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Ontario raw-milk advocate fined $9,150, given year probation

Dairy farmer Michael Schmidt pours raw milk for guests after announcing that the Ontario Court of Justice will not be releasing a verdict, due to computer problems, on a decision pertaining to his distribution of raw milk in Vaughn, Ont. on September 27, 2011.

Michelle Siu/ The Globe and Mail

Raw-milk crusader Michael Schmidt was handed a $9,150 fine and one year of probation Friday on convictions related to selling and distributing unpasteurized milk.

In an interview after the sentence was handed down in a packed Newmarket, Ont., courtroom, Mr. Schmidt said he would not be paying the fine.

"I'd rather go to prison than pay the fine and that's a matter of principle," he said. "If I pay the fine, then this is almost like an admittance of guilt."

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An appeal will be filed within the next 30 days, he said.

The raw-milk charges were laid in 2006 after a raid on Mr. Schmidt's farm near Durham, Ont., and he was acquitted in a lower court last year.

Justice Peter Tetley overturned 15 of those 19 acquittals in September after the Crown appealed.

The Health Protection and Promotion Act makes it illegal to sell unpasteurized milk in Canada because it's considered a health hazard. It is, however, legal to drink raw milk.

Since the raid in 2006, the farm northwest of Toronto has been converted to a co-operative run by 150 to 200 shareholders and is no longer owned by Mr. Schmidt. Dozens of his supporters packed the courtroom Friday, while others were outside.

"I don't own anything," the raw-milk advocate said, explaining he has no way of paying the fine and no seizable assets.

"I'm basically living on the grace of other people."

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Mr. Schmidt, 57, went on a hunger strike following Judge Tetley's decision in September. He ended it five weeks later after a meeting with Premier Dalton McGuinty.

The dairy farmer reported losing 50 pounds while living on a diet of water and lemon juice. He's managed to gain back five or 10 pounds, he said Friday.

In the September ruling, Judge Tetley rejected Mr. Schmidt's argument that his "cow share" operation – in which consumers of raw milk from the farm were also owners of the milk they drank – exempted him from the legislation.

But on Friday, Mr. Schmidt said, Judge Tetley applauded him for standing up for his cause, even comparing it to the fight for Sunday shopping that played out in the courts several years ago.

Still, the judge said the raw-milk case involves a regulatory offence and has nothing to do with Mr. Schmidt's character.

Mr. Schmidt has become a leading figure in North America for his raw-milk and food-rights advocacy.

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He has intervened in raw-milk cases in B.C. and Alberta, and developed a training and certification program for farmers, Cow Share Canada.

Mr. Schmidt faces contempt-of-court charges in Vancouver on Dec. 5, in connection with a cow share in Chilliwack, B.C.

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