LYLETON, Man. – A protest convoy of grain trucks plugged the tiny U.S./Canada border crossing of Lyleton, Man. last week.
When the dust had settled, 39 drivers were arrested and their trucks seized. Fines observed at the scene totaled an estimated $975,000 for various breeches of the Canada Customs Act. The federal agency was unable to confirm the exact amount.
“If we are breaking the law, then I want to know just what law and where it is written down,” said Art Mainil, a Benson, Sask. farmer.
Canada Customs seized Mainil’s truck and trailer for breeching Section 95 of the Canada Customs Act and for failing to report to customs. He was arrested by the RCMP for theft of seized property, section 328 of the Criminal Code, after he drove away from the border crossing in his seized truck.
The previous day, the farmers hauled barley owned by Andy McMechan, a Lyleton-area farmer forbidden by court order from going within a kilometre of the border. McMechan faces charges for allegedly trucking grain to the U.S. without the proper permits.
Taken to elevators
Farmers arrested last week were trucking grain from McMechan’s Canadian farm to his American farm. Some had carried their own grain to U.S. elevators.
The assembly, organized by the Farmers for Justice group, was protesting the Canadian Wheat Board’s monopoly on exports of western grown wheat and barley.
As the 39 farmers crossed back into Canada, they were issued fines averaging an estimated $2,500 each. The farmers then drove off in trucks seized by customs officials, only to be arrested two kilometres north of the border by RCMP.
Norm Calhoun of Lumsden, Sask. was the first farmer to defy customs officers and cross back into Canada without paying his fine. He and the next three farmers to follow were arrested by RCMP for theft of a seized truck and placed in police vehicles.
“These people are not criminals and it would be a shame to make criminals out of them,” said staff sgt. George Abernathy, in charge of RCMP at the scene.
Other farmers who followed were also stopped at the RCMP roadblock, were arrested and had their vehicles seized. Nearly 41Ú2 hours after the border crossing, 39 trucks were lined up along the roadside. Police and customs officials then debated the fate of the group.
Four more hours passed with police and customs officers documenting and filing charges against the group while supporters of the farmers carried sandwiches and coffee along the row of trucks.
“If the judges would just give us a decision this would all be solved. I wouldn’t need to be here under arrest. We don’t have the time to wait indefinitely for the courts, we have businesses to run,” said Allan Peshko, a farmer from Invermay, Sask., who was third to be arrested by police.
“If it is a crime to protest an unfair law that applies only to certain businessmen, then we may as well all be criminals today. These guys arrested today are all solid, respectable people who are just desperate,” said an emotional Jim Pallister, a Portage la Prairie, Man., area farmer.
By then, the weather, like the mood of the day, had shifted from warm and sunny to cold, windy and foggy, as visibility dropped to less than a kilometre.
Police and customs officials considered a plan to convoy the trucks into an impound yard in Brandon, but later chose to allow the drivers and their vehicles to depart on the condition they later appear in court.
Protesters refused because the offer did not apply to all of them.
Nine hours after the first trucks had passed into Canada on their trip back from the U.S., RCMP released all the protesters after they agreed to appear in court at a later date.