13 freedom fighters are in jail: Because a sclerotic, draconian, socialist wheat board put them there
The Edmonton Journal
Sun 03 Nov 2002
By Lorne Gunter
Jail. Thirteen Alberta farmers are in jail because they dared challenge the grain-sales monopoly of the Canadian Wheat Board.
Ottawa doesn't defend this nation's borders against terrorists as vigorously as it defends the law forcing Prairie wheat and barley producers to sell nearly all their grain to the board.
Agents of Hezbollah, one of the most vicious Islamic terrorist organizations in the world, operate freely in Canada, buying bomb-making materials, night-vision goggles and high-powered cameras for use in butchering Israeli soldiers and civilians.
The Canadian Security Intelligence Service has proof that for years Hezbollah has sent bloodthirsty shopping lists to its operatives here and laundered money through Canadian banks to pay for these murderous supplies. The Liberal government is afraid of being called intolerant by Muslim voters and afraid of angering the multiculturalism and immigration lobbies; it sits idly by.
Another two dozen known terrorist organizations have operations in Canada, but Ottawa cannot bring itself to label them terrorists because of concerns about their Charter rights.
Foreign Affairs Minister Bill Graham, who seems to have met few terrorists he didn't admire as "freedom fighters," admitted this week that "clearly there are very important Charter considerations," before Ottawa can add a terrorist group to its list of banned organizations. Until then, its agents may come and go as they choose, fundraise, file refugee claims, buy weapons, apply for welfare, receive legal aid -- all with Ottawa's tacit blessing.
But try selling a truckload of your own grain without approval from the wheat board, and wham -- just watch the helicopters and squad cars swarm.
Admittedly, the wheat board didn't order the 13 farmers to jail. A judge did that. But it is curious that board chairman Ken Ritter felt the need to point this out in an open letter to Prairie farmers Oct. 22: "The CWB has no say and no control over sentences that were determined by the Customs Act and by judges in a court of law." Immaterial, but true.
Chairman Ritter (has kind of an appropriate ring to it, doesn't it?) added, the farmers were "not charged for exporting (grain) without a licence. Their offence was to remove vehicles that had been seized by Customs officials."
He also felt, it should "be made clear that the penalty assessed by the courts for the farmers' infractions was not a jail term -- it was a fine." The farmers chose to serve time rather than pay.
Both of Ritter's latter two points are technically true, but they obscure the central reason the farmers were in trouble in the first place: They tried to sell their own grain, freely, on the open market, and that is something the sclerotic, draconian, socialist wheat board will not tolerate.
It is only because the wheat board and the Liberal government are so vehement about making every Prairie farmer sell nearly every bushel of non-feed wheat and barley to them, that Customs officials seized the farmers' trucks and trailers.
Chairman Ritter pretends the board was almost an innocent bystander, watching powerless as Customs confiscated the farmers' vehicles and crops, and then helplessly watching the trial.
Spare us, please. Absent the board's adamance, Customs wouldn't have been involved, vehicles wouldn't have been seized or removed. Charges would never have been laid, or a trial held.
It is only because the board, perhaps the most retrograde public institution in the country, will allow no deviation from its monopoly, entertain no marketing reforms, discuss no freedom of choice for producers that the 13 farmers are in jail -- period. Customs and the courts are not to blame. The law exists, and the board wants it enforced, so Customs and the courts have no choice but to do their duty.
The farmers are in jail because of the wheat board as surely as if Ritter had marched them to their cells himself.
The board has a choice. It could follow the recommendations of the House of Commons agriculture committee and permit farmers to opt in or out of the monopoly. In a free country, that would be reasonable.
But Comrade ... sorry, Chairman Ritter dismisses this out of hand: "We've considered it and we've said no because it doesn't work."
So how come it works in Ontario, Quebec and the Atlantic provinces? There farmers may freely sell or export their grain to whomever they wish.
There, producers are smaller than those on the Prairies. They have not been swallowed by giant grain companies. Nor driven out of business because they could not negotiate a price as high as the wheat board.
Ritter's argument on behalf of single-desk marketing is self-evidently specious.
If Bill Graham ever wants to see real freedom fighters, he'll find them in the Lethbridge Correctional Centre.
Columnist, Edmonton Journal
Editorial Board Member, National Post
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