Skip to main content

Fisheries Minister Gail Shea is hit with a pie while speaking in Burlington, Ont., on Monday, Jan. 25, 2010.

A Liberal MP thinks the federal government should investigate a U.S.-based animal rights group under Canada's anti-terrorism laws after a pie was pushed into the face of Fisheries Minister Gail Shea.

Gerry Byrne's outrage stems from an incident Monday in which Ms. Shea was hit in the face with a tofu cream pie as she was about to deliver a speech in Burlington, Ont.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has taken responsibility for the incident, saying it was part of a campaign "to stop the government's ill-advised sanction of the slaughter of seals."

In an interview with radio station VOCM in St. John's on Tuesday, Mr. Byrne said he thinks what happened should be reviewed under the legal definition of terrorism.

"When someone actually coaches or conducts criminal behaviour to impose a political agenda on each and every other citizen of Canada, that does seem to me to meet the test of a terrorist organization," said the MP from Newfoundland and Labrador.

"I am calling on the Government of Canada to actually investigate whether or not this organization, PETA, is acting as a terrorist organization under the test that exists under Canadian law."

It is not clear whether such a demand would have any traction under Canada's anti-terrorism laws although it is the focus of an ongoing freedom-of-speech debate in the United States.

The Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, signed by former president George W. Bush in 2006, gave officials stronger tools to deal with threats from animal rights activists.

It increased the penalties for intentionally damaging property, injuring a person or placing them in fear of being injured.

Officials at PETA were among the loudest critics of the new law, claiming that it was part of an attempt to manipulate people's fear of terrorism in an effort to stop the peaceful animal protection movement.

PETA dismissed Mr. Byrne's criticism on Tuesday.

"Mr. Byrne's reaction is a silly, chest-beating exercise," president Ingrid Newkirk said in an email to The Canadian Press.

"It is unlikely to impress anyone who has a heart for animals or who is bright enough to spot the difference between a bomb and a tofu cream pie."

Emily McCoy, 37, of New York, was taken into custody and charged with assault after the incident in Burlington.

Ms. McCoy was granted bail on Tuesday.

After the tofu cream pie was pushed into the minister's face, a woman started shouting as she was led away by officials.

"Shame on you Gail Shea. ... It is a shame on Canada. It is a shame that she has not denounced this bloody seal hunt," the woman yelled.

Ms. Shea, who represents a Prince Edward Island riding, didn't require medical attention and returned to the podium after wiping the pie from her face. She said afterward that the incident only strengthens her resolve to defend the hunt.

Politicians have often been targets for demonstrators wielding pies, some of whom went to jail.

Former prime minister Jean Chrétien was hit in the face with a pie by a protester in PEI in 2000. His attacker initially was given jail time but eventually received a conditional sentence.

A woman who missed Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach with a pie at the annual Calgary Stampede breakfast in 2007, and hit a security official instead, was sentenced to 30 days in jail.

So was a woman who threw a pie at Calgary Mayor Dave Bronconnier in the summer of 2007.

In 2003, a protester who hit then-Alberta premier Ralph Klein in the face with a pie at the Stampede breakfast was convicted of assault and ordered to serve a 30-day intermittent jail sentence.

Jean Charest got it in April 2003, two days before his Liberals ousted the Parti Quebecois and he was elected Quebec premier.