‘Keep out of my fridge’

An Ottawa man is fighting for the right to slaughter and process meat for his friends

'Keep out of my fridge'
David Gonczol/Ottawa Citizen

Four squad cars squealed into Mark Tijssen’s yard with their lights blazing, just after dark on a cold November night last year. Tijssen, who was having dinner with his nine-year-old son at the time, politely showed the officers around his Ottawa property before being charged with several crimes under the Ontario Food Quality and Safety Act (OFQSA), including killing uninspected animals and distributing meat without a licence. It was all because he had slaughtered a pig and given a friend some of the meat. “I didn’t set out to be an activist or a revolutionary—I grew up on a farm,” says Tijssen, 48, a Canadian Forces major. “There was no need for this.”

Tijssen is now fighting the Ontario government for the right to slaughter and process meat for his friends and neighbours (the law allows him to process it for personal use), a practice he claims was legal before the OFQSA was quietly brought into force in 2005. His trial begins Feb. 14, and could result in $100,000 in penalties. He had the chance to settle the case for a $1,000 fine, but refused.

Tijssen, who has a degree in biomedical toxicology and plans to represent himself, says his Charter rights to equality, security of the person, and protection from illegal search and seizure are being violated, and that the government is unfairly targeting hobbyists and small-scale farmers with regulations meant for industrial operations. “Government agencies really enjoy the Bush doctrine of shock and awe,” says Michael Schmidt, a farmer and supporter of Tijssen’s, who beat 19 charges of distributing raw milk last January. “It’s a disaster. You’re killing the small butcher shop. You’re killing this culture.”

The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs declined to comment, but Kevin Allen, a food microbiologist with UBC, says the government’s regulations are required to guarantee food safety. “When you look at commercial production you have a lot of critical control points that are undergoing constant verification,” he says. “There’s no verification system for individuals. There’s nothing to ensure there aren’t environmental pathogens getting into the meat.”

Tijssen says the industrial process mixes meat from thousands of animals, and that one sick cow or pig is enough to contaminate massive amounts of meat, leading to disasters like the 2008 listeriosis outbreak, which resulted in 22 deaths. He says his home operation is far more sterile then any commercial plant, and questions why farmers are being hounded while hunters can give away their meat without any regulation, despite the fact that wasting disease, the deer-borne equivalent of mad cow, is becoming increasingly common in Canada. “The ministers set out regulations that let some overzealous game wardens go out and start thumping people,” he says. “Let us look after ourselves. Keep out of my fridge.”