CWB single-desk supporters file for new class action

The farmers who sought and got a court ruling declaring the federal government’s deregulation of the Canadian Wheat Board “an affront to the rule of law” have now formally filed for a class action to roll back the government’s plans.

Friends of the Canadian Wheat Board (FCWB) on Wednesday announced it has launched a new action in Federal Court in Ottawa seeking to “restore the Canadian Wheat Board and recover damages farmers have suffered as a result of Ottawa’s tampering with western grain marketing.”

The group’s Winnipeg lawyer Anders Bruun will act as co-counsel with lawyers from Toronto- and Ottawa-based Sack Goldblatt Mitchell (SGM) to bring the new action against the federal government.

While other court cases already in the works seek either to undo the federal government’s Bill C-18 or to require the government to compensate farmers for the end of the CWB’s single marketing desk for Prairie wheat and barley, the FCWB said its action will place “new and significant constitutional arguments in front of the courts.”

“Our primary objective is to restore democratic farmer control of the Wheat Board and the right of producers to collectively market their grain,” Steven Shrybman, an SGM lawyer in Ottawa, said in FCWB’s release. “We are also seeking compensation from the government for damages it has caused to the interests of producers.”

The four representative plaintiffs for the proposed class action include farmers Harold Bell of Fort St. John, B.C.; Andrew Dennis of Brookdale, Man.; Nathan Macklin of DeBolt, Alta.; and Ian McCreary, a former CWB director at Bladworth, Sask.

Their statement of claim seeks a declaration that C-18 is “of no force and effect” as an infringement of farmers’ Charter rights; a stay or suspension of C-18’s implementation; a declaration that Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz infringed on farmers’ Charter rights by not holding a producer vote in advance of introducing C-18; and $3.75 billion in damages from “a diminishment of the fair market value of the (CWB’s) assets and good will.”

Alternately, the action would seek $17.062 billion in damages from diminishment of those assets, loss in profits to producers, and “conversion of assets, funds and revenues including the (CWB’s) contingency fund” that “should have subsequently been transferred to the (CWB’s) 2011-12 pool accounts but were not” after C-18’s passage.

“Damages already done”

The suit alleges “misfeasance in public office” and “breach of trust” and that Ritz’s failure to comply with the Canadian Wheat Board Act and put the government’s plans to a producer vote was “deliberate and in bad faith.”

From a constitutional perspective, the suit also claims C-18 was an “interference with producers’ rights to freedom of association” and “rights to freedom of expression” under the federal Charter of Rights and Freedoms, as well as “unlawful interference with (farmers’) economic relations.”

“SGM has a successful track record on similar cases so we feel confident that we will ultimately reverse Ottawa’s unlawful actions and we expect our members will receive substantial compensation for the damages already done,” Dennis said in FCWB’s release.

Lined up to support the FCWB and its four representative plaintiffs are the eight farmer-elected CWB directors who the federal government fired after the passage of Bill C-18 into law; the Producer Car Shippers of Canada; the Canadian Wheat Board Alliance; the National Farmers’ Union; and “various civil society groups.”

“Rejecting (C-18) is about more than the Canadian Wheat Board, it is about due process and the rule of law itself and that affects everyone in Canada,” Bruun said in the same release.

The proposed “class” for the suit filed Wednesday would include “all grain producers, or their estates, who sold grain through the Canadian Wheat Board on or after Jan, 1, 2006, and who were entitled to be included in the voters’ list in respect of the election of directors of the Canadian Wheat Board at any time since that date.”

The FCWB’s previous court action earned a declaration from a Federal Court judge in Winnipeg in December that Ritz’s actions in introducing C-18 were an “affront to the rule of law,” but Judge Douglas Campbell’s declaration didn’t include a ruling on the validity of C-18 itself.

Among other legal actions taken since then, the eight fired CWB directors have filed in Manitoba’s Court of Queen’s Bench for a separate order to invalidate C-18.

The federal government, for its part, plans to appeal Campbell’s ruling — while the eight former directors are seeking separately to quash Ottawa’s appeal, on the grounds that the government can’t ignore and appeal Campbell’s ruling at the same time.

In a separate class-action suit proposed last month, Woodrow, Sask. farmer Duane Filson, working with Regina class-action lawyer Tony Merchant, said he and a proposed “class” of Prairie farmers would seek damages of $15.42 billion from Ottawa, alleging the CWB’s assets “cannot simply be subsumed by the federal government.”

Merchant has said Filson’s proposed suit “does not challenge whether or not dismantling the CWB is a good idea.”

Related stories:

Class-action suit next step for pro-CWB groups, Jan. 12, 2012
Proposed farmers’ suit seeks claim on CWB’s assets, Jan. 9, 2012
CWB directors seek court order blocking C-18, Dec. 14, 2011
Federal judge rips Ritz’s plans for CWB reform, Dec. 7, 2011

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