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Raw milk crusader returns to court to fight charges stemming from 2006 raid

Article from The Canadian Press

TORONTO — Ontario's infamous raw milk crusader Michael Schmidt says he knows the old expression that anyone who represents themselves in court has a fool for a client.

Still, when he returns to court Monday to face criminal charges related to an armed police raid on his farm in 2006, he won't have a lawyer at his side.

But he's confident and feels completely prepared to argue that people should have the right to drink and enjoy raw, unpasteurized milk - even if the government thinks the drink is hazardous to your health.

"When it comes to our own body and what we put in our body as food, the government should respect what people want to do," he said in an interview.

"A lawyer doesn't milk the cow, a lawyer doesn't drink the milk, a lawyer very often only makes the arguments without understanding what is really behind the whole thing."

For years Schmidt has been selling raw milk from his Durham, Ont., farm through a so-called "cow share" program, in which customers buy a share in one of his cows, rather than the milk itself.

His customers over the years - he has a stable of about 150 with a waiting list around 70 long - have included high-end chefs and former provincial finance minister Greg Sorbara, who spoke out about the benefits of drinking raw milk.

But the sale of raw milk is banned across the country and Health Canada says it's dangerous to drink because it could contain bacteria such as salmonella, E. coli and listeria.

An undercover investigation targeted Schmidt's farm in November 2006 and he was subsequently charged with 20 offences after a raid by more than two-dozen police officers on his property.

"This was definitely a concerted effort from the highest level to take us down," said Schmidt, who questioned why the authorities needed to blitz his farm over charges like operating a milk plant without a licence.

"Why would you come in on the farm with 25 armed officers?"

Schmidt became a cause celebre in the international raw milk community after his arrest and was profiled by the highly-respected Harper's magazine.

He'll be in court Monday to face the charges in connection with the raid but it won't be the first time he defended himself in court.

He was also before a judge in September on contempt of court charges for allegedly violating a court order and continuing to distribute raw milk.

He was found guilty and fined $5,000, in addition to $50,000 for court costs - which he says he has no intentions of paying.

Schmidt says he doesn't consider himself to a be a martyr for the cause but will continue to fight the government's attack on raw milk.

"They don't want to make martyr out of me either but at the same time the way a government proceeds on this issue, it's clear that they want to make an example of somebody, saying that you better not rock the system," he said.

"The government is trying to regulate every aspect of our lives and I think people are waking up to that and saying no, it stops here."

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