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Proposed CWB class-action lawsuit takes another turn

Farmers were in court last week fighting Ottawa’s attempts to kill the legal action

A proposed class-action lawsuit against the federal government and G3 alleging farmers’ money helped privatize the Canadian Wheat Board (CWB) continues to slowly make its way through the courts.

A year ago the Friends of the Canadian Wheat Board, which supports the proposed lawsuit, was jubilant. On May 28, 2018 Master Shayne Berthaudin of the Manitoba Court of Queens Bench in Winnipeg ruled against the government’s attempt to walk away from the proposed class action, which claims more than $145 million in damages are owed to the farmers who delivered wheat and barley to the CWB in the 2010-11 and 2011-12 crop years, along with $10 million in punitive damages.

But the current Liberal government appealed so the farmers were making their case again May 28, 2019 before Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Chris Martin.

“It seems never ending,” Friends of the Canadian Wheat Board chair Stewart Wells, who farms at Swift Current, Sask., said in an interview May 28. “That is why the court system is so frustrating.”

A ruling is expected in a month or two, Wells said. If Justice Martin upholds the earlier ruling, farmers can then move to certify the class-action lawsuit, he added.

If it goes the other way the farmers will likely appeal, “but I am just speculating now,” Wells said.

Before getting elected in 2015 the Liberal party said it would render a full accounting of the Harper government’s winding down of the CWB, Wells said. That didn’t happen and instead the Liberal government is trying to block farmers’ efforts.

“When we started this in February of 2012 we were prepared for a lengthy process,” Wells said. “Now it could’ve all been ended if the Liberal government wouldn’t have continued the coverup started by the Harper government. So we find ourselves still trying to get to the truth of what happened in 2010, 2011 and 2012 and get cash back to the farmers that they were deprived of during the transition process.”

The suit alleges the federal government used $7 million of money owed to farmers through the CWB’s pool accounts and $100 million more from the CWB’s contingency fund, plus interest.

The allegations have not been tested in court.

Ottawa ended the CWB almost seven years ago. To those rolling their eyes over the suit, Wells says the issue goes beyond the money to an important principle.

“It’s about treating people, in this case farmers, fairly,” he said. “Some of those same people… would be mortified if somebody stole $5 from them… well this is a little different because these injustices have been delivered by… the federal government. It’s just not appropriate to walk away and turn a blind eye when you see governments doing something inappropriate.”

The government used farmer money to make the CWB more attractive to its next proprietor, which turned out to be G3, which is a joint venture of U.S. agribusiness Bunge and Saudi Agricultural and Livestock Investment Co. (SALIC), which is owned by the Saudi government.

“If people want to roll their eyes they should think about $150 million to $200 million being handed over to the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia,” Wells said.

About the author

Reporter

Allan Dawson is a reporter with the Manitoba Co-operator based near Miami, Man. Covering agriculture since 1980, Dawson has spent most of his career with the Co-operator except for several years with Farmers’ Independent Weekly and before that a Morden-Winkler area radio station.

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