Farm Practice: Steps in Complaints Process

Under the Farm Practices Protection (Right to Farm) Act (FPPA) BCFIRB may hear complaints from persons aggrieved by odour, noise, dust or other disturbances arising from farm operations.

Click here for visual Farm Practices Complaint Process Flow Chart

Disputes or disagreements between neighbours can arise for many different reasons, such as misunderstandings or conflicting expectations. Disagreements may start with issues unrelated to farm practices.

While any person aggrieved by a farm practice – someone bothered by dust, noise, odour or other disturbance – can file a complaint with BCFIRB under the Farm Practices Protection (Right to Farm) Act. BCFIRB encourages you to try to resolve your disagreement informally with your neighbour before filing.

Cooperatively resolving a dispute with your neighbour can be challenging, but in the long run often leads to better relationships and better results. 

Some considerations include:

  • What is your concern with respect to the farm practice (is it disturbance, health, environment or something else)?
  • Have you spoken with your neighbour about your concern?
  • What have you and your neighbour done together to try to resolve the concern?
  • Have you considered bringing in a neutral party to assist with your discussions?
  • Have you contacted the local industry association/commodity board?  For example, the B.C. Blueberry Council employs a Liaison Officer to help resolve disputes.
  • Have you contacted your local Ministry of Agriculture office and/or local government? Experienced staff can often lend their expertise to help resolve the concern in a timely fashion.

Review summaries of previous BCFIRB decisions related to specific types of complaints.

If your attempts to resolve your dispute are unsuccessful, you can file a formal complaint with BCFIRB regarding dust, odour, noise or other disturbance.

At any time during the complaint process, on its own initiative or at the request of a party, BCFIRB may require the parties to participate in a mandatory facilitated settlement to explore the potential for resolving one or more issues in dispute settlement of all or part of the complaint.

Note that BCFIRB cannot make decisions on issues related to environment or health.

Who Can File a Complaint?

If you are aggrieved by odour, noise, dust or other disturbance resulting from a farm operation conducted as part of a farm business as defined by the Farm Practices Protection (Right to Farm) Act, you can file a complaint with BCFIRB.

The BCFIRB decision Feehan v Ferguson (page 11) discusses what it means to be aggrieved.

If you are unsure of whether your complaint means you are aggrieved, contact BCFIRB.

What is a Farm Business?

A farm business is one in which one or more farm operations are conducted, and includes a farm education or farm research institution if the institution conducts one or more farm operations.

What is a Farm Operation?

A farm operation can include the following activities:

  • Growing or raising plants (including in greenhouses) and animals (including certain types of exotics)
  • Clearing, draining, irrigating or cultivating land
  • Using farm machinery, equipment, devices, materials and structures
  • Applying fertilizers, manure, pesticides and biological control agents (including ground and air spraying)
  • Cultivating specialty wood or fibre crops
  • Producing turf
  • Carrying on an aquaculture operation
  • Raising or keeping game
  • Raising or keeping fur-bearing animals
  • Processing or direct farm marketing.

A farm operation does not include an activity (other than grazing or hay cutting) if it

  • Is a forest practice as defined in the Forest and Range Practices Act
  • Breeds pets or operates a kennel
  • Grows, produces, raises or keeps exotic animals, except types of exotic animals prescribed by the Minister of Agriculture.

For example, see the BCFIRB dismissal decision Hodge v Eben (PDF), which discusses the meaning of farm business and farm operation.

If you are unsure if your complaint relates to a farm operation as part of a farm business, contact BCFIRB.

How to File a Complaint

To file a complaint, complete the application form and submit by mail or courier, along with a non-refundable $100 filing fee payable by cheque or money order to the Ministry of Finance.

The notice of complaint must be in writing and must contain

  • A statement (with as much detail as possible) of the nature of the complaint,
  • The name and address of the person making the application,
  • The name and address of the farmer, and
  • The location of the farm.

There is no time limit on filing a complaint. However, it is usually better to do so as soon as possible after you identify a disturbance.

A complaint may be refused by BCFIRB if

  • The subject matter is trivial,
  • The application is frivolous or vexatious or is not made in good faith, or
  • The person making the complaint does not have sufficient personal interest in the subject of the complaint (for example, they cannot smell the odours from where they live).

For example, see the BCFIRB decision Ofiesh, Elving & Knapp v Beckwith Farms (PDF; September 2, 2011).

BCFIRB cannot accept multi-party complaints (one Notice of Complaint submitted by several people). Each person must submit a separate Notice of Complaint.

For example, see the BCFIRB decision Miller v Panoramic Farms - Multi-Party Ruling Preliminary Decision (PDF; January 8, 2009).

What Happens When a Complaint is Filed?

The complaint process is governed by BCFIRB’s Rules of Practice and Procedure for Complaints under the FPPA (PDF).

The purpose of these Practices and Procedures is to encourage fair, clear, consistent and efficient practice concerning complaints.

