Raw milk challenge brings contempt conviction

Two men found guilty of civil contempt for distributing unpasteurized milk from a Chilliwack farm will go to jail if they do it again.

Raw milk labeled 'Not for human consumption.'

Two men found guilty of civil contempt for distributing unpasteurized milk from a Chilliwack farm will go to jail if they do it again, a B.C. Supreme Court justice ruled last week.

Michael Schmidt and Gordon Watson were both handed three-month suspended sentences for defying an earlier court order prohibiting the distribution of raw milk from the Prairie Central Road farm.

They had argued that because the milk was being offered as a “cosmetic,” and labeled “not for human consumption,” the court order prohibiting the distribution did not apply.

However, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Randall Wong, said there was little doubt what the two men were up to.

Said Wong in his ruling released Thursday: “In this case, distributing raw milk as a purported cosmetic product was patent lip service and ruse to distribute raw milk for human consumption.”

The case stems from an earlier injunction granted to Fraser Health to shut down a so-called “cow share” program initially run by Alice Jongerden. Called “Home on the Range,” the operation paid its shareholders dividends in the form of raw milk and raw milk products.

In 2010, Fraser Health sought and received a permanent injunction against Jongerden, arguing she had breached the Public Health Act by packaging raw milk for distribution. Under the Public Health Act, milk that has not been processed by a licenced dairy is considered a health hazard.

Despite the injunction, a year later both Schmidt and Watson had assumed operation of the farm and continued distribution of the raw milk.

Under a “new business model,” however, the products were labeled cosmetic and given names like “Cleopatra’s Enzymatic Alpine Lotion.”

Fraser Health was not impressed. In August of 2011 it received a warrant to search the property. Nothing was seized during the Aug. 25 search, but Fraser Health Authority spokesman Roy Thorpe-Dorward said at the time that photographs of the farm on Prairie Central Road were being reviewed to determine if a permanent court injunction issued earlier against distribution of raw milk was being obeyed by the current farm owner.

Fraser Health concluded it wasn’t, and argued both Schmidt and Watson were in contempt.

Justice Wong agreed. “I conclude that the evidence overwhelmingly establishes that both respondents, Michael Schmidt and Gordon Watson, are guilty of contempt of court beyond a reasonable doubt.”

The two were given a three-month suspended sentence, and one-year probation.

“Any repetition of this contempt during the probationary period will trigger the imposed sentence imprisonment of three months,” Wong added.

The two were also ordered to pay court costs.