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BSE class actions seek merger into one

Lawyers behind the two remaining class-action suits pitting about 135,000 Canadian cattle producers against Ottawa over losses due to BSE will go to court in April to ask for one last merger.

Cameron Pallett, a Toronto lawyer for Ontario producer Bill Sauer, said Wednesday that counsel for cattleman Donald Berneche of St-Gabriel de Brandon, Que. will appear in Quebec Superior Court before Justice Richard Wagner in Montreal on April 19.

There they’ll ask that Berneche’s class action suit be folded into Sauer’s.

Berneche’s and Sauer’s suits were two of four co-ordinated actions filed against the federal government, feed maker Ridley Inc. and unnamed federal bureaucrats in April 2005. Suits filed by cattlemen in Alberta and Saskatchewan were stayed in 2008 and folded into Sauer’s suit in Ontario.

Ridley settled out of court in January last year, making no admission of liability or wrongdoing but paying $6 million that has since been rolled over to fund the remaining two actions.

The Quebec suit, with Berneche as the representative plaintiff for the “class” of all cattle producers in that province, was certified as a class action in 2007. The Ontario suit, with Niagara Falls-area producer Sauer as its representative plaintiff and all other cattle producers in Canada in its “class,” was certified last year.

Both suits claim negligence within the government led directly to the costly BSE-related closure of the U.S. border and other foreign ports to Canadian cattle and beef.

The lawsuits’ allegations against the government and individual bureaucrats have not yet been proven in court.

Sauer’s suit, as filed in 2005, had claimed $100,000 for every member of the “class” in “general damages… for pain, suffering and loss of enjoyment of life” as well as “aggravated damages” of $100,000 per class member.

Pallett said Wednesday that the Quebec suit had no specific issues that make it different from his client’s suit in Ontario, making it simple to fold into the Ontario action.

Information sessions

No trial date has yet been set for the Ontario suit, and Pallett in the meantime is urging that the government seek an independently-mediated settlement.

Pallett noted Wednesday that he and lawyers for the government got a court order in July last year that sees all action against Ridley “dismissed without cause.”

The order blocks Ottawa from trying to apportion any possible fault to Ridley, which regardless of Ridley’s settlement could have substantially cut the potential size of a possible federal payout.

(Ridley, when it settled last year, emphasized it “will continue to contest any allegation it was responsible for the plaintiffs’ damages.”)

Pallett said in March last year that cattle producers need help now and don’t want to drag their case for years through trials and appeals, he said. At that time he said he didn’t see a trial underway for four years at best, due to “procedural song-and-dance” that accompanies such cases.

A settlement in this suit would offer real economic impact across the country for all the talk of economic stimulus, he added.

While the legal process lumbers toward a possible trial, Pallett has been appearing at information meetings to update cattle producers on the suits’ status.

His next such appearance is scheduled for March 31 at Westerner Park in Red Deer, Alta., at the Stockmens Pavilion. That session is tentatively scheduled to start at noon.

About the author

Editor, Daily News

Dave Bedard

Editor of Daily News for the Glacier FarmMedia Network. A Saskatchewan transplant in Winnipeg.

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