BCFIRB strongly recommends you review these practices and procedures, as they outline your responsibilities and will help you navigate the complaint process. If you are involved in a complaint, you must proceed on the basis that these practices and procedures apply unless BCFIRB directs otherwise.

In most respects, these practices and procedures reflect practices adopted by BCFIRB over many years, and are consistent with the approach of various tribunals.

BCFIRB has the right to generally add to, amend, or repeal any or all of these practices and procedures at any time, or to make any other procedural order it considers necessary.

Approved methods in which parties are to deliver documents to BCFIRB is outlined in the following practice directive:

Steps in the Complaint Process

At any time during the complaint process, on its own initiative or at the request of a party, BCFIRB may require the parties to participate in a mandatory facilitated settlement to explore the potential for resolving one or more issues in dispute settlement of all or part of the complaint.

Once a complaint is filed, you will proceed through several steps. The BCFIRB Case Manager will help you throughout the complaint process:

  1. Written Notice of Complaint: When a completed Notice of Complaint and filing fee is received, BCFIRB opens an active complaint file. A letter will be sent to both the complainant (person filing the complaint) and the farm acknowledging receipt of the complaint. Included with the letter will be a copy of the Practices and Procedures for Complaints, which outlines the processes and procedures to be followed in the complaint process. BCFIRB will provide the farm with a copy of the Notice of Complaint.
  2. Case Management Conference Call: A case management conference call will be scheduled with the complainant, farmer and BCFIRB staff. The call has two main purposes:
    • To clarify the issue(s) of the complaint and the position of the farmer.
    • To discuss possible settlement of the complaint with the assistance of a “knowledgeable person.”
  3. Knowledgeable Person: At no expense to either party, BCFIRB may engage a knowledgeable person to assist in the complaint process. The knowledgeable person could be an agrologist or other person with relevant technical experience. The knowledgeable person will provide a report to BCFIRB.
  4. Site Visit: The knowledgeable person, along with a BCFIRB staff or board member, may conduct a site visit of both properties to assess the farm practices in question in a site-specific context.
  5. Potential Settlement: If both parties agree, the knowledgeable person’s report can be used to assist the parties in reaching a settlement of the complaint (for example, the report may make recommendations for one or both of the parties to mitigate the disturbance).
  6. Referral to Formal Hearing: If a settlement agreement cannot be reached, the Chair will decide whether to refer the matter to a panel of BCFIRB members or, after giving the complainant an opportunity to be heard, dismiss the complaint. A complaint can be dismissed summarily (without a hearing) if it is trivial, frivolous, vexatious, or not in good faith, or if the person making the complaint does not have sufficient personal interest in the subject of the complaint.
  7. Pre-hearing Conference Call: If the complaint is referred to a hearing, a pre-hearing conference call will be scheduled with the complainant, respondent, BCFIRB staff and BCFIRB member assigned to the complaint. The purpose of the pre-hearing conference call will be to:
    • Confirm the issues on the complaint that will be heard in the hearing
    • Set a date and location for the hearing
    • Set timelines for document and witness exchanges
    • Deal with any preliminary matters that need to be addressed before the hearing
  8. Formal Hearing: At a formal hearing, the complainant and the respondent farm will present their evidence and arguments to a panel of BCFIRB members.
  9. Decision: After the hearing, the BCFIRB panel will provide a copy of its written decision on whether the practices are “normal farm practices” to all parties. The decision will also be posted on the BCFIRB web site.

Note that BCFIRB cannot make decisions on issues related to environment or health.

If you are unable to reach a settlement, the BCFIRB Chair will establish a panel of BCFIRB members to hear the complaint in a formal hearing.

What Happens at a Formal Hearing?

Hearings are held at a date, time, and location that are agreed to by the complainant (the person filing the complaint) and the farmer.

A BCFIRB hearing is not as formal as a court process, and you do not need to be experienced in formal hearings to participate. However, the BCFIRB panel will follow certain practices and procedures to ensure a fair and well-organized hearing. While it is up to the panel to decide precisely what procedures to follow, they will generally consist of the following steps:

Introductory Comments by the Panel Chair

The Chair will introduce the panel members, and ask the parties to do the same. The Chair will outline the matters under complaint, as identified in the Notice of Complaint and agreed to in the Pre-Hearing Conference, and the statutory authority under which BCFIRB hears the complaint.

Opening Statements

The complainant (the person who filed the complaint) will be given a chance to make a brief opening statement describing their complaint to the panel and outlining the remedy sought from BCFIRB. The farmer will then be given a chance to make a similar opening statement. This is optional and the parties may choose not to present opening statements.

Presentation of Evidence

The complainant and the farmer, in turn, present evidence (including calling witnesses). Witnesses are sworn or affirmed by the Chair. Following the testimony of each witness, the opposing party may cross examine, followed by questions from the panel. The party calling the witness will then be given an opportunity to ask questions arising from the cross examination, or arising from the panel’s questions.

