 documents filed by Dogwood and Williams farms note that throughout 2021, however, the provincial authorities were consulting with local fur farms about how to handle the issue.

There was no discussion of a flat-out ban on the industry, the farms claim.

The ultimate decision to ban mink farming was announced to the farmers on Nov. 5, 2021, “without warning and without consulting with mink farmers,” the plaintiffs allege.

The shutdown banned any further breeding, and farms were required to have no live mink remaining on their farms by April 1, 2023, and pelts would have to be removed by April 1, 2025.

“British Columbia is the only Canadian province to have banned mink fur farming,” the claim alleges, while other provinces opted for vaccination programs for mink on their farms.

The lawsuit claims officials knew that risks of COVID-19 in mink “were low and could be mitigated through biosecurity and other measures that did not involve a ban on mink farming.”

After being denied a court application for a stay on the provincial decision, Dogwood and the other farms have since shut down and are decommissioning their operations.

The lawsuits claim unspecified damages based on the financial impact of the shutdowns, but also on emotional pain and suffering and loss of succession planning.

None of the claims in the lawsuits have been tested in court, and the government agencies being sued have not yet responded.

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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