Winnipeg Free Press Tuesday, 8 December 2020
Fight goes on for Friends of the Canadian Wheat Board
A RULING last week in the Manitoba Court of Appeal has kept the legal hopes alive for the group called Friends of the Canadian Wheat Board, in what has now been almost a decade-long battle to hold the Government of Canada to account for the dismantling of the wheat board.
Five years ago the group lost its chance to appeal in a legal action against the actual act of ending the wheat board, which was sold to a private- sector company, that includes investments from a Saudi Arabian entity, in 2015. But the FCWB continued to pursue a more specific claim that during the 2011-2012 pool period the CWB mismanaged about $150 million that should have been paid into a contingency fund to producers.
The former Conservative government of Stephen Harper wound down the wheat board in a controversial move in 2011.
“Thanks to the decision of the Manitoba Court of Appeal, we can continue our legal process which calls for the repatriation of $150 million to farmers that were marketing wheat and barley through the CWB in 2010/11 and 2011/12,” said Stewart Wells, chairman of FCWB.
The unanimous decision last week overturned a previous decision by the Court of Queen’s Bench in May 2019 that had thrown out the action “on the basis that it does not disclose a reasonable cause of action.”
Anders Bruun, one of the lawyers who has represented the FCWB for many years, said, “The basic impression that most people form of it when they look at the fact is that our claim is a very fair and reasonable one. You don’t need to be a lawyer to reach that conclusion.”
The matter has taken some time to work its way to this point, at least partly because it began in the Federal Court of Canada, which does not have jurisdiction over private businesses.
Bruun said they moved the matter to the Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench because they risked arguing the case in a court that does not have jurisdiction.
“We are now four years into that process,” said Bruun.
Class-action cases like this one can take 10 years or more to conclude.
Bruun said the Government of Canada now has a limited amount of time to appeal to the Supreme Court.
He said they will wait for a statement of defence and in the meantime they have filed a motion to have the action certified as a class action.
He said the FCWB “absolutely have the staying power” but the matter is far from over.
“We understand the ordinary dynamic that when someone is asked to pay a really big amount of money for something they have done right or wrong… they are going to drag their heels,” said Bruun.