Agrassroots movement of cattle producers is pressing for an out-of-court settlement to a class-action lawsuit against Ottawa for damages stemming from BSE.
Producers across Canada are petitioning the federal government to appoint retired Supreme Court judge Frank Lacobucci to mediate the settlement.
Organizers are currently circulating petitions across Canada for producers to sign and forward to members of Parliament.
They say they want a mediated settlement instead of having to wait years for their case to wend its way through the courts.
“We’re just hoping that the government will do the right thing,” said Gail Kasprick, the contact person for the petition in Manitoba.
The legal action launched by Canadian cattle producers in April 2005 alleges Ottawa was negligent in allowing BSE to
“We’re just hoping that the government will do the right thing.”
– GAIL KASPRICK
contaminate livestock feed in the 1990s, leading to its appearance in an Alberta cow on May 20, 2003.
The discovery of the disease immediately closed international borders to Canadian live cattle and beef and caused domestic livestock prices to collapse.
Producers say their industry has never fully recovered, despite the gradual reopening of markets and some price improvement.
Their action represents Ontario cattle producers, as well as producers in all other provinces except Quebec, where a separate case was certified as a class action in June 2007.
An Ontario court in February 2009 denied the federal government leave to appeal the action’s certification, clearing the way for it to go to trial.
Producers are claiming general, punitive and unspecified damages for losses running into the billions of dollars. It is believed to be one of the largest class actions in Canadian legal history.
But Cameron Pallett, a lawyer acting for the producers, has warned the case could take up to 10 years to reach a final resolution.
For that reason, producers, who have suffered BSE fallout for seven years, want to settle now, said Kasprick, who runs a cow-calf operation with her husband Murray near Neepawa.
“When we found out how long this was going to take, it’s like, we’ve lost so many producers already. If this carries on for another 10 years, what’s left?”
Kasprick said BSE has affected her own operation “big time,” especially plans for the future.
“It was pretty much the deciding factor whether our sons would go into the cattle business or not. And they’ve both decided not,” she said.
“You hope things are going to get better. But then there comes a point where you start to give up. A lot of our neighbours have given up.”
Kasprick said the plan is to send individual petitions to as many MPs as possible by the end of June. Petitions require at least 25 to 30 signatures for approval by the House of Commons petitions clerk.
Kasprick said she has sent petitions to Manitoba livestock auction markets and is waiting for responses.
The petition quotes a House of Commons agriculture committee report in April 2004 saying BSE “eliminated any chance for profitability in 2003, with little prospects for recovery in the immediate and foreseeable future.”
It also notes the federal government settled previous class actions about Hepatitis C and residential schools, adding, “The cattle farmers of Canada need help now.”