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Appeal court upholds “marketing freedom” law

Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz didn’t break the law by introducing legislation last fall to end the Canadian Wheat Board’s monopoly on the sale of Prairie wheat and barley, the Federal Court of Appeal ruled Monday.

“We are pleased with this decision,” Ritz said in an email. “The Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act is in force and farmers are moving forward and contracting their wheat and barley with buyers of their choice for delivery beginning Aug. 1, 2012.”

Federal Court Justice Douglas Campbell in December had agreed with the Friends of the Canadian Wheat Board (FCWB) that Ritz breached section 47.1 of the Canadian Wheat Board Act.

Campbell had ruled Ritz was in breach when he introduced the controversial legislation without first consulting with the wheat board’s directors and then getting farmers’ approval through a vote.

However, Federal Appeal Court Justice Robert M. Mainville, writing on behalf of his two colleagues, overturned the lower court ruling.

“After carefully considering the legislative history and the context in which section 47.1 was adopted, I am of the view that none of the arguments advanced by the respondents or the interveners can sustain an interpretation that would preclude the minister from introducing in Parliament legislation which would fundamentally modify the CWB’s mandate or which would lead to the repeal of the CWB Act,” Mainville wrote in a 47-page decision.

FCWB chair Stewart Wells said in a statement it will study the ruling before deciding whether to seek leave to appeal to the Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, the FCWB said it will continue its constitutional and class action lawsuit to retain the wheat board’s single desk and in its absence, seek $17 billion in compensation for Western grain farmers.

A pro-deregulation group, the Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association, predicted Tuesday that the Mainville ruling will impact other pending cases as well.

The Campbell decision, the group said, had “formed the basis on which eight former directors attempted to overturn the legislation in the Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench… This latest Appeal Court ruling suggests any appeal of the Manitoba (Queen’s Bench) decision would be futile.”

Mainville’s ruling, according to the Wheat Growers, “also throws cold water on a proposed class action that contemplates using the ‘freedom of association’ argument under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to overturn the Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act.”

— Allan Dawson is a reporter for the Manitoba Co-operator at Miami, Man. Watch for further details in the June 28 edition of the Co-operator.

Related stories:
Federal judge rips Ritz’s plans for CWB reform, Dec. 7, 2011
Man. court rejects ex-CWB directors’ bid to halt C-18, Feb. 24, 2012
Feds’ appeal of CWB ruling gets court date, May 2, 2012

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