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Reporters will remain free to report on animal disease outbreaks: minister

The British Columbia government has no intention of restricting journalists from reporting on disease outbreaks on farms, said Agriculture Minister Don McRae.

Lana Popham, the NDP agriculture critic, told The Tyee the Animal Health Act the legislative assembly is considering appears to restrict people, including reporters, from identifying farms or farmers in relation to an animal disease.

"From what we can see it certainly leads to the conclusion that you guys could be fined or put in jail for talking to a farmer around a disease outbreak," she said. "You're not allowed to communicate about a disease outbreak anymore."

Section 16 of the act says, in part, "a person must refuse ... to disclose... information that would reveal that a notifiable or reportable disease is or may be present in a specific place or on or in a specific vehicle."

Popham said it is unclear from the wording who is meant by "a person." Other sections specify that they refer to people who are administering the act or who are responsible for an animal.

Indeed, when asked about the section, McRae said, "Who's 'the person'? You've got me here."

After hearing an explanation of Popham's concern about restrictions on reporters, he suggested the reading of the bill is alarmist and said, "I can't see that being a part of it."

"I don't know how that would stop, because we live in Canada, we have a constitution, charter of rights and freedoms, so there's nothing that would be stopping you from asking questions," he said. "I don't think that would be the intent of the bill, nor do I think it's possible. We don't live in that kind of a country."

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee's Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Find him on Twitter or reach him here.

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