A mink sniffs the air as he surveys the river beach in search of food, in a meadow near the village of Khatenchitsy, Belarus, northwest of Minsk, Sept. 4, 2015. A B.C. Supreme Court justice denied a request by mink farmers for interim relief that would allow them to breed the animals while their court case against the province proceeds. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Sergei Grits

A mink sniffs the air as he surveys the river beach in search of food, in a meadow near the village of Khatenchitsy, Belarus, northwest of Minsk, Sept. 4, 2015. A B.C. Supreme Court justice denied a request by mink farmers for interim relief that would allow them to breed the animals while their court case against the province proceeds. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Sergei Grits

B.C. court denies interim request by mink farmers ahead of their COVID-19 challenge

Judge rules province was acting in the public’s best interest in phasing out the farms

A British Columbia Supreme Court judge has denied a request by mink farmers for interim relief that would suspend a prohibition on breeding the animals while their legal petition against the province proceeds.

The Agriculture Ministry announced in November live mink would not be permitted on farms by April 2023 and the industry would be phased out two years later, citing concerns that farms would become a “reservoir” for COVID-19 infections.

The Canadian Mink Breeders Association and BC Mink Producers Association filed a judicial review in response, arguing the province chose to permanently shut down the industry without clearly understanding the health risks posed by mink farming.

They argued the government’s plan infringes on international and interprovincial trade, which are federal jurisdictions, and say the decision to phase out the industry was unreasonable.

Mink only breed in March, and the farmers claim in the interim petition that if they miss the opportunity and the court later agrees with their argument, they won’t be able to resume operations in 2023.

However, in the decision posted online Friday, Justice Carol J. Ross rejected the petition, saying that while there are serious questions to be answered, the province was acting in the public’s best interest in phasing out the farms.

Ross says in her ruling the farmers have demonstrated the ban would cause irreparable harm to the industry.

“Mink is the leading domesticated animal reservoir of the virus. While no variant of concern has occurred, that remains a possibility,” Ross says in her decision.

“I agree with the respondents that the pandemic requires proactive and speedy action by the government and that sometimes this will entail significant economic consequences. There is a risk of the evolution of a new variant of concern leading to a new wave of COVID-19 which could be a potentially catastrophic outcome.”

Joseph Williams, a third generation mink farmer and president of the BC Mink Producers Association, said in an interview Sunday the group is now focused on the judicial review, but even if the decision is overturned, the damage is irreversible.

“They’ve ruined generations of work. There is no phase out. No breeding means we’re out of business now,” he said.

“If we would have been allowed to breed, we could have recovered. We are now fighting for our right to farm and we will go from there.”

The Agriculture Ministry said in an emailed statement that it accepts the court’s ruling and maintains that its plan to phase out mink farms in the province was based on the advice of public health experts.

“The decision followed consultations, meetings and discussion with public health officials, animal health experts and mink producers about managing the threat of the virus,” the ministry said in the email.

It said it will “continue to reach out and work with mink farmers and employees to help them pursue other farming, business or job opportunities that support their families.”

The Health Ministry did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Williams said the association understands the concern around public health but said it does not agree with the decision to terminate the industry.

“We have serious concerns of how the government handled this,” he said. “They didn’t even look at COVID vaccine for mink.”

In November, Nova Scotia announced it was planning to vaccinate thousands of mink against COVID-19 as it increased funding for breeders, but British Columbia said more research was needed to determine if immunization is an option as it phases out its mink industry.

—Brieanna Charlebois, The Canadian Press

RELATED: BC plans to phase out mink farming industry by 2025

RELATED: Union of BC Indian Chiefs latest group to call for moratorium on B.C. mink farming

AgricultureCoronavirus

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