Closing

Following the presentation of evidence, the complainant and farmer present their closing arguments and again outline the remedies they are seeking from BCFIRB. The panel Chair will end the hearing.

The Decision

The panel will not usually render a decision on whether the complainant is aggrieved or the practices are normal farm practices at the hearing. The panel will meet privately after the hearing to discuss the case and prepare a written decision. The length of time it takes to prepare and issue a written decision will vary depending on the length and complexity of the case and other factors affecting the availability of panel members.

At any time before a panel decision is issued, the complainant and the farmer can settle their issues informally. However, if a BCFIRB decision is released before a settlement is reached, the decision is binding on the parties.

What Are the Alternatives to a Formal Hearing?

Once a complaint is filed, you may apply to have BCFIRB conduct an informal dispute resolution process to explore the potential for settlement of all or part of a complaint. Section 4 of the Farm Practices Protection (Right to Farm) Act provides for a settlement process to resolve complaints.

It is up to the people involved to decide whether to engage in a settlement process and, with BCFIRB staff support, what that settlement process will be. A formal hearing always remains an option unless the complaint is withdrawn.

At any time during the complaint process, on its own initiative or at the request of a party, BCFIRB may require the parties to participate in a mandatory facilitated settlement to explore the potential for resolving one or more issues in dispute settlement of all or part of the complaint.

Depending on the circumstances, BCFIRB staff may

  • Connect parties with appropriate experts
  • Facilitate communication between parties, including other officials (for example, local government, Ministry of Agriculture)
  • Draft a settlement agreement
  • Provide a mediator

User Satisfaction Survey

Your experience matters!  At the BC Farm Industry Review Board (BCFIRB) we are constantly trying to improve our service and would like to hear your feedback on how we performed.

Starting March 1, 2017, BCFIRB is conducting ongoing user experience surveys of persons involved in its appeals and complaints processes. Surveys will be sent to appellants, complainants, respondents, legal counsel, and interveners involved in a hearing under one of BCFIRB’s three mandates:  

  1. farm practices complaints heard under the Farm Practices Protection Act
  2. appeals of animal seizure or cost decisions of the BC Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (BCSPCA) under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act (PCAA), or,
  3. appeals of decisions made by the regulated agricultural commodity boards and

Individual responses will be confidential and anonymous and will not be shared with BCFIRB members. Information or reports generated or published from survey responses will present data in aggregate form only, protecting individual confidentiality and anonymity. The information will only be used to identify, evaluate and implement client service and business process improvements within BCFIRB.

After hearing the evidence and arguments from the person who filed the complaint and farmer, a panel of BCFIRB members will make a decision as to whether the complainant is aggrieved and whether the farm practices are normal farm practices.

In making its decision, the panel may consider:

  • The balance between farmers and their neighbours as has been established by the Farm Practices Protection (Right to Farm) Act itself. Where a farmer is carrying out a practice in a manner consistent with proper and accepted customs and standards as established by similar farm businesses under similar circumstances, the complaint must be dismissed.
  • Farm operations do not automatically gain protection by showing that they follow some abstract definition of industry standards. BCFIRB’s task is not to inquire simply into whether the farm practice is “proper” in the abstract, but also whether it is consistent with proper and accepted customs as established and followed by similar farm businesses under similar circumstances. The inquiry is both fact and site-specific. The same practice may qualify as a normal farm practice in one situation, but not in another where the circumstances are different.
  • Depending on the practice subject to the complaint, many relevant factors may be considered in determining normal farm practice, including proximity of the neighbours, use of land and the degree of disturbance. It may also be relevant whether the farm business/farm operation predates the neighbours.

These considerations arise from previous BCFIRB decisions and  Pyke v. TRI GRO Enterprises Ltd. (Ontario Court of Appeal) (PDF)

In their decision, the BCFIRB panel will decide to

  • Dismiss the complaint if the panel is of the opinion that the disturbance results from a normal farm practice,
  • Order the farmer to modify (change) a practice to be consistent with normal farm practice, or
  • Order the farmer to cease (stop) a practice that is not a normal farm practice.

The BCFIRB panel will provide its decision in writing. The decision will include a statement of the complaint, findings based on the evidence, the positions of the parties and the panel's findings whether the complainant is aggrieved, normal farm practices and any necessary orders (directions).

The decision is issued to all parties and interveners and will be posted on BCFIRB’s web site.

BCFIRB’s decisions only apply to the complaint heard.

BCFIRB complaint decisions can only be appealed on a question of law or jurisdiction, within 60 days of the decision, to the B.C. Supreme Court.

BCFIRB processes and procedures can be reviewed by the B.C. Office of the Ombudsperson, providing an additional layer of accountability.

As of March 31, 2007, a certified copy of a BCFIRB order (decision) can be filed with the B.C. Supreme Court to enforce the order.