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Farmer cast as defiant in Newmarket, Ont. court raw milk case

Article from The Canadian Press

NEWMARKET, Ont. — A darkly-dressed Durham, Ont., farmer was cast as a law-breaking renegade at his contempt of court trial Wednesday, as lawyers alleged that he brazenly ignored a Superior Court of Justice order to stop distributing raw milk.

Contempt charges were sought by York Region officials, who were upset that Michael Schmidt was allegedly distributing unpasteurized milk in their jurisdiction, even after a May 2007 public health directive that demanded he stop.

While selling raw milk is illegal in Ontario, it's legal for people to drink the milk of cows they own.

As a result, Schmidt has sold part ownership in the animals - often called cow or milk shares - and he has argued he actually sells milking and distribution services, and not the milk itself, to people who otherwise would have no access to a cow.

Dressed in his signature black vest with his black cap by his side, Schmidt listened intently in court Wednesday as passages were read from at least nine letters that were taken from his farm's website.

Frequently addressed "Dear friends," one letter signed with his name said: "Civil disobedience has been left at times the only option to bring about change. Whatever happens, happens."

Another says: "We will not stop, the government has no business telling us what we will eat or drink."

When asked by a York Region lawyer about his impressions of the messages, a York Region public health director was frank.

"(Schmidt) would continue doing what he's doing and defy our order," said Joe La Marca, to a room packed with about 50 of the farmer's supporters.

Court also heard from a Toronto woman who owns a "milk share" in a brown cow named Anna, and said she gets a lot out of her investment, including raw milk.

"I can visit Anna, I can give her a hug if I wish," Shirley Ann Wood explained to court when asked about her rights as a cow-share owner.

"I've gone and I've helped clear her bedding and I also receive milk."

Rather than tackle the issue of whether he's selling the milk or not head on, Schmidt told court he believes his trial has not been launched in good faith.

"(It's) based on a strategy to intimidate and to bleed the defendant with additional legal actions and therefore obstruct due process in the related proceedings," said Schmidt, who is representing himself at the trial.

He said he believes York Region counsel is trying to wear him out financially before he heads to another trial in 2009.

That case relates to an armed police raid on his farm in November 2006, when health officials seized his milking equipment.

The first contempt trial is expected to last three days. York Region lawyers say they're looking for a fine or a jail sentence.

Outside court, Schmidt said he's well aware of the potential punishment and even welcomes it.

"If the simple act of providing milk to cow-share members can result in a jail term, so be it," he said.

"Then let's show it so that the public wakes up and ... the issue will be much wider discussed in the public."

Wearing buttons stating, "Freedom of Choice," Lois Banks of Richmond Hill, Ont., brought her daughter Emily to watch the proceedings.

"(Schmidt is) a very fine man and I don't want him to be alone going through this," she said.

"He's been providing me with milk from my own cow for 10, 12 years now and I'm healthy because of him."

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