Ruling grants Friends of CWB standing, not much else

A pro-Canadian Wheat Board farmers’ group says it’s won the right to take legal action when the federal government imposes changes on CWB director elections.

But the Federal Court of Appeal ruling which grants the Friends of the CWB that right has also shot down the group’s appeal of changes to CWB election rules.

The group on Friday released the results of a March 16 ruling from appeal court Justice Gilles Letourneau. The appellant judge found that the group has “personal standing” to file in court against the Conservative government’s orders on CWB elections, but dismissed the group’s appeal of a January 2010 Federal Court ruling in the government’s favour.

The January 2010 ruling by Federal Court Justice James Russell had dismissed the FCWB’s challenge of orders made by Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz ahead of the CWB director elections in 2008.

Ritz’s orders had limited the number of CWB permit book holders who would automatically get a ballot only to those who delivered wheat or barley to the CWB in the 2007-08 or 2008-09 crop years. Other growers, or those who grow other grains, now need to apply for ballots — whereas previously, all valid permit book holders received CWB election ballots.

Russell, in his January 2010 ruling, had said he found “no evidence before me” that any of the individuals who filed the FCWB’s application had been directly affected, or might be directly affected, by Ritz’s order.

On that basis alone, the FCWB’s application should have been dismissed, Russell wrote, but he ruled on their application’s merits anyway, “in the event it is determined I am wrong on the issue of standing.”

“Too narrow”

“With respect, I think (Russell) took too narrow a view of the concept of ‘directly affected’ required to obtain personal standing,” Letourneau wrote in his March 16 decision.

“While the right to vote itself was not directly affected by the directive, rights related to the right to vote, such as the rights to be automatically included in the voters list and to automatically receive a ballot without having to make a declaration to obtain it, were directly affected. In my view, these direct effects gave the appellants standing.”

The fact that some or all of the FCWB members may not have been affected in the 2008 election “does not deprive them of the standing to challenge the minister’s directive in anticipation of the coming election,” he wrote. In other words, “they do not have to wait until it causes them a loss.”

Furthermore, Letourneau wrote, “I think that all the appellants in the present instance who are producers have a direct interest in ensuring that the election of members of the CWB is conducted and held according to the law.”

All that said, Letourneau upheld Ritz’s order and directed both the FCWB and the government to pay their own court costs. He also directed the government to pay the CWB’s costs, the board having been a respondent in the original court case.

For the FCWB’s part, the group said in its release Friday that it does not plan to appeal Letourneau’s decision to the Supreme Court of Canada.

“We have won the right for farmers to use Canadian courts to defend their voting rights, and the Federal Court of Appeal has agreed that the ministerial directives effectively stopped thousands of farmers from voting,” FCWB’s lawyer Anders Bruun said Friday. “Apart from changing the CWB Act and Regulations that is all we can do on this issue.”

Ritz, meanwhile, said Friday he found it “remarkable what the Friends of the CWB can construe as a win.”

The appeal court, Ritz noted, “in fact dismissed the (FCWB’s) application and upheld my instructions as valid. The judge agreed that, as minister, I was right to ensure that only producers eligible to vote would appear on the voters list.”

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