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CWB single-desk backers file for Supreme Court hearing

Supporters of Western Canada’s now-defunct grain marketing monopoly hope to take their fight against the Canadian government to the country’s highest court.

Eight farmers, who were once on the Canadian Wheat Board’s board of directors, said they filed papers on Wednesday to ask the Supreme Court of Canada to hear their appeal of a lower court decision. A decision on whether to hear the case may take about six months.

"We believe that this case raises issues that are important to all Canadians and is worthy of careful consideration by the Supreme Court of Canada", said Allen Oberg, an Alberta farmer and former chairman of the CWB.

Anders Bruun, the Winnipeg lawyer for a separate farmers’ group called Friends of the Canadian Wheat Board, said it too would file leave to appeal to the top court on identical grounds as the eight farmers.

The Conservative government passed a law last December to usher in an open wheat and barley market in Western Canada starting Aug. 1. Farmers can now sell those crops to any buyer they choose, not just to the former Wheat Board.

Backers of the board’s monopoly say it had broad farmer support and was able to garner price premiums for farmers. Opponents say they can market their crops better themselves.

The case is unlikely to restore the monopoly, but the CWB supporters hope to establish that federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz acted illegally in failing to call a farmer vote before scrapping the monopoly, Bruun said.

A Federal Court judge found in December that Ritz had failed to follow the former law’s requirement for a farmer vote, but that ruling was reversed on appeal in June.

A favourable decision at the Supreme Court could bolster the backers’ separate class action suit against Ottawa that seeks to collect $17 billion in damages, Bruun said. Another group is pursuing a similar class action for farmers.

The former wheat board, once one of the world’s biggest wheat marketers, is now a small, government-run company called CWB, and markets farmers’ crops on a voluntary basis.

— Rod Nickel writes for Reuters from Winnipeg.

Related stories:
Single desk supporters seek appeal to Supreme Court, July 27, 2012
Appeal court upholds "marketing freedom" law, June 19, 2012
Ex-CWB directors to appeal Man. court loss, April 3, 2012
Federal judge rips Ritz’s plans for CWB reform, Dec. 7, 2011

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