Friday, August 03, 2012

National Farmers Union adds context to pardons

This is a worthwhile read that clarifies some of the background on the farmers pardoned this week: "Myth: the CWB put farmers in jail for selling wheat." If you read the headlines and coverage this week, the impression given was that the farmers were charged under the Wheat Board legislation. For example: "Harper pardons farmers arrested under old wheat board law."

Here are some excerpts from the NFU post in response to such coverage:
On August 1, 2012, the Prime Minister made a commitment to pardon some farmers who broke the Customs Act by refusing to present grain export licences to Canada Customs (now Canada Border Services). Several of them went to jail and a gullible and lazy media took their word they were sent there by the Canadian Wheat Board (CWB). That the Prime Minister has just repeated this nonsense about the Wheat Board is contemptible.

The facts are straight forward. No farmer was ever charged under the Canadian Wheat Board Act which had its own penalty section. The Manitoba "poster-child" for the border-runners was found guilty of breaking section 94.1(f) of the Immigration Act, sections 11, 31, and 153(c) of the Customs Act, and section 145.3 of the Criminal Code all arising out of smuggling grain into the U.S. from Canada. (R. v. McMechan, March 16, 1998)

In Lethbridge a dozen people were also convicted of violating several sections of the Customs Act for refusing to do what every other exporter of products from Canada does: present an export licence to Canada Customs. These convictions included: failure to report exporting goods, evading the payment of duties, and illegally removing lawfully seized property. (R. v. Duffy, May 17, 2001 AB Court of Appeal 124)

Rather than pay small fines many of them chose to spend a few hours in jail while loudly proclaiming the Wheat Board had put them there. In fact they had put themselves there by willfully and deliberately violating many Canadian laws, then being convicted in a court of law and being sentenced by a judge. Since the Canadian judicial system is independent, the Wheat Board had no control over the process.
From another case cited:
To quote Madam Justice C.L. Kenny’s judgement: “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 willfully evade the customs officers attempts to place those vehicles into custody.” (Harrison v. Canada, Feb. 1998 ABQB 138)
How many people were pardoned by the Harper government this week? What were the details of their offences? The above post suggests, if you read on, that customs officials were intimidated by some of these farmers.

And why did the government seek out the farmers for pardoning? Was it appropriate for the government to do so given the conduct at issue?