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Supreme Court Upholds Wheat Board Gag Order

“We think there’s an important principle of farmer control at stake.”

– LARRY HILL, CWB

The Canadian Wheat Board has lost its final effort to overturn a federally imposed gag order on promoting its sales monopoly.

The Supreme Court of Canada has refused to hear a CWB appeal against a lower court ruling to leave the ban in place.

The board accepts the decision, but is disappointed with the outcome, said chairman Larry Hill.

“Certainly we’re disappointed that we cannot proceed with the appeal because we do think there’s an important principle of farmer control at stake,” Hill said.

The legal battle goes back to October 2006 when the Harper government ordered the board not to spend money, directly or indirectly, on advocating for the retention of its monopoly sales powers for wheat and barley exports and domest ic sales for human consumption.

The order also banned the board from paying outsiders to advocate for retaining the monopoly.

A Federal Court of Canada ruling in June 2008 overturned the government’s directive. But the Federal Court of Appeal reinstated it in June 2009.

The Supreme Court gave no reasons for deciding not to hear a final appeal. It ordered the wheat board to pay legal costs to the government. Hill said the decision won’t make a huge difference, since the wheat board did not advocate a lot for its central desk before the 2006 order and during the 12 months it was temporarily lifted.

But it will mean the board will have to run public statements by its lawyers to ensure they comply with the government’s directive, he said. Hill called it ironic that the board cannot speak out in favour of its own marketing powers, while the federal government

can advocate against it. “I think it’s important that farmers get both sides of the information here. It would certainly be better if the restriction wasn’t in place.”

Federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz welcomed the Supreme Court decision and criticized the CWB for its legal actions against the gag order.

“This government has always maintained that the CWB should stick to its mandate of marketing grain, not spending farmers money on lobbying for their own political purposes,” said Ritz in an email message. “The decision to dismiss with costs proves the wheat board wasted farmers’ money to bring forward a frivolous court action.”

Meanwhile, in a separate case, a Federal Court judge reserved his decision on whether Ritz illegally removed the names of thousands of farmers from the voters list before the CWBs 2008 elections.

Justice James Russell said he would deliver his decision as soon as possible.

A coalition called Friends of the Canadian Wheat Board filed a lawsuit against the governments actions in September 2008. The group alleges that two months before the 2008 CWB farmer director elections, Ritz sent a confidential letter to the boards CEO ordering him to delete, without their knowledge, the names of all permit holders who had not delivered grain within the previous 18 months.

In a statement following the Jan. 20 hearing in Winnipeg, the group called Ritz’s action an ill-advised attempt to remove permit holders from the voters list whom he believed were supporters of the CWB’s single-desk marketing authority.

The Friends of the Canadian Wheat Board previously sued the Harper government in 2007 over a federal order-in-council to remove the marketing of barley from the CWB’s mandate. A court ruling in favour of the group was later upheld on appeal. [email protected]

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