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Renegade dairy farmer takes on role as lawyer, defending himself

Article from The Canadian Press

NEWMARKET, Ont. — A renegade dairy farmer played the role of a lawyer Monday at the start of his trial for selling raw, unpasteurized milk and suggested his rights have been violated.

Spectators crowded into a small courtroom to hear details of an orchestrated, armed raid by about two dozen officers and government officials on a Durham, Ont., farm in 2006.

The Crown said it will disclose evidence of a clandestine, undercover investigation into the illegal sale of dangerous substances stored on the farm, sometimes on clear display in open sight.

The illicit products, which spawned 20 charges against farm owner Michael Schmidt, were raw milk, as well as cream, cheese and other items made with it.

Schmidt, who is defending himself, was defiant in countering Crown suggestions that raw milk is considered too dangerous for consumption and said he's defending everyone's right to drink it.

He drank a big gulp of raw milk from a mason jar in court during a recess.

In his opening statement, Schmidt said the core issue was not milk but the "respect to (which) the individual's freedom has been lost or wilfully ignored."

While raw milk is legal to drink it's illegal to sell in Canada. Schmidt has been charged in connection with selling it to about 150 customers.

In light of the law, Schmidt established a so-called cow share program in which customers pay to have partial ownership of a cow and are then given some of its milk.

Raw milk has been proven safe over generations, despite Health Canada's warnings, Schmidt says, adding he's against conventional thinking that food "will kill us unless we process it to death."

Schmidt's first legal manoeuvre in court Monday was unsuccessful. He challenged the admissibility of evidence collected during the raid on his farm based on an error with the search warrant.

But he appeared confident while cross examining Crown witnesses with a folksy, informal charm and drew giggles from the courtroom when referring to himself in the third person.

He also launched some successful objections during Crown questioning of witnesses.

Although things didn't go entirely his way on the first day of his trial, Schmidt said he was emboldened that he'll have grounds for appeal if he's found guilty.

He also gave notice that he plans to file a Charter challenge based on police actions and violations of his right to liberty.

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