Pardons for border runners raise questions

Laws remain Protesters were convicted under 
the Customs Act and 
for contempt, not 
under CWB Act

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Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s decision to pardon some of the western farmers convicted of contravening Customs Act regulations in the 1990s is raising eyebrows.

“Where does that stop?” Bob Roehle, a former CWB employee and member of Friends of the Canadian Wheat Board asked. “In a democracy, do I get to choose which laws I support?

“What about these freedom fighters who don’t like Medicare?”

A government official declined to release the names of the farmers pardoned, citing privacy laws. However, the official confirmed the convictions were under the Customs Act, not the CWB Act.

In some cases farmers failed to show custom officials an export permit, some were charged after they illegally removed trucks seized by custom officials and others were convicted of contempt of court.

“(T)hose farmers were charged, they were hauled into court literally in chains, convicted, fined, jailed, threatened, equipment seized, lives were interrupted,” Harper said. “But let me be clear about this, these people were not criminals, they were our fellow citizens — citizens who protested injustice by submitting themselves peacefully to the consequences of challenging that injustice.”

Harper said he was using the ancient power of the Royal Prerogative of Mercy to pardon the farmers.

“For these courageous farmers these convictions will no longer tarnish their good names,” he said.

However, the Appeal Courts at the time saw it differently. “The appellants were properly charged for violating Section 114 of the Customs Act. The trial judge found that customs officers, acting in the scope of their duties, did seize the vehicles, and that the appellants did wilfully evade the customs’ officers attempts to place those vehicles into custody,” Madam Justice C.L. Kenny wrote in upholding their convictions.

The Parole Board of Canada website says such pardons can only be granted in clear cases of injustice and only “in very exceptional and truly deserving cases.” The injustice should not have been foreseen at the time of sentencing. But in many of the cases farmers deliberately sought to be arrested and choose to go to jail rather than pay a fine.

“Furthermore, the Royal Prerogative of Mercy is not a mechanism to review the merits of existing legislation, or those of the justice system in general,” the site says.

PostMedia quotes interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae as saying the pardons are partisan. “They’re corrupting the process,” he wrote in a Tweet.

But Harper spokesman Andrew MacDougall said the pardons were just because the law was not.

“The Liberals have always supported jailing farmers who resisted the old and unjust wheat board monopoly, so it’s no surprise they don’t approve of doing the decent and just thing now that the wheat board monopoly has been abolished,” he said in an email.

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