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Raw milk crusader awaits verdict

Michael Schmidt says even stay in 'crowbar hotel' won't stop his fight against pasteurization law

Megan Ogilvie
Health Reporter

Article from thestar.com

A weary Michael Schmidt will have to wait more than one month to hear whether he will be found in contempt of court for allegedly distributing unpasteurized milk in York Region.

But the defiant dairy farmer from Durham, whose three-day trial wrapped up yesterday in a Newmarket court, vowed nothing will stop the flow of raw milk to his cow-share members.

"If it's not favourable, and I end up in the `crowbar hotel,' it will continue," he said outside the courthouse. "There is no doubt in my mind."

Schmidt, who represented himself at trial, could face jail time if found in contempt. Justice R. Cary Boswell reserved his decision until mid-October.

The region filed the contempt charge against Schmidt for failing to obey a May 2007 court order that prohibited him from distributing raw milk within its borders. In Canada, it is illegal to sell raw milk, which health officials warn can contain dangerous pathogens, such as salmonella, E. coli and Listeria monocytogenes.

Boswell thanked both sides for their considerate conduct throughout the trial, which he said "had the potential to be inflammatory given some of the issues."

More than 50 of Schmidt's supporters – many sporting buttons emblazoned with the words "Raw Milk. Right to Choose" – packed the courtroom yesterday. Proponents of farm-fresh milk say it tastes better than pasteurized milk, is easier to digest and provides a raft of health benefits.

Schmidt, who runs a co-operative venture with some 150 cow-share members, claims he does not sell or distribute raw milk.

He says he simply provides the milk to the cow's owners, all of whom pay to board the cows at his farm. The prohibition of raw milk in Ontario does not apply to farmers.

Dan Kuzmyk, the lawyer for the region, argued yesterday in his closing summation that Schmidt's venture is a "veiled attempt to get around the law."

"The act of bringing milk on the Blue Bus to York Region and even giving it to cow-share holders" is prohibited by the terms in the order, he said. The "Blue Bus" is the location from which Schmidt allegedly distributes the raw milk.

Kuzmyk said the region's body of evidence – although circumstantial – clearly showed Schmidt openly defied the court order.

The region presented letters, allegedly written by Schmidt and posted on a website, news articles, including one published in the Star in May, and video surveillance of cow-share members carrying coolers that purportedly contained raw milk, as evidence.

"If it looks like a cow, if it walks like a cow, if it moos like a cow, then it is a cow," Kuzmyk said in his closing summation.

Schmidt, who decided yesterday not to call any witnesses to testify, argued the region did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he defied the court order.

"It was not even proven the subject milk was not pasteurized," he said in his closing summation.

The court heard in earlier testimony that the region did not execute a search warrant to seize milk from the Blue Bus.

Now that the trial is over, Schmidt said his first priority is to go back to being a farmer.

"It's a real priority to go back to the cows," he said. "I have been separated from them for a long time now because of preparing for this case."

Schmidt will be back in court in January to face 20 charges, laid by the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Grey-Bruce Health Unit after a 2006 raid on his farm.

The charges stem from his production, storage and distribution of raw milk.

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